Nishat Kurwa on Tuesday, Jan. 11th
In the aftermath of the Tuscon shooting, the recurrent themes in mainstream press analysis of the assault are gun control and political civility. But there’s little mention, even by Democrats leveraging incivility charges against the right wing, of the racialized demagoguery that’s also prevalent in the hyper-inflamed political atmosphere.
Legislators’ calls for “civility” only address the directive language of cross-hairs, targets, mobs, and “taking people out.” But we can thank the same wordsmiths for rhetoric that’s been bubbling up since Obama’s election and especially within the immigration debate – terms like “birther” and “illegals.” Key journalism organizations are trying to dismantle the underlying structural acceptance of this language, beginning with style guides that refer to immigrants as “illegal(s).”
Colorlines Magazine has launched a “Drop the I-Word” campaign. And Leo Laurence, editor of the San Diego News Service and a member of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Diversity Committee, wrote in the SPJ’s Quill Magazine that given “one of the most basic of our constitutional rights is that everyone (including non-citizens) is innocent of any crime until proven guilty in a court of law…only a judge, not a journalist, can say that someone is an illegal.” Despite the AP Stylebook’s recommendation of “illegal immigrant” over “undocumented worker,” Laurence proposes that journalists use “undocumented immigrant(s).”
The subject arose recently on the Fox News Channel, on an “America Live” segment featuring Jehmu Greene, former president of the Women’s Media Center, and former Bush administration official Brad Blakeman.
Greene said the increase in violence against immigrants can be linked to the dehumanizing mass media references to people as “illegals,” and that the term is inflammatory in an environment of fear and economic insecurity that’s often being blamed on immigrants.
Blakeman retorted that “the problem is not what we call them , it’s what we do with them,” and that it’s not the job of journalists to decide what people should be called — which, of course, is refuted by the existence of style guides that ultimately help shape the broader lexicon through journalists’ consensus usage of their recommendations.
Host Meghan Kelly cited the AP’s endorsement of the term “illegal,”‘ as compared to “undocumented” for its lack of precision.
Greene said she hopes the AP will come around and realize their style guide is wrong. The typical ratcheting of the volume on Fox segments covered one of her closing statements, “It’s increasing violence against immigrants. And I would hope that we could agree that…if there are ways that language can stop the increasing violence immigrants, that that would be something we would all want to happen.”