Deficient stories hinder debate

Incomplete reports don't help our grasp of immigration issue

July 15, 2006

by David Kopel

As Coloradans collectively work to solve the puzzle of what to do about illegal immigration, they can be hindered by newspaper articles that report only part of the story. Consider, for example, two recent stories in The Denver Post.

Because Colorado legislators have been looking to Georgia's new laws about illegal immigration as a possible model for our state, the Postwas smart to assign Karen E. Crummy to get a Georgia perspective ("Legislator: Ga.'s law no panacea," June 29).

Unfortunately, Crummy interviewed a single Georgian, State Sen. Sam Zamarripa, who voted against the reform package. Crummy's lead disingenuously described Zamarripa as "A Georgia state senator who helped draft a law that cracks down on illegal immigrants." More precisely, Zamarripa earned the praise of the former Mexican consul in Atlanta for successfully working to weaken the law after it was apparent that it could not be defeated.

Crummy did not inform readers that Zamarippa has served on the board of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a pro-illegal alien lobby, that Zamarippa has pushed for giving driver's licenses to illegal aliens, and that he is a founder and director of Banco Unido, a bank that has been criticized for making mortgage loans to illegal aliens.

Yet Crummy wrote: "Although Zamarripa helped refine Georgia's illegal-immigration law, he didn't vote for the final measure." Her phrasing created the false impression that Zamarripa was a something other than Georgia's leading opponent of restrictions on illegal immigration.

A complete story about the Georgia law should have included the perspective of a skeptic such as Zamarripa, but also should have included the perspective of a supporter, such as the bill's sponsor.

Several days after Crummy's story appeared, the Post'sKaren Augé told several hardship stories about the enforcement of a new law requiring recipients of Medicaid (a joint state-federal welfare program which provides health care to poor people) to provide evidence of U.S. citizenship ("Medicaid ID proviso sends many scurrying," July 4).

Augé obviously did some hard work in tracking down the tales of some citizens who are having trouble supplying the necessary documentation. But she put little effort into informing readers about the broader problem of illegal immigration and Medicaid. Instead, she simply offered a statement from the state's Medicaid director that the state government did not have an estimate of the number of Colorado's 446,000 Medicaid recipients who were illegal aliens.

Had Augé searched a little, she would have found the Center for Immigration Studies research paper The High Cost of Cheap Labor: Illegal Immigration and the Federal Budgetwhich found that 17 percent of illegal alien households receive Medicaid benefits (compared to 14 percent of the legal population). The study used estimation techniques similar to those of the Census Bureau.

Significantly, the CIS study reported that illegal alien adults rarely receive Medicaid; rather their American-born children (who are U.S. citizens, sometimes called "anchor babies") are the major recipients.

By reporting on the scholarly research, the Postcould have deepened readers' understanding of the complex issue: on the one hand, relatively few Medicaid dollars appear to be spent directly on illegal aliens; on the other hand, illegal immigration results in massive increases in additional Medicaid spending for tens of thousands of people in Colorado every year. (Based on the 17 percent household utilization rate, and the common estimates of 200,000 to 400,000 illegal aliens presently in Colorado.)

Local newspapers (a category that includes everything except a few giants such as The New York Times, USA Todayand The Wall Street Journal) are struggling to keep themselves relevant in an era when the Internet supplies more high-quality national and international news than most people can digest - and when the percentage of readers under the age of 40 who read a daily newspaper continues to shrink.

In response, papers are emphasizing local coverage, and shrinking their "news hole" for national and international news. For example, while the 20th century Boulder Daily Cameraput the national/international news in Section A and most local news in Section B, in the 21st century those sections have been reversed, and the Cameranow offers many long local stories and hardly any in-depth national or international stories. A trend toward reduced national and international coverage is also apparent in the Rocky Mountain Newsand the Post.

Given that space is increasingly scarce, it is unfortunate that the Newsdevotes 46 square inches in Section A of its flagship edition, the Saturday paper, to an ugly and poorly-drawn political cartoon called Bad Reporter, by Don Asmussen of the San Francisco Chronicle.His knee-jerk angry left viewpoint is already more than adequately represented in the Newsby Ed Stein, who is a better illustrator than Asmussen, and not nearly so malicious. On the People & Prime Time page, the weekly space wasted on Asmussen's national hate speech would be better used for coverage of local arts and personalities, rather than for a political cartoon which should be in the opinion section, if it appears anywhere at all.

Dave Kopel is research director at the Independence Institute, an attorney and author of 10 books. He can be reached at .


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