immigrants

A Phenomenon That "Figures Little in the Debate"

"The article was largely buried in most newspapers, if run at all," columnist Edward Schumacher-Matos wrote Thursday for the Washington Post Writers Group.

"So many bodies of unauthorized migrants are being found in the Arizona desert this month, the Associated Press reported, that the Pima County Medical Examiner was stacking them like boxes of fish in a refrigerated truck.

"Forty bodies were found in just the first half of the month.

"Last year, 317 Americans died fighting in Afghanistan. Guess how many migrants, mostly Mexicans searching for work, died crossing illegally into America? The Border Patrol collected 422 in the last fiscal year, part of a rising trend.

"And most die in the desert. Here is how Luis Alberto Urrea, in his book, 'The Devil's Highway,' described what happens:

"Dehydration had reduced all your inner streams to sluggish mudholes. . . . Your sweat runs out. . . . Your temperature redlines — you hit 105, 106, 108 degrees. . . . Your muscles, lacking water, feed on themselves. They break down and start to rot. . . . The system closes down in a series. Your kidney, your bladder, your heart.'

"Yet these deaths figure little in the debate over immigration. There is faint sense of scandal, of tragedy or, certainly, of urgency to agree on a solution. The extremists rule, with one side calling for more enforcement and the other saying enforcement doesn't work.

"The former has the louder voice today, making it the bigger culprit, but the latter — humanitarian groups, for one — share in the blame. They seem not to find any enforcement policy they like, abandoning responsibility.

"The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, is caught in the middle, a Gulliver tied by Lilliputians and unable to take command of the fight."

Schumacher-Matos is a former editor and reporter with the New York Times and Wall Street Journal with extensive experience in Florida and Latin America. He writes pieces every other Sunday for the Miami Herald, "taking up issues in the news, answering questions from readers and critiquing how The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald handle topics of significance."

The Associated Press piece he referenced, by Amanda Lee Myers, showed up in only a handful of papers, according to a Nexis search. It did not make the comparison with Afghanistan deaths, as Schumacher-Matos did.

President Obama hoped that his signing of financial-reform legislation Wednesday would dominate White House news, but the Shirley Sherrod affair eclipsed it. (Credit: Lawrence Jackson/White House)

Sherrod Affair Provides Fodder for Another News Cycle

President Obama and his aides made sure to note that the 24-hour news cycle and the failure of the news media to do due diligence was partly to blame for the embarrassing debacle in which black Agriculture Department staffer Shirley Sherrod was unjustly fired over an out-of-context tape excerpt that portrayed her as biased against whites.

Many in the news media asked themselves whether they had forgotten basic rules of the profession — and then reiterated them.

Commentators took the occasion to examine how difficult it was for the nation — and the administration headed by the first black president — to talk about race.

Some did anyway. The Albany (N.Y.) Times Union, for example, paired its editorial on the Sherrod affair with another about racist language used by local officials. The mayor of nearby Cobbleskill resigned, "unable to explain why he might have used one of the most racist words imaginable." The editorial recalled that "James Tuffey's downfall as Albany police chief came as he was accused of saying that a white college student murdered in 2008 'wasn't just some spook.' "

The National Association of Black Journalists was trying to secure Sherrod for its convention in San Diego next week.

A longer-than-usual syndicated column by Roland S. Martin, "The Perils of Race in the 21st Century," included this mea culpa: "Was I wrong in assuming that we had the full story of Sherrod at the outset? Yes. Was a snap judgment made based upon that? Yes. Has it happened before? Of course!"

Friday's edition of the subscription-only tip sheet the Frontrunner attempted to summarize the news coverage of the preceding 24 hours:

"For a second day, the Shirley Sherrod story dominated national news coverage, with the President personally calling Sherrod and giving a TV interview in which he faulted USDA chief Tom Vilsack's handling of the controversy. Referring to Vilsack, Obama told ABC World News (7/22, story 2, 2:50, Leamy, 8.2M), 'He jumped the gun partly because we now live in this media culture where something goes up on YouTube or a blog and everybody scrambles. And I told my team, and I told my agencies that we have to make sure we're focusing on doing the right thing instead of what looks to be politically necessary at that very moment. We have to take our time and think these issues through.'

"On TV, the story led ABC News and ran third and fourth respectively on the line-ups of NBC [Nightly] News and the CBS Evening News. The networks also ran follow-up pieces, and devoted a combined total of 12 minutes to the story, up from 11 minutes and 40 seconds the night before. National print outlets, meanwhile, continue to devote headlines (though not on their front pages) to recounting and analyzing the facts. Both on TV and print, the President's call to Sherrod is being generally described in positive terms, but analysts are still calling the story a political loser for the White House, as it distracts public attention from the President's signing of legislation to shore up the economy and instead places the spotlight on the divisive issue of race. . . .

"The AP (7/23, Jalonick) reports that Sherrod has not shied 'away from telling her story on television. She hopped from network to network' and let 'CNN film part of her call with Obama as she traveled the streets of New York City in a car.' . . .

"The New York Times (7/23, Stolberg, 1.09M) reports that in the aftermath of the Sherrod flap, Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Charles J. Ogletree Jr., 'a Harvard law professor who represented [Henry Louis] Gates, suggested the president should now convene a national conference on race relations. Ward Connerly, a black conservative who leads an institute devoted to fighting racial preferences, endorsed the idea.' Axelrod, however, 'threw cold water on the notion, saying Mr. Obama has 'pressing matters that are significant to all Americans,' like the economy."

"The CBS Evening News (7/22, story 4, 2:15, Couric, 6.1M) reported that 'the Sherrod case has put a spotlight on the USDA's long history of discrimination against black farmers.' . . .

"Politico (7/23, Vogel, 25K) reports, 'An unrepentant Andrew Breitbart told POLITICO on Thursday that the Obama administration and its allies have manufactured a controversy over the video he posted of...Sherrod's speech to the NAACP as part of an orchestrated effort to take him down.'"

Daniel Schorr Helped Give Credence to Rights Movement

Daniel SchorrVeteran newsman Daniel Schorr, a pioneer of broadcast journalism who was part of Edward R. Murrow’s legendary CBS team, died peacefully Friday after a short illness at age 93, his family informed NPR, the public radio network announced on Friday.

Journalists of color remembered Schorr in the context of his times and for the friendship he offered.

Schorr "was part of the generation of white reporters that gave credence to the movement by covering it fairly, meaning, shining light on the horrors of jim crow, voting denial & lynching, forcing white americans to finally confront those realities," Paul Delaney, a retired senior editor at the New York Times who was among the first generation of black reporters at the outset of the civil rights movement, said by e-mail. "Dan, along with Gene Roberts, Claude Sitton, John Herbers, Karl Fleming, Reese Cleghorn, Sandy Vanocur, Johnny Popham, Herb Kaplow, Fred Powledge & Jack Nelson, put rights issues on front pages of major papers & on the evening news, w/o much of the racist slant of most southern media," Delaney continued.

"I have soooo many stories of working with Dan Schorr but the main thing I got from him was that no matter who is on the other side of the table or microphone, they are to be treated with dignity," Doug Mitchell, chair of the Media Institute of the National Association of Black Journalists, wrote to the NABJ e-mail list. Sometime between 1989 and 1992, when he was Schorr's producer at NPR, Mitchell went with Schorr to meet former president Richard M. Nixon, whose administration had placed him on its "enemies list."

Schorr's manners were on display. "My parents taught me that. Dan's actions simply reinforced it," Mitchell said. "It was an honor to be his producer for the short time I was in that role."

Another former NPR colleague, Eugene Holley, told Journal-isms in a Facebook message, "I never told this to anyone. When I was an Intern at NPR on M St. my boss, Thurston Briscoe, gave me my first assignment: A Morning Edition arts feature on jazz pianist Kirk Lightsey, scheduled for airing on Jan. 1, 1987. I was in the editing booth the day before the air date — crashing, depressed, and angry because it wasn't coming together. I was near tears, and I was getting ready to quit, when Mr. Schorr appeared out of nowhere, and without saying a word, he put his hand on my shoulder, gave me a warm smile and gave me the confidence to go on... Thank you Mr. Schorr!

N.Y. Times Spurred Investigation of Rangel in '08

"A House ethics panel’s ruling that Charlie Rangel violated congressional rules is big news all around today, as it should be," Holly Yeager wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review. "But it’s worth noting that The New York Times got this ball rolling with some pretty good, old-fashioned, investigative journalism, and disappointing that other media organizations aren’t acknowledging that in their coverage.

"The hard work from the Times on the Rangel beat started a little more than two years ago. . . .

"The NYT did a lot of hard work on this story. Giving the paper credit isn’t just about good manners, or about making it easy for readers to understand exactly how all this got started and what’s an original bit of reporting and what isn’t — though we’re definitely in favor of all of that.

"It’s about supporting other organizations when they take on difficult, and risky, projects, and the hard work of good journalism. After all, with risk should come some reward."

Pitts: Mosque Near Ground Zero Reaffirms U.S. Values

Leonard Pitts Jr.The career of syndicated Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. took off after Sept. 11, 2001, when he wrote a column on the terrorist attacks that drew more than 26,000 e-mails and was posted on the Internet, chain-letter style. "You monster. You beast. You unspeakable bastard," Pitts wrote, addressing the terrorists. He went on to win a 2004 Pulitzer Prize.

"Yes, putting that building in that place might be painful and provocative," Pitts wrote on Wednesday, "but it would also be a reminder of the very values the terrorists sought to kill. And we seem to need that reminder more everyday."

Howard Dodson, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, participated last weekend in the Harlem Book Fair. He plans to retire in 2011. (Video) (Credit: C-Span)

Scholar Calls for More Black History, Not Less

Increasingly each February, African American columnists have taken to debating the idea of Black History Month, especially since the 2008 election of President Obama and the supposedly "postracial" era that ushered in. Howard Dodson plans to retire next year as director of New York's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. On his radio talk show Wednesday, Michael Eric Dyson, the Georgetown University professor, asked Dodson, "What do you think about this move to get rid of black history?"

Dodson replied:

"What we think we know about American history, a significant percentage of it is false. Not only [does] the black community need to be, if you will, interrogating its past, and bringing its voice to the definition of what is American history, but many of the other groups, including many of the white ethnic groups, are actually voiceless in the contemporary writing of American history.

"There's this magical thing that happens in these two major periods in most of the textbooks, where you have whites coming in from Europe as Irish, Italian, etc., and during the Colonial period and during the late 19th century, they arrive and they are recognized for the people that they are. And then they mysteriously become 'white,' and somehow or another they cease to be Irish, Italian and all of the rest of that. And anybody in their right mind knows that economic and political and social power in America is organized on the basis of race and ethnicity, and so any American history that doesn't tell that story is not telling the truth.

"The same thing is true about the black experience. If we understand the truth about the black experience, what people claim to be the interpretation of American history has to in fact be rewritten and rethought, and contextualized.

"I'll say this for your audience. One of those basic demographic facts that insists that we do some rewriting: Between 1492 and 1776 and (for) roughly the first 300 years of what we call the European colonization of America, 6½ million people crossed the Atlantic, and settled in the Americas — North, Central and South America and the Caribbean.

"Of those original pioneering 6½ million people, only 1 million of them were European. The other 5½ million were African. And the history that we have of, not just of the United States but of the Americas, does not reflect that demographic fact. And until the truth is told about those, if you will, pioneer people — those pioneer African people, and their role in shaping, defining the culture and character of the Americas, we're living a bunch of lies.

"And I just feel that not only should black history continue, there needs to be more of it. And quite frankly, black history should be called a defining element in determining the character of American history if we are going to have what we call a true history. It's time that we redouble the effort."