To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Saturday, February 9, 2019

'Coloring The News' on Immigration: It's 'Deja Vu' All Over Again

This is the chapter on immigration in Coloring The News: How Crusading For Diversity Has Corrupted American Journalism. It was originally published by Encounter Books shortly after 9/11 and reissued in paperback in 2003 with a slightly different subtitle. It focuses on the coverage of immigration and immigration-related issues throughout the 1990's into the 2000's, including assimilation, illegal immigration, alien criminality, asylum fraud, bi-lingualism, cultural relativism and the debate about immigration reform. But if you erased the dates from the text, you'd be forgiven if you thought you were reading something from today. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

In late June 1999, newspapers and network news broadcasts were filled with accounts of a thirteen-year-old boy who had reportedly left his hurricane-devastated home in Honduras in search of his father in New York City. According to a front-page story in the New York Times, which ran under the headline "Seeking Father, Boy Makes a 3200 Mile Odyssey," young Edwin Sabillon had departed from his small Honduran village after his mother and sister had died in the storm, setting out with $24 in his pocket, a bag with a change of clothes, his birth certificate, and three cookies. The story said he had received a let­ ter from his father in America, whom he had never before seen, telling him to meet him near La Guardia Airport in New York City. Hitchhik­ ing his way north, Sabillon had crossed the Guatemalan, Mexican and United States borders before climbing onto a bus in Miami and arriv­ ing in New York, where police had put him into protective custody. It had taken him thirty-seven days to make his journey, during which he had charmed "a string of helpful strangers." Among them were a group of "coyotes" in Matamoras, just across from Texas, who had taken him across the border free instead of charging him the usual $5000 fee. The boy's luck held out in Miami too, the story explained, where people inside a Cuban-owned cafeteria took up a collection and gave him $87 for a bus ticket north.

The story was "a Huckleberry Finn tale in reverse," according to the Times: "A stubborn boy sets out on the road to join his father, steals across the borders of three countries, gives the slip to lawmen along the way, loses his possessions and is rescued by a succession of good Samaritans." But the Times also seemed to be responding to the boy not just because he was plucky, but because he was "a plucky symbol of immigrant virtues," as the paper wrote subsequently.

Reporters from the Associated Press and Newsday who went to the boy's Honduran village in search of a good follow-up, however, found that the boy's tale did not wash. The next day, the Times was forced to run another story, this one inside in its Metro pages under the headline "Boy's Tale Mostly Fiction, Officials Say." The Times explained, "The doe-eyed 13-year-old who captivated the city with his tale of traveling solo in search of his father manufactured much of what he told police and those who helped him." In fact, his mother had not been killed. It was his father who had died, not in a hurricane but from AIDS, which he had contracted in the United States before returning home to die. Emo­ tionally disturbed by his father's passing, the boy had run away from Honduras, landing with relatives near Miami. The Times now couched the tale as one of a "resourceful but troubled youngster whose impulsive behavior after his father died made him hard for relatives to handle."

The embarrassment prompted the Times to do a postmortem . In general, the editors shrugged off concerns about their own gullibility and the heavy play they had given the story. "I don't see this as major black eye for the media," Times editor Joyce Purnick maintained. Per­ haps the Times should have attributed the account more heavily, Purnick continued, meaning that it should have made it clear whether the police or the boy was making the assertions. But even then, that "wouldn't have changed the tone" of the fina l article, Purnick con­ clud ed. Ar th ur Browne, the senior managing editor of the New York Daily News, which had also given the story banner attention, agreed. "In the end this was not an error that causes any harm. If anything, it's a misdemeanor of the heart," Browne declared.

To the degree that these editors admitted any responsibility at all, they blamed what they called "the crucial obstacles to fact-checking" the story. They admitted that the cynicism that reporters usually culti­ vate somehow took a back seat on this journalistic ride. "We don't expect children to be as deceptive as this young boy was," Arthur Browne said. "The story was so larger than life, and he had just enoug h of the brush strokes to make it go."


The story of Edwin Sabillon did little lasting harm. But the easy suspension of disbelief that it revealed on the part of editors and reporters in 1999 seemed to me to be an effect of the same rose-colored glasses through which the journalistic establishment had looked at the subject of immigration over most of the prior decade, when this was one of the most difficult issues in our culture. ·

Measures designed to enhance diversity in newsroom staffing and coverage have made journalism much  more sensitive to the concerns of a huge wave of new, nonwhite Americans and have given the news reporting process greater access to, and sympathy for, these groups than ever before. But sensitivity and access have often been purchased at the expense of rigor, and a thick coat of piety and cant has often obscured plain truths. Too many journalists have been all too ready to celebrate immigration's relationship to America's increasing cultural diversity, even when the facts on the ground don't support such enthu­ siasm. In the process, they have left important questions unanswered and dismissed legitimate concerns as "nativism." Rather than engage in a full and frank examination of immigration, news organizations have been too ready to follow a romantic script that exaggerates its benefits and ignores its downsides.

There are reasons to be open to an argument about the possible advantages of immigration. The new immigrants have revitalized older, inner-city neighborhoods left for dead, and have brought renewed vigor to the country and its economy. There's also something emotion­ ally gratifying about seeing newcomers of every race and hue follow the footsteps of European newcomers of a century before, with the same hope for a better future. And in a time when patriotism and national pride have gone out of fashion, immigration has rehabilitated the power of the American Dream.

Yet for every reason to be cheerful there are at least as many, if not more, reasons for concern. The influx of new immigrants has put a tremendous strain on schools, social welfare systems, hospitals, prisons and police forces. It has put a strain on our social fabric as well, as Third World immigrants with values and attitudes very different from main­ stream American norms pursue the process of assimilation with much less focus-and pressure from the  outside-than  earlier generations. The huge swell of immigrants, particularly illegal immigrants, has also tended to depress wages in lower-skilled occupations too, and it has allowed a frightening array of criminals and criminal syndicates to set up shop here while no one was really looking.

There are also legitimate grounds for concern over the sheer num­ bers involved: almost a million legal immigrants annually and another 300,000 to 400,000 illegal immigrants. According to one authoritative report, nearly half of the population of the Dominican Republic said they would emigrate to America if they had the opportunity.

That this immigration is occurring at a time when the disciples of diversity are disparaging the successful formulas and frameworks for absorbing newcomers forged at the turn of the century by Progressive­ era reformers and their journalistic allies is perhaps the greatest reason for pessimism. The assimilationist paradigm proved crucial to the suc­ cessful incorporation of new immigrants then, and has largely spared us the kind of tribal and nationalist frictions that have balkanized many other multiethnic nations around the world. It also became the basis by which immigrants were extended the full "promise of  American life ," as Progressive-era journalist Herbert Croly described it, shucking off the foreign customs, practices, habits of thinking and values that were-and still are-at odds with "progressive" American ideals of democracy, economic upward mobility, and middle-class life.

The new multicultural paradigm encourages immigrants to main­ tain a hyphenated sense of self and culture. It tells society it must accommodate new, mostly Third World immigra nts as groups or "com­ munities" rather than individuals. It encourages divided loyalties and emotional conflicts of interest. It insists that notions of cultural "uplift" are condescending. And it suggests, as a New York Times report on "transnational immigration" did in 1998, that the concept of assimila­ tion is "racist"-ignoring theimplications this stance might have for our civic culture.

Many of those espousing multiculturalism, including many jour­ nalists, would like to think that the new diversity paradigm is an extension of the old Progressive social ideal, updated to reflect new social, political and cultural realities. Yet nothing could be further from the original Progressive vision than the romantic idealization of ethnic hyphenation. And liberal journalists of the past, who beat back the nativist contention that immigrants weren't capable of assimilating, would find it disorienting to hear their successors argue that assimila­ tion is no longer necessary or even desirable, and that those holding this point of view are guilty of cultural intolerance or nostalgia.

This is not to say that today's journalism should be mindlessly pro-assimilationist, which carries the risk of promoting its own brand of cultural chauvinism. But neither should it proceed from a position that reflexively spurns assimilation, as much journalistic decision making, in thrall to identit y politics, seems to do.

One of the areas where news coverage has exhibited a broad indiffer­ence to the importance of assimilation-and to salient facts-is in the politics of language, especially where bilingual education is concerned. Unlike Progressive journalists of the last century, who for the most part
rejected the idea of teaching immigrants in their native tongue, today's journalists are too ready to bow to bilingual education orthodoxy. The hard questions about bilingual education have often not been posed, and the gap between what its proponents say it is doing and what is actually going on has not been communicated well enough to the pub­lic.

When it originated as Title VII of the Education and Secondary School Education Act of 1968, bilingual education was conceived as a limited, short-term means to provide a bridge to immigrant children's eventual mastery of English. In the years since its inception, however, bilingual programs have grown far beyond their original mandate­ $7.5 million in 1968 now swollen to more than $10 billion a year spent on approximately five million kids who can ' t speak English well enough to function in a classroom. And rather than serving as a step toward their eventual mastery of English, bilingual education has become a vehicle for retaining their native tongues and cultures .

While students may find cultural comfort being taught in their native languages, many have been crippled in their search for a mean­ ingful, productive niche in mainstream society. Although the reasons behind the approximately 30 percent Latino high school dropout rate are complicated, those who blame bilingual education cannot be dis­ missed out of hand; nor can those who link a slowness in learning English to a lack of upward mobility on the part of certain sectors of the Latino immigrant community.

Yet even in the face of ever-mounting evidence that bilingual edu­ cation may have betrayed its original promise, mainstream news organizations have been very slow to explore the gap between its the­ ory and practice.

Although the dominance of native languages in so-called bilin­ gual classrooms finally became an issue in the late 1990s, abuses of the original intent of bilingual programs remained largely in the shadows for years. Aside from U.S. News World Re port , which ran a substan­ tial piece in 1996, few other national publications or major news organization in any city with a high concentration of foreign-speaking students examined this issue with the rigor it demanded.
In late 1991, for example , New York Times reporter William Celis wrote about the trend in a piece headlined "Bilingual Teaching: A New Focus on Both Tongues." Although Celis noted objections from critics of bilingual education, the report was clearly positive. "I am luckier than Anglos ," one Hispanic grade school girl exclaimed at the end of the piece. "I speak two languages."

More scandalous was the Los Angeles Times' indifference to the practice of using inner-city black children in certain California cities to round out bilingual classes for immigrants. According to the Times, which reported on the situation only a fter the policy was reversed in 1995, up to six hundred black children were bused into schools with high percentages of Spanish- and Chinese-speaking students in order to fill state bilingualism mandates. The policy reversal was "an  attempt to rescue English-speaking students whose academic progress had been sacrificed in the district's efforts to fill empty seats in bilingual class­ rooms."

The story received little nationwide play even after the policy reversal. Yet according to author and bilingual-education critic Rosalie Pedalino Porter, using black children to fill up so-called two-way immersion classrooms was a practice that was growing nationwide at that time. Some news organizations did the story locally; in 1994, for exa mple, the Washington Post ran a front-page story entitled "Plan to Meld Cultures Divides D.C. Schools." But few publications or broadcast news organizations examined it on a national level. And not all of the local stories were as critical as they should have been.

The reluctance of news organizations to draw attention to bilin­ gualism ' s failures and excesses put them at odds with a culture in which opposition to these programs is swelling, even-and at times especially-among Latinos. A 1996 poll conducted by the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO) that sampled opinions of six hundred Latino parents in five heavily Hispanic cities found they overwhelmingly desired to have children taught English as quickly as possible and par­ ticularly to have all academic subject matter taught in English. Immigrant parents, the survey concluded, think that learning to read, write and speak English is the single most important goal of educa­ tion. "My children learn Spanish in school so they can become busboys and waiters," parent Ernesto Ortiz wrote in one CEO collection. "I teach them English at home so they can become lawyers and doctors." But statements such as this rarely find their way into the stories pursued by the mainstream media.

Nearly half of the cou ntry 's three million non-English-speaking studen ts reside in California, where it is estimated that a quarter of the state's five million public school children-more than one million kids-do not speak English well enough to understand what's going on in a classroom. In early 1996, Latino parents in one downtown school district mounted a boycott and pulled their kids out of class in protest over bilingual policies that segregate their children from native English speakers so they can be taught, virtually full-time, in Spanish. They were also angry that this policy had been instituted without their being given the option-as thelawprovided-of overruling these assign­ ments for their children if they so chose.

Latino parents protesting bilingual instruction for their children should have been prominently covered, at least as a "man bites dog" story. But the Los Angeles Times gave it only the most cursory attention, relegating brief reports to the inside pages of its Metro section and ignoring the larger implications of this mounting popular anger. The Times did congratulate Latino parents for seizing the initiative. "How­ ever," the editorialist insisted, "educators would be derelict of they did not also explain that English only classes are not the best choice for the children." A second editorial on the issue, infused with the same regard for bilingual orthodoxy, advised that dual-language instruction was the best way kids speaking different tongues could learn from one another.

If the media has been skeptical of studies questioning the efficacy of bilingual programs, they have rushed to publicize those that sup­ port such instruction. In late 1995, for instance, Virginia Collier, a researcher at George Mason University, released a large study on bilin­ gual education which concluded that the longer a student stayed in bilingual programs, the better this student scored on standardized tests administered in high school. In fact, the highest achievers were children in "two way schools" where English and non-English speakers are mixed together, with half the curriculum taught in English and half in another language.

While many journalists were quick to publicize Collier's conclu­ sions, few had seen her actual data, since she did not release them. That did not stop Time from giving her the green light: "While public opinion seems polarized between sink or swim nostalgias and politically correct diversitarians, serious research increasingly points toward a consensus: children learn English faster and are more likely to excel academically of they are given several years of instruction in their native language first."

Those covering the bilingual education beat have often turned a blind eye to the wider impact of these programs on society at large. Yet impartial analyses of the reasons behind white flight from the public schools often cite bilingual programs, which siphon resources away from native-born middle-class children, as a big factor. (In the heyday of bilingual instruction, California spent 65 percent more on "language needs" children than it did on English speakers.) What's more, studies suggest that Latino teens with an inadequate grasp of English are much
more susceptible to the lure of criminal gangs. Employers deny dys­ functional English speakers steady work with a future, and college administrators complain that students arriving on their campuses with an inadequate grasp of English must be placed in remedial classes that bear a perverse similarity to the bilingual high school classrooms that failed the students so badly to begin with. Yet these stories, as com­ pelling as they are, don't seem to make their way onto the media radar screen in any meaningful way.

Media resistance to questioning bilingual education was obvious in 1998 with the coverage of Proposition 227, the so-called "Save Our Children" Amendment. Underwritten by conservative computer entre­ preneur Ron Unz, Proposition 227 called for severe restrictions on bilingual education in California and represented the first time that con­ troversial bilingual policies were put to the vote. The initiative enjoyed widespread popularity throughout the state, with polls showing huge majorities in its favor, including, much to some journalists' surprise and chagrin, a majority of Latinos.

News organizations might have looked at the referendum  as  a chance to fill in longstanding gaps in coverage of the realities of classroom bilingualism. They also might have vigorously and even­ handedly investigated the contentions of both the supporters of 227 and their opposition, to help the public sort out the complicated, contradic­ tory pictures they were being bombarded with in campaign advertisements. But with rare exceptions, reporting on both the state and national levels continued to reflect ideological bias, and questions central to establishing what bilingual education was doing to the ris­ ing generation of immigrant children were slighted in favor of reporting that alleged "bigotry" as the initiative's driving force.

The Los Angeles Times, for example, failed to examine the gap between the theories of dual-language instruction and the realities of "Spanish only" as it affected the fate of students. It also virtually ignored practices that kept kids in bilingual programs well beyond the point-legally and pedagogically-where they were benefiting, and the deeply troubling impact that long-term bilingual education had on the Latino dropout rate and on the job prospects of Latino high school graduates. The issue of teacher incompetence , and the fact that many bilingual teachers were severely limited in their own English skills, also fell through the journalistic cracks. As for the gap between the stated purpose of bilingual programs-steady if slow eventual transition to English-and the true goals in many educators' minds­ theretention of Latino cultural heritage and identity in a way that bordered on ethnic nationalism-there was almost no analysis of these issues whatsoever.

Instead of looking at bilingual education in Los Angeles, his own back yard, Los Angeles Times reporter Nick Anderson, who had long written supportively of bilingual policies, traveled to Miami and wrote glowingly of a city where dual-language policies were allegedly not only working, but thriving. The implication was clear: Los Angeles should take stock and see that bilingualism could be as good in Cali­ fornia as it was in Florida. Anderson's enthusiasm was, of course, news to many familiar with Miami's ethnic and linguistic fractiousness.

The significant ethnic minority support for Proposition 227 was framed in news reports by opponents' implicit charge that it was driven by "false consciousness." During the campaign, polls showed as much as a 60 percent Latino support rate, with Latinos in some areas, such as Orange County, favoring the measure 8 to 1. But the Los Angeles Times put the greater emphasis on anti-227 Latino activists with their rhetoric about "ethnic cleansing, California style" and their claims that a gener­ation of Latino youth would drop out of school and run amok on the streets if deprived of bilingual instruction.

Proposition 227 won by more than 20 percentage points-a rebuke to bilingual policies as much as to the groups that had made these poli­ cies unquestionable for so long. While Latino support for the proposition's passage was not as heavy as it was in pre-election day polling, it was considerable-almost 40 percent. But instead of exam­ ining why this large bloc of Latinos voted for a purportedly nativist initiative, reporters continued to plug the racism script by examining the reasoning of the 60 percent who voted against 227. The New York Times , which had called the initiative "a cramped approach to bilin­ gual education," highlighted Latino racial anger and resentment in an analysis that ran under the smug headline "The Reply It Turned out Was Bilingual: No."

Although 227 required California school districts to restrict bilin­ gual policies severely in the months following the election, many in fact ignored it, or interpreted its waiver provisions so broadly as to nullify its impact on students. This was a violation of both the spirit and the let­ ter of the law, about which news organizations should have informed the public. But such analysis as there was of this development bore a strangely approving tone. "Bilingual Education Lives After All" was the headline of one New York Times treatment. For Alice Callahan, a left­ liberal Episcopal priest working in the Hispanic community who campaigned in favor of the initiative, the inability of journalists to identify with the large minority of Latinos who favored 227 was a rev­ elation: "I have been surprised at how unwilling reporters have been to entertain a view different from their own."


The same orthodoxy that inhibits criticism of language policies also stunts a discussion of other issues linked to the broader subject of cul­tural difference. Reporting on immigration often ignores or minimizes the extent to which the cultural values, attitudes and customs of new Third World immigrants clash with mainstream American norms. Like their counterparts in academia, pro-diversity journalists tend to cele­ brate the theory of "difference," but don't like to look too closely at some of the social outcomes these differences cause.

Considering the ease with which discussion of cultural or national traits can degenerate into stereotyping, such reluctance is somewhat understandable. Yet when journalists walk on eggshells as they get close to some of the consequences of cultural difference, they leave a significant gap in our understanding of what the new immigrant com­ munities are all about, what kind of impact they are having on our ideals and institutions, and what we should be doing to help them adjust.

New immigrant groups have historically gone through periods  in which they lag behind native-born Americans. Yet the lag experi­ enced by Latinos, particularly Mexicans, who constitute almost two-thirds of all new immigrants, seems to be more persistent. Accord­ ing to Census Bureau statistics, median household income, while on the rise for every other group of Americans, is going down for Latinos. At the turn of the new century, Latinos had a 23 percent poverty rate com­ pared with 8 percent for whites. Hispanic students' high school dropout rate was more than double that of whites. Many social scientists have begun to worry that Latino residents may become trapped as a perma­ nent sub-class of the working poor.

Although discrimination and a lack of English proficiency are fac­ tors, there are also cultural issues. This is something that anthropologists, economists and political scientists-mostly liberal Anglos, but some Latinos-have no trouble acknowledging. (Brookings Institution scholar and political scientist Peter Skerry refers to "a cyni­ cally anti-achievement ethos"; Latino author Lionel Sosa writes about a web of traditional values promoting humility, pessimism and self­ denial that undercuts individual ambition.) Yet aside from some very recent Los Angeles Times reports highlighting the role of culture in Latino underachievement, as well as the work of Latino columnist Richard Estrada of the Dallas Morning News, who has written anxiously about Latino acculturation to the American mainstream, journalists have given short shrift to the role played by values, attitudes and customs in determining educational and economic outcomes within various Latino communities.

Typical was a piece in which Steven Holmes of the New York Times, citing a 1995 study, reported that only 9 percent of Hispanics hold bach­elor degrees compared with nearly 25 percent of non-Hispanic Americans. The problem, Holmes wrote, was a function of "endemic poverty, discrimination and lack of recruitment." The human factors that might explain this problem more deeply-most notably what some anthropologists and sociologists call the "lack of a family culture that supports education"-were given no attention.

The high Latino illegitimacy ra te, which costs society billions in welfare benefits for families headed by unwed mothers, is just as taboo. Reporters and editorialists have preferred to emphasize the hard-work­ ing, family orientation of new Latino immigrants over the very high illegitimacy rates. Even when the latter is acknowledged, journalists still tend to write about it as if it were merely a problem of racial bias and alienation with no cultural issues involved.
In 1993, for example, theLos Angeles Times ran a long feature piece by reporter Laurie Becklund, analyzing the booming Latina teen birthrate. According to Becklund, the explosion was responsible for 75 percent of the increase in teenage pregnancy rates in the state of Cali­ fornia and one-third of those in the nation as a whole. The piece was uncharacteristically candid. It quoted public school teachers who referred to poor Latina girls as "breeders," and it relayed the teachers' consternation over pupils for whom school seems "merely a waiting room before they go on about the business of childrearing."

Yet when it came to illuminating the reasons for this development, the piece fell back on cliches in which babies are seen as the only life­ affirming thing the girls could do in a sea of poverty, drugs, violence and family dissolution-"a cry for love," as the headline suggested. The article mentioned the girls' limited social horizons, yet it gave little sense that they might be a cultural vestige. Nor did it convey any appre­ ciation for the fact that assimilation could help the girls move beyond their roots into a mainstream where female self-assertion was accept­ able.

A similarly romantic and highly relativistic approach is frequently taken in reporting on those immigrant cultural practices and customs-ranging from animal sacrifice to voodoo to arranged marriages and female genital mutilation-that contradict some of our more progres­sive social ideals. A case in point is the subject of folk healing and traditional folk medicine. A May 1996 New York Times piece titled "Min­ gling Two Worlds of Medicine: Some Doctors Work with Folk Healers in Immigrants' Care," for instance, noted that some doctors who had formerly dismissed the work of these folk healers as "superstitious quackery" were now starting to condone their practices. According to the reporter, Pam Belluck, some doctors say that such practices can encourage patients to follow instructions and improve their attitudes toward illness. Folk remedies also seem to allay psychological and even some physical symptoms. Those who condone the folk practices have to be careful, though. "There are very few people around the hospital around with enough vision [to have this view]," complained one physi­ cian. "Most would think this is tantamount to malpractice. It has to be done on the q.t."

While noting some of the problems associated with encouraging folk treatments-an asthmatic patient who suffered an acute reaction after seeing a Chinese herbalist; a diabetic who was given chicken gall bladder twice a day-the piece implied that on the whole, the trend was positive. It was a conclusion contradicted by much other evidence that folk beliefs run profoundly against the grain of Western science and the welfare of patients-an omission that upset some of the doctors interviewed for the report.

According to Dr. Michael Diaz of Mt. Sinai Medical Center, the trend toward sanctioning folk healing represents "politically correct" pandering on the part of administrators and makes little medical sense. "If folk healing practices work so well," Diaz insisted to me, "then why are the morbidity and mortality rates in the countries where they are used so high?" Journalists who write positively about the trend are doing a disservice, he said: "The journalists I' ve spoken to usually have their minds made up already. They don't allow objective data to over­ ride their prejudices."

Consider as well the Miami Herald's treatment of animal sacrifice associated with the Afro-Cuban practice of Santeria . In late 1993, the city of Hialejah, Florida, banned the practice of animal sacrifice because it violated laws against cruelty to animals as well as health and sanita­ tion codes. This sparked a controversy that went to the Supreme Court, which ruled that such a ban was a violation of freedom of religion. Prac­titioners of Santeria were allowed to continue their devotion s, within the limits set by city codes.

The case was a complicated one, requiring, as Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen put it, that a careful balance be struck between the right "to practice one's religion" and the right "not to live next door to a slaughterhouse." Hiaasen's column aside, the rest of the news cov­ erage was pro-Santeria, careful to screen out the gorier details of a practice dear to many of the paper's Cuban readers.

Most egregious was a Miami Herald account that described the ritual slaughter of fifteen animals in a Santeria celebration of the Court's decision. The celebration, organized by a Santeria priest named Rigo­ berto Zamora, was an effort to dispel the notion that such sacrifices were cruel to animals. By all other accounts, the ritual did not have the desired effect. Gory with blood and guts and the bleating of goats and chickens as they died slow, cruel deaths, the scene was ghastly. At one point a goat was stabbed with a rusty knife and decapitated, spraying blood all over.

Yet in its account, the Herald conspicuously ignored these details, purging the more nauseating sounds and smells. Forgetting the butchered goat, Herald reporter Aminda Marques Gonzalez wrote about how reverently "a white rooster was offered to Elequa, its blood squeezed into the basins." The only hint that the event was at all strange came in a description of the arrival of the building owner, who had been alerted by angry neighbors and said he would start eviction proceed­ ings the next day.

Reluctance to discuss the more embarrassing aspects of Third World superstition could also be seen in coverage of revelations in August 1994 that $12,000 in state funds were used to perform an exor­ cism on a Haitian psychiatric patient at King's County Hospital in New York City. The patient, Alphonse Pecou, had hacked his girlfriend to death and then set her on fire in front of her children. The exorcism was done off premises by the Most Reverend Prophet Alpha Omega Bondu, and was authorized by the hospital's business manager, a mem­ ber of Bondu's church. According to reports , several high-ranking officials at the hospital were in attendance when Bondu performed his ceremony, which, he claimed, successfully routed four of the seven demons that had gained control of the patient.

King's County Hospital, wracked by favoritism and corruption, had been much in the news in the preceding months, and the incident raised more questions about the administration's competence. "Has the multicultural bug really infected the state bureaucracy to such an extent?" an editorial in the New York Post asked. Yet the New York Times ignored the exorcism story altogether for three months, and then only acknowledged it in the course of a larger piece detailing a raft of prob­ lems afflicting the facility. Buried in a section on expenses run up by the director was a brief and classically euphemistic nod to the $12,000 that officials at the hospital had used to "give religious counseling to a patient who had killed his girlfriend."

Ironically, many times "cultural sensitivity" even trumps femi­ nism in journalism's politically correct hierarchy. The South Asian custom of arranged marriages, for instance, was dealt with in the 1998 New York Times series on the new "transnational" immigrants who straddled their new world and the old one they came from. According to the Times, many of these new Americans regard assimilation to "a single American norm" as a "dated, even racist concept." In the second installment of the series, Times reporter Celia Dugger focused on a com­munity of Jai ns, an insular, well-to-do caste of Indians who shuttle back and forth between New York City's gem markets and Bombay. The arti­ cle focused on the practice of arranged marriages, explaining that it is the linchpin of these immigrants' "sense of family and identity."

The piece introduced the reader to an Ivy-educated, New York investment banker who traveled back to India at the behest of his par­ ents to wed a bride they had chosen and then brought her back to New York. The reporter had the candor to describe the new bride's claustro­ phobic life under the tyranny of the mother-in-law, who wouldn't allow her to leave the house in jeans or travel outside without an escort. Yet the piece rigorously avoided the sort of disapproval that would have informed an article on, say, a patriarch practicing polygamy in some redoubt of the American West.

The subject of arranged marriage was treated deferentially by National Public Radio as well in a June 1999 report headlined "Young Indian-Americans Meld Tradition and Modernism in the Quest for Mar­ riage." The report, by Jacki Lydon, focused on a financial news reporter at the Bloomberg Business News Network in New Jersey. The reporter, a "polished young woman in a smart navy suit and Katie Courie hairdo," was turning thirty, Lydon explained, "in a culture that expected girls to marry before age twenty-five." Choice in such mat­ ters is "part and parcel of American life," Lydon noted, yet "one of the most profound schisms between East and West occurs at the marital turning point, when all those western notions of individuality collide with all those Eastern concepts of duty, family, and community."

The piece voiced skepticism about the concept of arranged mar­ riage, echoing the subject's disdain for what her father called just another "business transaction ." But it ended with an almost gushy affirmative note, returning to the story of the Bloomsberg reporter who, in the end, had given in to her parents' wishes and was investigating the prospects they had selected for her. Such "parental introductions," Lydon suggested, were a compromise between strict parental arrange­ ment and full-on choice. Instead of questioning the insularity of these Indian-Americans, as would likely have been done in the case of, for example, Hasidic Jews, the piece steered clear of judgments.

The same thing is true about reporting on the African Islamic prac­tice of female circumcision among immigrants to the United States. In 1996, a young West African woman who said she had refused to have the rite performed on her was given political asylum by an immigration court. Although an estimated 150,000 African immigrant girls have been subjected to the same procedure in America by families who insist on maintaining traditional notions of female deference, the media focused only on the practice as it is performed in Africa.

Opponents of the practice, like former congresswoman Pat Schroeder, had, for more than a decade, mounted a crusade to crimi nalize this disfiguring and life-threatening practice, and a few columnists like Ellen Goodman of the Boston Globe and A. M. Rosen­ thal of the New York Times had raised the issue. But there was little of the systematic reporting required to determine the scope and severity of the problem . What reporting was done on the story was freighted with cultural anxiety, clearly subscribing to the idea voiced by one feminist source in a New York Times analysis that "the movement against it [gen­ ital mutilation] must be led by African activists." Said Linda Burstyn, who finally published a piece on this question in the Atlantic Monthly after the idea was rejected at ABC News where she had been a producer, "There was no one who said outright, 'We won't do this because we fear a backlash,' but there was discomfort doing it. Deference to cultural tra­ ditions is a very real problem in the press."

Any interest the issue has generated comes only when it casts a bad light on immigration and asylum law. For instance, news organi­ zations devoted a tremendous amount of coverage to the plight of Adelaide Abankwah, a twenty-nine-year-old member of the Nkumssa tribe, who lived in an isolated region of central Ghana before arriving in the United States and seeking political asylum because she faced forced genital mutilation. In the fall of 1996, Abankwah said, her mother­ "queenmother" of the tribe- d ied , and tribal eld ers decided that she would succeed her. But Abankwah protested, refusi ng both an arranged marriage and rituals designed to determine if s he was a  virgin. She had had a boyfriend, she maintained, and if the elders found out about
their relationship, they would excise her clito ris. Leaving the tribal homeland, she worked for a while in the Ghanaian capital of Accra before fleeing for New York with a false passport.

The story of a refugee princess seeking asylum to escape genital mutilation was a resonant one, and news organizations gave it consid­ erable attention , often playing it on page one as Abankwah's petition moved through the system. (It was first denied by the U.S. Board of Immigration in April 1999, but was approved on appeal by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in July.)

In late December 2000, however, the Washington Post finally revealed that the Ghanaian woman was telling a very tall tale. Accord­ ing to Immigration and Naturalization Service officials quoted in the Post report, Abankwah was not a royal princess but in fact a former Ghanaian hotel cook named Regina Danson who had come into the possession of the real princess's passport when it was lost four and half years earlier. Yet the New York Times, which had granted the fraud­ ulent "victim" a prominence she might not otherwise have gained, had a somewhat muted reaction, giving this revelation scant attention in its Metro section.


It is not surprising that many journalists, skittish about acknowledg­ ing or addressing the realities of cultural difference, have also been reluctant to explore the impact that high rates of immigration have had on America's general quality of life, which early in the previous century was at the center of the Progressive journalistic agenda. A case in point is the coverage of the und erground network of ethnic restaurants and social clubs in and around New York City. Reporters working in the vein of Jacob Riis might have chosen to explore a serious potential health hazard and bribery of health inspectors in thi s ethnic under­ ground, but the New York Times seems more concerned with "cultural integrity."

In 1994 the Times printed a story about the underground of illegal Salvadoran immigrants on Long Island. Focusing on Gloria's Cafe in Hempstead, the piece, written by Doreen Carvajal, was headlined "Making Ends Meet in a Nether World." Gloria 's Cafe operated on an area zoned for residential use, had no phone listing and did not take credit cards. According to Carvajal, the only sign marking it was the "fragrance of pork-filled tamales and steaming Salvadoran corn tor­ tillas."

Places like Gloria's are often the flashpoint for bitter battles between older residents and immigrant newcomers over garbage, noise, traffic and vermin, along with complaints about tax dollars being spent to clean up after people who aren't even citizens. But Carvajal chose to focus on the way in which Gloria's and places like it function "as a refuge, a comforting place with a familiar feel." Ignored were the restaurant's apparent role as a hub for green card marriages, unlicensed dentistry, and the smuggling of cheap, Third World pharmaceuticals unapproved by the FDA. These crimes were celebrated as a sign of immigrant "ingenuity" rather than a threat to public safety and com­ munity norms. It was not until 1998, in fact, that the Times awoke to the health risks posed by the illegal sale of prescription drugs in immi­ grant "pharmacies" like Gloria's. According to public health officials who have been watching the trend for the last ten years, the sale of antibiotics, which are often overprescribed by unlicensed pharmacy operators, has led to an alarming rise in bacterial resistance to these drugs. While these businesses "are often the first place that poor immi­ grants turn for cheap medical care," the Times report said, they are also "endangering those same immigrants' health."

Late in 1999 the Los Angeles Times too finally ran a series on under­ ground prescription drug sales to immigrants in that city. The operation of such underground pharmacies had been an open secret in southern California for years, surely something that had been on the radar screen of the paper's reporters with close ethnic ties to the Latino community. Yet despite the obvious ample opportunities for journalistic investiga­tion, it was only when two Mexican immigrant babies had died after receiving injections from unlicensed "clinic" workers in 1999 that the paper paid attention.

Three years earlier, the New York Times reported on the effort of Mt. Kisco, New York, to crack down on overcrowded immigrant housing, which town officials said was part of a plan to protect neighbors and residents from the dangers of fire and unsanitary conditions. Three raids netted sixty-five men who were charged with living in space designed and zoned for thirty. The authorities were quickly challenged by Latino advocacy groups, joined by the ACLU. Mt. Kisco, the law­ suit charged, was trying to drive away Hispanic immigrants through selective enforcement of the law. The lawsuit also charged that the town had violated the plaintiffs' freedom of speech and assembly by restrict­ ing the area where day laborers could gather, and that police had routinely harassed immigrants congregating on public sidewalks and in the town's public park.

The Times' report was clearly written in sympathy with the advocacy groups and the immigrants, described as poor peasants from places where the average wage was forty cents a day. Although reporter Celia Dugger noted longtime residents' complaints about loitering, public drinking and urination, and escalating rates of violent crime, she framed them in a way that made the residents sound cranky and nativist. She made no apparent effort to verify the substance of the com­ plaints themselves by looking at police records, and showed little interest in evaluating the charge of selective enforcement. Quoting the immigrants' landlady, who complained that the town wasn't cracking down equally on Jews, Italians or Irish, Dugger gave the impression that the same kinds of violations were occurring among these groups, when in fact they were not. That the landlady might not be the most objective observer, given her obvious financial interest in packing as many immigrants into the house as she could, passed without  notice as well. So did the salient fact that most of the immigrants involved in the controversy-95 percent, according to the Organizacion Hispana, a group participating in the suit-were illegals. This may have had no legal bearing on the lawsuit; it certainly had journalistic significance, however.

Since this 1996 report, New York Times coverage of immigrant­ related quality-of-life issues in suburbia has for the most part continued in the same vein. In 1998 there was a piece about Farmingdale, Long Island, where laborers were wanted, the headline explained, "but Not Living Next Door." In late 1999 it was back to Mt. Kisco, where finicky white residents were raising complaints about a Chinese restaurant where the clientele loitered outside, causing a nuisance. In January 2000 another story with the dateline of Mt. Kisco ran under the headline "For Latino Laborers, Dual Lives." This report's subhead told it all: "Wel­ comed at Work, but Shunned at Home in Suburbs."

New York City in early 1996 was gripped by the tragic death of Elisa Izquierdo, a six-year-old girl who died at the hands of her mentally unstable mother, Awilda Lopez, originally from Puerto Rico. Accord­ ing to reports, the mother, a believer in Santeria, had beaten the girl for years in order to purge demons she said had possessed her. Officials admitted that social workers had opened a file on the girl, but had not taken any steps to withdraw her from the home despite evidence clearly warranting such intervention.

In its postmortems, the New York Times emphasized the institu­ tional dysfunction of the child welfare system at the expense of information that raised other issues. According to a memo from the Child Welfare Administration's general counsel leaked to the press, for instance, some of the agency's problems were the result of casework­ ers who couldn't speak English well enough to perform their tasks, and who came from cultures where corporal punishment was accepted. While the memo made no direct link between the Izquierdo case and these larger institutional and cultural factors, the inference was clear: the hiring of unqualified and unassimilated immigrants at the CWA had played a role in the larger institutional problems that underlay cases like this one.

Yet neither the news story nor the editorial that the Times devoted to the memo's disclosure mentioned its references to the inadequate English and different attitudes toward physical punishment in  the ranks of CWA caseworkers. Only weeks later, after an embarrassing item ran in the New York Post about the Times' lapses, did the paper tepidly acknowledge the significant differences in custom that immi­ grants bring to the issue of punishment, and assert the need for a single standard, while still ignoring the questions of language deficiency and caseworker nonassimilation.

Although various news organizations have raised concerns about the effect of immigration on labor, a tendency to celebrate immigrants' economic dynamism often obscures their impact on native-born work­ ers. A 1996 New York Times report on the network of Bangladeshi immigrant contractors that has grown up in New York over the last ten years shows such a bias. Written by Somini Sengupta, a reporter whose ethnicity presumably gave her incr eased access to New York's bur­ geoning Asian communities, the piece spotlighted the way this network has been "buoyed by a steady stream of low wage workers from back home and an exclusive network  through which skills and  resources are passed on." Many of the workers, Sengupta acknowledged, are undocumented, being recruited from the ranks of the thousands of ille­ gal Bangladeshi immigrants who land here every year. The piece also noted that contractors using their labor undercut competitors by half. Yet the link between illegal status, low wages and unfair competition was not made. Instead of also acknowledging the justified anger of native-born contractors and artisans driven out of business by the low­ wage, illegal competition, the piece monochromatically celebrated the phenomenon as an illustration of the ways in which "immigrants create niches for themselves in the city's economy."

A more acute failure to take seriously the negative impact that ille­ gal aliens have had on American labor could be seen in an account of the problems associated with diversity in Storm Lake, Iowa. Far from the border towns and barrios that for many define America's immigration policy problem, Storm Lake seemed like an odd place for 1996 pres­idential candidate Patrick Buchanan to raise one of his trademark stinks about illegal immigrants. But Buchanan's choice wasn't made without some calculation. While still relatively small, the pool of Southeast Asian and Mexican immigrants who had come to Storm Lake in recent years were not an entirely negligible presence. Crime was up, costs for educating immigrant youngsters were taxing the local school system's budget, and a general sense of alienation had begun to erode what for many residents had long been a cozy sense of homogenous isolation. Most significantly, the low wages that the town's largest employer, a meatpacking plant owned by the food conglomerate IBP, was paying its predominantly immigrant work force had led many residents to grum­ble that American workers were being displaced by those who shouldn't be there in first place.

Steven Holmes, Washington D.C. bureau correspondent for the New York Times, heard about the cultural tensions in Storm Lake while preparing to cover the 1996 Iowa Caucuses. He had learned that the town's surrounding area was Iowa's most demographically uniform; people joked to him that in that neck of the woods, even Italians stood out. Holmes arrived in Storm Lake the day Buchanan was to speak, and stayed behind when the rest of the traveling press corps lef t, talking to a number of p eople, officials and ordinary citizens alike . His report, which appeared on the front page of the national news section of the Times on February 17, 1996, ran under the headline "In Iowa Town, Strains of Diversity." Explaining that the town of 8600 people had only 22 minority residents in 1970, Holmes reported that the place was now almost 10 percent minority. Seeing Storm Lake as a touchstone for something larger, he wrote that the transformation demonstrated "how small towns in the rural heartland are facing the same issues in absorb­ ing immigrants that are confronted by places like New York, Miami and Los Angeles."

Writing about immigration in such a microcosm presented an opportunity for a serious, even-handed assessment of immigration's impact on heartland job markets, which then was shaping up as a key presidential campaign issue. But rather than presenting hard facts and figures in an effort to assess the validity of Buchanan's charges that IBP was using illegal labor that displaced native workers, Holmes  made no effort to conduct any "independent investigation" of his own, as he told me in a subsequent interview. Instead, he simply reported that executives of the company "stress they check the relevant documents of job applicants and do not knowingly hire illegal aliens."

One wonders if Holmes would have let a cop accused of brutal­ ity against blacks or a corporate executive charged with racial discrimination against minorities off the hook so easily, taking their denials at face value and accepting them as fact.

Holmes' lack of journalistic rigor became even more apparent three months after his story appeared. In May the Immigration and Nat­ uralization Service conducted a raid on the IBP plant and carted away 63 of the 600 workers on the factory floor that night. In fact, according to an IBP spokesman, while company executives in Storm Lake were denying that they "knowingly" hired illegals, others in the corporate hierarchy were cooperating with the INS in planning the raid, afraid the government might make an example of IBP to other employers who had similarly skirted the law.

Given the prominence the Time s had given Holmes' original "diversity in the heartland" report, the paper should have taken notice of the raid. It did not. Although the downside of immigration was becoming ever more apparent through the election cycle of 1996, the Times continued to report on those who questioned current policy as if they were nothing more than nineteenth-century Know-Nothings, ful­ minating against wholly imaginary demons.

Immigration and crime is an even touchier subject for journalists, even though one out of four federal prisoners is an illegal alien, and foreign felons, abetted by a dysfunctional visa system, have been able to enter and leave the country virtually at will while engaging in an ever­ expanding range of organized criminal activities: Nigerians in international car-theft rings; Chinese in extortion, kidnapping and immigrant-smuggling rackets; Dominicans in drug trafficking; and Russians in stock and credit card scams.

To some degree, the immigrant crime is a function of simple alien­ ation; lacking both the opportunities and the skills to find a niche in mainstream America, unassimilated immigrants often find the lures of gang life, and its criminal rewards, the only viable alternative. But for the most part, the journalistic establishment today is skittish about offending the sensitivities of minorities and feeding nativist stereo­ types. Of course, stories about immigrant crime get done, but usually only a fter the problem has gotten so bad that it can no longer be ignored and the immigrant criminal organizations have sent down roots that are difficult to attack.

Once again the New York Times seems to have even more trouble than most of the elite press with this subject. In case after case, story after story, facts that might suggest a linkage between immigration and crime are airbrushed or minimized.

Throughout most of the 1990s, for example, the Times was timid in reporting on the activities of the Dominican gangs that dominated the drug trade in Manhattan's Washington Heights. Given their high unem­ ployment and welfare rates, the American dream has been elusive for most of Washington Heights's 300,000 Dominicans, about a third of whom are estimated to be illegal. But for Lhose working in what has become the nation's largest wholesale and  retail  markets for  cocaine and heroin, Washington Heights was a lucrative place to land. Most of this drug trade was run by young street toughs who called themselves "Dominicanyorks." In their late teens or early twenties, they were usu­ ally recruited in their country and came to the States illegally to serve as foot soldiers in the drug trade for several years before returning home, hopefully with enough money to retire. As one wanna-be "Domini­ canyork" told the Wall Street Jo urnal, "If you are ignorant like me, you can go to New York, sell drugs, get two million pesos, come back home and be somebody."

Violence between rival drug gangs fueled a murder rate in Wash­ ington Heights that was the city's highest for years. To launder cash profits and circumvent federal currency cont rols, drug gangs set up their own illegal wiring facilities, sending tens of millions out of the country illicitly, a flow that beleaguered banking regulators could do lit­ tle to stop. At one point, death threats by drug dealers stopped uniformed cops from patrolling certain areas, and the INS was so over­ whelmed with casework that drug dealers who should have been deported after they finished serving jail time were simply released back onto the streets.

Trying to stem th e tide of drugs and killings, the city flooded Washington Heights with plainclothes officers and undercover nar­ cotics agents. Usually young and aggressive, the police officers in these narcotics details saw their buy-and-bust operations as a good way to make detective. One of them was Officer Michael O'Keefe, who arrived in Washington Heights as a nine-year vete ran of the NYPD with a rep­ utation for being a tough , hardworking street cop.

On the afternoon of July 3, 1992, working with two partners in an unmarked car, O'Keefe tried to stop a twenty-four-year-old Dominican man named Jose "Kiko" Garcia. O'Keefe was aware of a narcotics oper­ ation that was operating along 162nd Street and suspected that Garcia may have been holding drugs for it. He followed Garcia into an apartment building, where his effort to make an arrest turned violent. Within minutes, Garcia lay dying in a pool of blood spreading across the lobby floor.

News reporters generally know that eyewitnesses at crime scenes often hype their stories to get their names in print and their faces on TV-or, if they are family members, to lay the base for profitable law­ suits. They also know that politicians often exploit police-community tensions in such cases to attract publicity and advance their political agendas. Yet in the death of Kiko Garcia (as in the much-publicized death of the West African street peddler Amadou Diallo in 1999), police misconduct of the worst kind was automatically assumed.

Abandoning reportorial skepticism, journalists allowed bogus eyewitness accounts to pass into the news stream with lightning speed, almost unfiltered and unchallenged. According to the New York Times, the Garcia case was a vivid demonstration of the pervasive racism, cor­ ruption and brutality of the New York Police Depa rtment . In this account, a white cop, very likely involved in drug activity himself, had beaten a hapless grocery store clerk with no criminal record to the floor of an apartment lobby, then shot him point blank. With tensions in the area running high, the story helped provoke three nights of rioting that left one man dead, fifty-three police officers in the hospital and a neigh­ borhood gutted by fire. But as a Manhattan grand jury concl uded two months later the story was false in nearly every detail.

The Times' initial accounts were not as sensationa l as those of Newsday, which ran a headline that screamed "Cop Shooting Victim: He Was Shot in the Back." But the Times did emphasize the same details: lobby walls stained with blood; Garcia ' s sisters wailing and fainting in front of reporters. "People on the  street,"  th e Times said, described O' Keefe brutally beating Garcia with his police radio before shooting him. Garcia 's mother told the Times her son died "like a chicken on the floor." The paper quoted Gar cia's friends and relatives as denying the police report that he had been armed when he was shot. It also gave prominent attention to the account of Juana Madera, a resident of the building, who along with her sister, Anna Rodriguez, claimed to have witnessed Garcia's killing, saying that it was all the fault of O'Keefe.

New York Times reports from the Dominican Republic describing the victim's funeral further reinforced the image of Garcia as a martyr. Highlighting the simple rite attended by grieving relatives, the Times dispatch featured Garcia's sister pointing to "her bedroom's naked cement walls" and asking, "If we were involved in drugs, do you think we would be living like this?"

But evidence indicated that Garcia was not the innocent victim that local residents made him out to be. Early in the story's develop­ ment, The New York Post, using information on Garcia's criminal record that was made available by the city shortly after the killing, reported that Garcia was a known associate of Los Cibanos, a well-known drug gang, and that he had pled guilty to felony charges in 1989 after being caught with a packet of cocaine. After that, he had violated his proba­ tion, giving a phony addres·s to authorities before dropping out of sight. Authorities also said he was an illegal alien who had slipped into the country four years before. These facts, though , made their way only slowly into the Times coverage, well after the city's other papers-with far less power to shape the story and influence the responses of public officials- had reported them. And when the Times did make mention of Garcia's illegal status, it was to create sympathy for him by imply­ ing that the lack of a green card made employment difficult and drug dealing inevitable.

A week after the shooting, in a front-page Sunday take-out, the Times finally noted Garcia's illegal status and his criminal record. But it dismissed as "speculation" reports that he had a continuing involve­ ment with drugs. The article quoted friends and relatives who described Garcia as "timid," a "grown up kid" who "didn't have it in him to deal d rugs." The reporters themselves asserted that Garcia "apparently eked out a living peddling clothing on the street." The piece also quoted an acquaintance of Garcia as asking, "Why would he have endured that beating if he was armed?" What went unmentioned was the declaration by the medical examiner's office that there was no forensic evidence for the claim that O'Keefe had beaten Garcia with his radio in the first place.

In contrast with their reluctance to mention Garcia's criminal background, reporters leapt to impugn O'Keefe, mainly through unsub­ stantiated hearsay. A July 8 Times story cited "rumors voiced by elected officials and residents alike that Officer O'Keefe may have been involved in illegal activity." And following up on these rumors in the long Sunday take-out, the paper quoted unsubstantiated allegations from "a former drug dealer" named Andy Hernandez who accused O'Keefe of shaking him down for $2000 in cash and $3000 worth of cocaine. The reporters also quoted a supervisor at the Legal Aid Society, which had represented several defendants arrested by O' Keefe: "He is a cop who was basically thinking he was in the Wild West, and he was making his own rules."

The attack on O'Keefe was part of a larger media script in which the riots were seen "in context" as a tortured cry for justice resulting from a pattern of mistreatment by a police force that was corrupt, brutal and culturally tone deaf. One Times article, for instance, examined the link between community resentment and a lack of ethnic diversity in the NYPD under the headline "Suburban Presence in Blue." But while it was true that about a third of the department's ranks lived beyond the city's immediate borders at that point, the 34th Precinct where O'Keefe worked had more minority officers than anywhere else in the city, assigned there specifically to enhance sensitivity to the character of the community.

Discussions of the "co ntext" generally avoided other uncomfort­ able facts as well. One of them was the huge presence of illegal aliens, whom police estimated were responsible for half of the crimes com­ mitted in the neighborhood. Another factor that was ignored was the official laxity that allowed Garcia and many other illegals like him to receive probation rather than deportation for drug convictions and other felonies . The turmoil could also have provided a news peg on which to hang discussion of the problems of witness intimidation and extradition, both of which are complicated by high rates of undocu­ mented immigrants.

It was also quite evident to many observers-someof the tabloids' more street-savvy columnists, for instance-that drug gangs were encouraging the riot in the hope of creating a political problem for the police so they would back off from aggressive street-level anti-narcotics efforts. But the Times quot ed a Latino community activist calling that claim "totally ridiculous and incendiary," and then pursued the matter no further.

Three days after the shootin g, hoping to restore public order in New York on the eve of the 1992 Democra tic National Convention, Mayor David Dinkins paid a personal visit to Garcia's family in Wash­ ington Heights and invited them the next day to Gracie Mansion, his official residence. He also arranged to have the city pay for Garcia's bur­ ial in the Dominican Republic. Many in the city were critical of the mayor. Rudolph Giuliani, then preparing to run against Dinkins the fol­ lowing year, accused him of pandering to the Latino vote and of justifying the rioting by perpetuating "chara cterization s of Mr. Garcia as an innocent bodega worker victimized by the police." But the Times cast Dinkins' actions in an entirely favorable light, crediting him with an "aggressive strategy to restore peace through broad symbolic acts and small administrative gestures."

Two months later, in September of that year, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office released a report outlining the findings of a grand jury investigation into the Garcia killing. All the evidence corroborated O'Keefe's story that he had shot Garcia in self-defense after Garcia pulled a gun. Physical evidence showed that Garcia had been standing, not lying flat, when he was shot. It indicated that he had been shot twice, not three times as the eyewitnesse s had maintained. The grand jury report cited O'Keefe's hysterical radio call for help after the struggle, calling it "hardly the behavior of a cop shooting an innocent man in cold blood." It also claimed that the two sisters whose "eyewitness" accounts were such a prominent feature in early reports of the case could not possibly have seen the killing from where they were standing. And according to the grand jury findings, Garcia was a chronic cocaine user who worked for a drug ring headed by the son of the one of the two sis­ters, whose apartment was a "safe house" for the operation. Records showed that in March 1992, four months before the incident, police had raided the apartment and seized a video tap e showing the son holding bags of cocaine and gloating, "It's legal here." Kiko Garcia also appeared on the tape.

After the grand jury report was made public, the Times published an editorial entitled "The Lessons of Washington Heights." The events, the Times concluded, taught "the importance of caution and restraint when the next such incident occurs." But the paper of record offered no explanation for why its own reporting had been so wide of the mark, nor an apology to Officer O'Keefe. Neither did it acknowledge the incendiary role its story line of a racist cop killing an innocent immi­ grant had played in stoking the disorder.

The problem of immigrant criminality has also been a subject draped in oversensitivity and solicitude at the Los Angeles Times. The gang cap­ ital of America, Los Angeles has nearly 1,250 identifiable street gangs and up to 150,000 gang members-one-quarter of the nation's total, according to 1996 Department of Justice figures. Many of them are illegal Hisp anic aliens.

With over seven thousand gang-related homicides in the last ten years, and whole areas of the city now gang-dominated or gang-con­ trolled, the imp act of gang violence on the region's quality of lif e and sense of public safety and order is unmistakable, and is a driving force in wholesale flight-white, black and brown-from the area. Involved in crimes ranging from drug dealing to extortion to contract killing, gangs pose a particular problem for police and for prosecutors due to the systematic way they intimidate or kill witnesses. Throughout the 1990s more than one thousand accused killers, most of them gang mem­ bers, went free because witnesses were either dead or too scared to cooperate.

Yet despite the urgency of the problem, the Los A ngel es Times' reporting has lacked the edge required to rally the public behind pol­ icy solutions. Slow to acknowledge the problem, particularly the immigrant dimension, when it was burgeoning in the 1980s, the Times' reporting has been less than searching, and tends to duck the tougher issues if they challenge the prevailing orthodoxy of diversity or might feed anti-immigrant stereotypes.

These deficits were evident in a multipart series that the paper ran in November 1996 on the 18th Street Gang , the biggest and most insid­ ious in Los Angeles. The result of eight months of investigative work by reporters Rich Connell and Robert J. Lopez, the series examined the gang's history, criminal activities, sociological complexities and impact on residents. It also detailed law enforcement's failures to come to terms with the gang.

The 18th Street Gang had a membership of about twenty thou­ sand, the Times reported, far surpassing the much better-known Crips and Bloods. The gang had "literally taken over some parts of the city," the writers explained, quoting a law enforcement source who said 18th Street was "worse than a cancer." The target of two federal law enforce­ ment task forces in recent years-one by the FBI, the other by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms-the gang was a hydra­ headed monster that was almost unstoppable, making life miserable for families and businesspeople in the areas it controlled.

Citing a confidential 1995 California State Department of Justice report, the series noted the fact that over 60 percent of the 18th Street Gang was composed of illegal Mexican aliens, and that it had strong ties to the state's Mexican Mafia and to criminal enterprises across the bor­ der. The series also mentioned that a significant problem among the many budget-strained local, state and federal law enforcement author­ ities was a lack of communication. Law enforcement agencies, the reporters explained, hadn't adjusted their tactics- by pooling resources or sharing information to meet the challenges posed by the gang's increasing sophistication and its spread across city, state and interna­tional borders.

At the series' end, the reporters outlined an action plan: a multi­ agency task force with the ability to cross political boundaries; a regional and even national gang intelligence center to help authorities track gang movements and activities; better computer tracking of incar­ cerated and paroled gang members; and the assignment of parole agents to task forces and to border crossings with Mexico.

But missing frorn the series was any mention of what many authorities consider to be a significant policy obstacle to fighting the gang effectively-an obstacle inextricably linked to the larger problem of poor coordination between local and federal authorities. The policy, called Special Order 40, specifically prevented the Los Angeles Police Department from asking anyone about their immigration status, check­ ing with the INS, or turning in suspects accused of minor violations, one way of monitoring for more serious offenses. The policy, established in the 1970s in the wake of civil rights complaints, was a controversial one. According to those involved in the fight against gangs, it was one of the primary reasons why the region was having such a hard time coming to terms with the alien gang problem. But the Times only got around to mentioning th e directive a month after the series, in its coverage of public hearings triggered by the reports, when conservatives on the board of supervisors called for Special Order 40 to be rescinded and ethnic liberals in Los Angeles went into fits denouncing this "racism."

As overdue and as partial as the Los Angeles Times' series on the 18th Street Gang was, however, it still proved too much for many in the Latino community and their tribunes at the paper. Editor Frank del Olmo, one of the paper 's top Latinos who for years had a total monop­ oly of immigration-related editorials, tried to balance the series with something more positive. He agreed with many in the Latino commu­ nity that the 18th Street series trafficked in cliches and stereotypes. (In an interview he said it reminded him of something from a 1950s mon­ ster movie.) Consequently the paper's op-ed pages ran a piece by Luis Rodriguez, a former gang member who had done time in prison and now operated a Chicago-based gang rehabilitation organiza tion . Rodriguez said both the size and the dangers of gangs like 18th Street were being exaggerated to fuel public fear and justif y the expansion of law enforcement budgets and "repressive" social policy.

The problem of methamphetamine "superlabs" in the Central Val­ ley of California is another major crime story with an immigration subtext that news organizations have had a hard time addressing, as a front-page New York Times piece in mid-May 2001 attests. Hundreds if not th ousan ds of such superlabs operate in the agricultural Central Valley, producing what former drug czar Barry McCaffrey has called "the worst drug that has ever hit America." Methamphetamine is highly addictive, often causing violent psychosis in abusers. It is also an environmental disaster: many meth labs employ the severely toxic drug phosphine, which can leave the land and buildings used for lab sites permanently polluted and lab workers with disease that quickly becomes fatal.

The superlab problem, as the article by Evelyn Nieves makes clear, represents a quantum leap from the old days when methamphetamine, also known as "speed" or "crank," was produced on a much smaller scale by white motorcycle gangs such as the Hell's Angels. Today's labs are run by "Mexican crime families" from south of the border who have set up shop in the north in order avoid the hassle of smuggling the drug through the border. These families, the article says, also use their sales network to sell the product nationwide, with drugs produced in Cali­ fornia available on the street in Portland, Maine.

But when it came to examining who the lab workers in this labor­ intensive industry were, the Times reporter seemed to engage in intentional obfuscation.

The Valley's chronic high unemployment rate makes recruiting workers "as easy as selling lemonade on a hot day," Nieves wrote. The crime families consider the work force a "renewable resource," an agent from the Drug Enforcement Agency told her. "When the workers get too sick from all the chemicals they've been ingesting to keep going, they just bring over or recruit others."

In conjunction with the fact that the superlabs are owned by Mex­ ican crime families, and that the workers they hire are considered renewable resources easily replaced by those the crime families "bring over," the article suggests to anyone with a sense of on-the-ground real­ ities in California that the lab workers are probably impoverished Mexican immigrants, a large percentage of whom are undocumented aliens. Indeed, the very sources that Nieves quotes told me, when I con­ tacted them after her piece ran, that the problem definitely had an immigration subtext. "You can't discuss large-scale manufacture [of methamphetamine] without mentioning undocumented illegal Mexi­ can immigrants," said Robert Penna!, a federal agent who heads the Fresno Methamphetamine Task Force and who spent time in the field with Nieves. Carl Faller, the chief assistant U.S. attorney for the Fresno area-whose boss, U.S. attorney John Vincent , was also interviewed by Nieves-roundly agreed. The undocumented status of the workers, he said, "makes them susceptible to exploitation [by drug lab operators] in the same way they've been susceptible to agricultural exploitation for decades."

For touchy-feely relativism in reporting on Latino immigrant gangs, however, nothing could surpass Seth Mydans' 1995 New York Times story, "Family Ties Strong for Hispanic Gangs." Fusing a report on the ultra-violence of L.A.'s Latino street gangs with a discourse on their often overlooked sense of family values, the piece reads almost like a parody of culturally sensitive reporting. According to Mydans, the gangs could also be "remarkably warm hearted" with a gallant "respect for motherhood." Hispanic family members were very loyal, he noted, visiting incarcerated relatives in jail. And when young teenage couples bore children out of wedlock, the gang members often stayed at home to look after their offspring, proud and exultant.

News organizations skirt immigration's downside in still another way by accepting the line of columnists such as Anthony Lewis of the New York Times, who wrote in April 1996, "In any event, most immigrants, in the classic American story, contribute far more to this country than they cost." Reporters have generally ignored an ever-increasing body of research indicating that the opposite is true.

The costs involved in arresting, providing translators for, prose­ cuting and incarcerating undocumented immigrant criminals is one subject that news organizations have been very reluctant to acknowl­ edge. In August 1992, Los Angeles County released a report estimating that it cost $75.2 million to arrest, jail and prosecute illegal immigrants in the county's jurisdiction. In the context of southern California's bitter arguments over immigration, both legal and illegal, and its impact on taxpayers, the report was explosive news. It became even more so when the county board of supervisors voted unanimously to endorse the report. Up until that time, there had been no media attention given to the problem, even though it was a subject of heated debate in almost every living room and judge's chambers in the region. Yet instead of building a story around the report in order to better inform the public, the Los Angeles Times gave it only 161 words in its news sections-a mere four paragraphs.

Another facet of the immigrant social spending debate where journalists have been less than vigorous in getting to the facts is immi­ grant welfare dependency. In 1999 the poverty rate for immigrants and their children was 18 percent, while it was 11 percent for native-born Americans and their children. Economist George Borjas has estimated that welfare expenditures on immigrants are between $1 and $3 billion more per year than the immigrant contribution to the welfare system.

During most of the 1990s it was difficult to get conclusive figures on how many immigrants were on the welfare rolls, although in 1997 when the reform provisions governing immigrant access to welfare were about to kick in, reporters had no trouble finding estimates to show how many immigrants would be thrown off the rolls. This was a sign, according to many observers, of press resistance to admitting facts that might make immigration look like anything other than an unmixed blessing.

A blithe attitude toward welfare dependency among immigrants suffused a February 1995 report in the New York Times on one New York immigrant's return to her native Trinidad for the annual Carnival. Fol­ lowing a forty-one-year-old welfare mother of three back to her "roots" among Trinidad's haut bourgeoisie, the reporter explained that in New York she was "a nobody," but "at home" she was "somebody" again­ "a young beauty, daughter of ... a well known theatre owner who still leads one of the island's most famous carnival bands."

The tale of an upper-middle-class immigrant woman who came to America, bore three children, lived on welfare, and yet still had the resources to return home for Carnival could have raised serious ques­ tions of welfare fraud, abuse and corruption. How common was her case? How many other welfare recipients were able to make similar yearly treks? But the Times, caught up in the celebratory air, chose to leave these implications of the story unexamined.

Similarly, a walk through any social service office filled with Latino clients would be enough at least to raise questions about  the link between high immigration and high rates of child poverty, as would even the most cursory conversation with a caseworker or super­ visor. But the media often skirt these relationships. The cost of extending medical services to impoverished immigrants, many of them illegal, is another subject that has gotten short shrift. For most of the 1990s in Los Angeles, for instance, illegal immigrants made up one­ quarter of the patients in the overburdened public hospital and clinic system and accounted for two-thirds of the births in Los Angeles County hospitals. Yet a MacNeil-Lehr er Newslw ur report on the L.A. County hospital system's 1995 fiscal crisis typified the willful avoidance that reporters often brought to the subject. Prepared by Jeffrey Kaye , the piece examined the fiscal collapse of the hospital system and the harsh cuts in services that had been planned in response. According to Kaye, the cuts would close 29 out of 39 health care clinics as well as all 6 com­ munity health care centers , and cause 6,000 doctors' positions to be eliminated.

Kaye reported that the main reason the county government was in such dire straits was "the decline of the industries [such as aerospace] that once fueled Southern California's economic prosperity." Of course this was an important factor. But so were costs associated with provid­ ing free medical care to ever-increasing numbers of (nontaxpaying) illegal immigrants-something Kaye never mentioned. This omission was even more striking given the fact that less than a year before, voters in the state concerned with ballooning state spending on illegal immi­ grants had cited health care expenditures as a primary reason for backing Proposition 187, the highly controversial ballot initiative that called for barring illegal aliens from most public services.

According to Kaye , however, his avoidance of the illegal immi­ gration factor was not unintentional. Asked about it in an interview, he said that since the issue of providing services to illegal aliens was not a problem before the economy went into recession, the segment would be misrepresenting the real source of the trouble if it dwelled on immigra­ tion. That it had been a problem before, and was now a more acute one, seemed not to enter into his thinking.

There seemed to be a lot of willful denial about the effects of heavy immigration on school spending too. It is hardly surprising that immi­ gration would tax school budgets in a time of increasing public stinginess. Yet journalists, preferring to overlook the strains that record numbers of immigrant children were putting on public education, emphasized the bright side. "Immigrants Jam Schools, Invigorate Sys­ tem," read one New York Times headline.

The Times has also shown a reluctance to acknowledge immigra­tion as a factor in school overcrowding. As the 1996 school year opened , the New York City public school system discovered that enrollment rates in many of its districts had vastly exceeded estimates. Chaos resulted. In some districts, the Times reported, officials had simply no idea how many kids were enrolled or how many were going to show up. Classroom space was carved out of gyms, closets and even lavato­ ries, and officials scrambled to shift kids from overburdened districts to those with lighter enrollments.

The most overcrowded districts were also the ones with the heav­ iest concentrations of immigrants. Many of the parents who were quoted complaining about the situation in the news media were recent arrivals from Ba ngladesh, Thailand and other Third World countries. Not long before, the New York Board of Education had issued a report projecting that it would take almost four hundred new schools, at a cost of $10 billion, to accommodate all the new immigrants. Not long after, it released figures showing that immigrant students take longer than most students to graduate, some as much as six or seven years longer, which further contributes to the system's congestion.

In its reporting on the overcrowding crisis, however, the New York Times barely mentioned the immigration factor. Instead it chose to blame policy decisions made in the 1970s that closed certain city schools and put a moratorium on new ones, a decision that reflected the declin­ ing school-age population of that day. While it was true that long-term policy planning decisions were part of the problem, the failure to assign at least some responsibility to the immigration boom came close to being a calculated concealment.

Were it less ideological, the journalistic establishment might acknowl­ edge that public anxiety about the heavy immigration isn't without some foundation . The demographic transformation such immigration has set in motion is unprecedented in America, turning a majority white nation with European cultural roots into a nonwhite plurality with no shared cultural heritage. No other country in history has ever willingly attempted, much less accomplished, a social makeover on this scale. According to polls, most Americans-including most Hispanics-feel uneasy about high rates of immigration and virtually open borders, believing that the harm resulting from such a situation outweighs the gains. Dismayed by the policy dilettantism of political elites, the major­ ity of Americans also resent the fact that they have never been consulted about, much less allowed to debate, the merits of immigration policy with the vigor that the current situation warrants. As Nathan Glazer wrote in the New Re public, "When one considers present immigration policies, it seems we have insensibly reverted to mass immigration without ever having made a decision to do so."

Yet for most of the 1980s and early 1990s, journalists helped to chill a much-needed, vigorous debate on immigration and immigration reform. Echoing the activists who made accusations of nativism when­ ever calls for reform were made, the press helped to establish an embargo on criticism. "A Land of Immigrants Gets Uneasy about Immi­ gration," read one New York Times headline, repeating predictions that the country might soon be seeing the bloody ghosts of its anti-immi­ grant past. Dismissed in one New York Times headline as "An Accident of Geography" and in a Times op-ed piece as the equivalent of the Berlin Wall, the concept of a border itself was made to seem illegitimate,  and those who were calling for beefing up its strength were regularly disparaged as "mean-spirited" chauvinists trying to hold back a human tide that was veritably a force of nature.

In the mid-nineties, with illegal immigrants providing some of the tinder for the Los Angeles riots (almos t half of those arrested were undocumented aliens), and with wide holes in the immigration system providing entry for several of the terrorists involved in the World Trade Center bombing, the parameters of acceptable debate widened some­ what. This meant that there was a greater readiness to acknowledge just how much "Chaos at the Gates" there really was, to cite the title of an extensive 1994 New York Times series on the porousness of our borders and the disarray in the INS. But the fact that the links between crime and immigration were now being examined in detail did not mean that news organizations were ready to depart from the preconceived pro­ immigration script, or were any less reflexive in equating calls for immigration reform with nativism and racism. A 1993 New York Times Week in Review story captured the flavor of the antagonism, likening calls for toughening border enforcement to the xenophobia sweeping Germany at the time and to America's own nativist past: "Americans, pinched and worried, say asylum seekers are a burden. They have said so before." Another New York Times piece decried what it said was a "rude inhospitality which at other times may have been considered racist or at least xenophobic."

Such knee-jerk conflation of calls for reform with nativism grew loudest in the reporting over Proposition 187, a controversial Califor­ nia ballot initiative that won by a twenty-point margin in November 1994. Driven by the argument that California's generous social benefits had exerted a "magnet effect " on the state's 1.5 to 3 million illegal aliens, the initiative called for an end to nonemergency health care and public schooling for undocumented aliens, and required medical, edu­ cational and law enforcement authorities to report them to immigration . authorities . Although many of its backers doubted the measure's enforceability, they supported it anyway, hoping it would send a mes­ sage to Washington that somethi ng needed to be done about the nation's virtually open border.

There were reasons to be skeptical about the measure. Although most of Proposition 187's supporters were not driven by racism or xenophobia, some clearly were. There were also concerns that Governor Pete Wilson had embraced 187 in order to gain a political advantage over his Democratic challenger, Kathleen Brown. Even the measure's constitutionality was unclear; if it passed, a long series of court chal­ lenges were surely ahead.

All of these shortcomings were adequately reported. Largely ignored or minimized, however, were the problems targeted by the proposition. Over half the illegal immigrants in the entire country lived in California, and the state was paying out vast sums of public money because it had lost control of the border. More than 300,000 illegal immi­ grants had received free public health care the year before-a colossal increase in less than five years. The cost of educating the children of ille­ gal immigrants was estimated at $1.8 billion, and the cost of incarcerating convicted illegals, who made up one-sixth of the state's inmate population, was tabbed at $475 million. True, many illegal aliens were paying taxes; but most of those taxes went to Washington, not Sacramento. At the very least, its supporters hoped, Proposition 187 might trigger a more equitable distribution of such money and a more vigorous debate about illegals.

With sound arguments on both sides, news organizations could have helped the electorate make an informed choice. Instead, they met Proposition 187 with relentless antagonism. According to a New York Times editorial, 187 was "meanspirited, impractical and probably unconstitutional." New York Times columnist William Safire called it a "nativist abomination" and his colleague on the op-ed page Anthony Lewis saw it as a clear example of "the politics of nativism." On CNN, Wall Street Journal columnist Al Hunt called it a "draconian initiative" and said it would "exacerbate xenophobia and racial tensions." Net­ work TV coverage was equally hostile. According to one survey, 75 percent of the nightly stories were predominantly anti-187, with argu­ ments against it outnumbering those in favor by 5 to l.

The virtual unanimity of the condemnation spoke to the lack of diversity of opinion in the elite national media culture. But at the state level, in the reporting of the Los A ngeles Times,there was something far more insidious: a case study in journalistic misrepresentation, distortion and bias aimed at beating back the measure. Disproportionately Latino, the Los Angeles Times reporting team made itself a vehicle for anti-187 scare tactics, a mission to which the paper's other editorial writers and columnists demonstrated considerable devotion as well.
The coverage showed its bias in its depiction of pro-187 forces-­ groups that the paper had ignored for years even as their ranks swelled with disaffected citizens. Aside from a single effort to climb inside the heads of Proposition 187 supporters, the Los A ngeles Times st ressed their political ineptitude, paranoia and tenden tiousnes s, alon g with their wholly incidental links to what the paper said were whit e supremacist organizations in other parts of the country. The pro-187 group' s motto, S.O.S. (Save Our State), one sarcastic report explained, was coined over dinner at a Mexican restaurant. And the group itself supposedly had lit­ tle common ground other than "their contempt for immigrants."

The paper's bias was also apparent in its indulgence of the oppo­ sition's demagoguery. Mud slinging is a staple of California politics, but the opposition's rhetoric was scandalous even by the state's hardball standards. One Catholic priest said to be "seething with a quiet indig­ nation more often reserved for mortal sin than a ballot initiative" was quoted as saying that the measure was "entirely godless." A Jew quoted in the same piece saw parallels with "Jews being sent back on the ship St. Louis during World War II." In another piece, a prominent Latino politician in Orange County who had declared his neutrality was char­ acterized by one Latino civil rights leader as doing "just like the good Germans did when they watched other Germans being marched to the ovens."

During the run-up to the vote, opposition groups mounted a series of marches throughout the region, with Mexican flags often prominently displayed. Students in public high schools-their illegal status identified only in the most indirect way-conducted a series of walkouts in protest, in some cases sparking violence. There were also numerous instances of flag burning, during which Anglos who protested were severely beaten. Yet the Times gave these actions only the most cursory attention, avoiding altogether the view that foreign nationals were in some cases violently attempting to sway an Ameri­ can election or were engaging in thuggish, anti-democratic behavior.

The paper also failed to report honestly on how the Mexican gov­ ernment lent support to the opposition. In August, the Mexican government, in a true breach of sovereignty, issued a formal condem­ nation of the initiative, claiming it would "spur a Latino underclass and spur discrimination." Later, the Mexican government went a step fur­ ther, offering strategic advice and promising legal assistance should the initiative pass. Such efforts were significant, and were read by many to constitute undesirable meddling in the internal affairs of another country. They also represented profound hypocrisy on the part of Mex­ ican authorities, given their own draconian policies toward the illegal aliens from Central and South America violating their borders.

At the time the Mexican government announced its opposition in August, the Times duly reported it. But news of its formal assistance to the anti-187 camp did not come until the end of October. Even then, the paper did not say conclusively that the Mexicans were contribut­ ing money, although they were . Nor did it treat the question of meddling in the internal affairs of another country with ariy depth. Only after the balloting did Times editorials venture that Mexicans "might be forgiven for a bit of presumption," but no harm was per­ ceived, as a "mature California" could live with "occasional foreign criticism."

The Los Angeles Times' most significant lapse, however, was its failure to frame and answer in any definitive and reliable manner the central questions raised by the initiative . Exactly how much of a burden did illegal immigrants pose to the state and how much would the state save by implementing Proposition 187? Did the dire predictions of the opposition-a plague of communicable diseases, rampant juvenile crime by kids being dumped from schools into the streets, and ram­ pant violations of Latino civil rights-have anyreal validity? At certain points in the campaign, these questions were noted, but rarely in a way that went deeper than the superficial answers supplied by the opposi­ tion. The Times failed to examine the dramatic decline in the quality of California's public education system over the previous decade-a decline which many observers credibly blamed on the burden of having to educate hundreds of thousands of unassimilated newcomers. (In Los Angeles, nearly half of the city's 700,000 public school students required bilingual instruction.)

The paper did not explore, either, the financial savings for the fiscally burdened public hospital system and the Medi-Cal system that supports it, should they no longer have to service the state's three mil­ lion undocumented aliens. The state would still have to provide emergency medical care for illegals, the cost of which would still be considerable. (At Los Angeles County Hospital, for instance, 2 out of every 3 births were to undocumented immigrant mothers.) But other medical care would not be compulsory, representing sizeable savings­ about which the public was lef t uninformed .

Instead of doing an honest reckoning of 187 and what its passage might mean, the Times maintained its steady drumbeat of incendiary coverage and commentary. Journalists filed stories heavy with hysteri­ cal predictions; in one such alarum, an activist was allowed to charge that 187 "could open the door for some racist white supremacist group to attack Latinos." The paper's partisanship was also evident in a string of stories it ran emphasizing the dire impact of the measure's victory upon the immigrant community, many of whom were "Walking in Fear." The proposition's landslide victory, suggested one Times writer, was a sign that California "was no longer the land of opportunity."

Editors at the Los Angeles Times hav e officially dismissed the charge that their coverage was biased. But according to a former Times writer, many reporters clearly believed their mission was to beat 187. "It never occurred to many of them that this was a complicated issue to be weighed with detachment," he said. "The clear sense was that they were in the middle, fighting the forces of darkness." Eventua lly, the paper's editors would make oblique admissions of their bias. According to one veteran correspondent, editors planning their coverage of Propo­ sition 209, a 1996 measure to prohibit racial preferences in state institutions, "lold us Lhey wanted to be very careful about avoiding the perception of bias this time around . They didn't want what hap­ pened during 187 to happen again."

Another recurring story line involves immigrants currently leading upstanding lives who are deported for minor crimes committed in the past. A string of New York Times reports in 2000 and 2001, many of them written by Times immigration correspondent Chris Hedges, under­ scored this theme. One of them, which ran under the headline "Condemned Again for Old Crimes," described how the deportation law descended "sternly" and surprisingly on a Filipino man who had been arrested in 1975 on a fairly minor charge of sexual contact with an underage girl and had never been in trouble with the law since. (He was twenty-one at the time; the girl was sixteen years old, and her mother, who disapproved of their boyfriend-girlfriend relationship , had set the arrest in motion.) The motto on the Statue of Liberty should be changed, the man said from a corrections facility, to: "Give me your poor, your tired and your hungry, because we still have empty jail cells."

The New York Times could be sympathetic even when the charge was more serious, as shown by the pathos saturating an account of the pain suffered by the family of a Chinese immigrant convicted of smug­ gling aliens into the country . "Alone and unemployed, she [the man's Chinese wife] worries most now that her husband will be deported," wrote Hedges. Yet somehow the salutary effects of the broader policy changes that allowed the more effective deportation of alien criminals­ weakened gangs, safer streets, fewer tax dollars spent arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating foreign-born criminals-did not get the same sympathetic attention as these human interest cases.

An August 1997 two-part story in the New York Times dealt with this tougher policy. According to th e Times, this policy was not as effec­ tive as those who had backed it might have liked. Once deported, the felons had an easy time getting back into the States undetected, quickly resuming their criminal activities. "Partly as a result," the Times reported, "the effect of the increased deportations are barely perceptible on the streets of the nation's major cities."

But while the effects of the new policy were negligible in the United States, they were "profound," said the Times, in some of the countries where alien felons were forcibly returned, such as El Salvador and some of the Caribbean island nations. There, the paper reported, the "unintended side effects" of the new law were troubling, as return­ ing thugs operated with "all the truculence of their parent groups in Los Angeles and other American cities," and exported American gang habits. To underscore that point, the story was illustrated with bold photographs of the repatriated gang members, flaunting their gang signals just as their brethren in Los Angeles were routinely pho­ tographed doing.

Such gang activity, said the Times, posed a threat to the new-found political stability of Latin American countries that was as bad as the rev­ olutionary violence that had plagued some of them before. According to one police official in El Salvador, "If you keep sending these guys back, we're going to have another civil war on our hands." That such a devel­ opment would be America's fault was made plain. Keith Mitchell, the president of Grenada, complained about the repatriation of its Ameri­ can immigrant fe lons: "If they are sending the worst criminals back to us, that is a bit cold, calculating and uncaring, and certainly not the action of a fair and concerned friend."

To frame the story of deported alien criminals in a way that made America a bogeyman for sending the felons to where they originated was a bit of a stretch. And for a news organization that had largely ignored the depredations of gangs operating in our own cities suddenly to manifest concern for their activities in foreign countries was even more dubious.

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