Big media fails

SAN DIEGO — The last few weeks of wall-to-wall coverage of the immigration debate by newspapers, talk radio and TV news convinced me of three things:

  • The ignorance about immigrants in the East Coast media capitals of New York and Washington D.C. is widespread and profound;
  • The debate is crying out for more honesty, nuance and common sense, and less partisan cheerleading; and
  • Latinos, most notably Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, often have a deeper understanding of the immigration issue than non-Latinos.

Let’s kick around that last one for a bit. And before you take offense, maybe you’d also like to argue that women don’t have a better grasp than men of sexual harassment and other issues involved in the #MeToo movement. While we’re at it, anyone want to suggest that African-Americans don’t have special insight into the #BlackLivesMatter crusade?

Now that we’ve settled that, why do you suppose Latinos have such a firm grasp of the realities in the immigration debate?

According to research by the Pew Hispanic Center, we’re more likely to know — and, in some cases, even be related to — individuals who are undocumented or who have been deported. We know firsthand how hard immigrants work, and we have no illusions as to how grueling these jobs can be — either because we’ve done them ourselves or we saw our parents do them. We also know that — when it comes to racism, nativism and anti-Latino bigotry, both subtle and overt — the struggle is real.

Which raises an obvious question: If the media really values “experts” as much as it claims, why aren’t more Latino journalists, pundits and policymakers invited onto talk radio, TV shows or newspaper op-ed pages to discuss immigration?

I’ve lost count of how many roundtable discussions I’ve seen on television news programs where immigration is being discussed and there is not a single Latino at the table.

I get calls every week from frustrated Latino professionals who have noticed the same thing. They say much of the media is either blind or engaged in something more malicious: a “brownout.”

Oh, here and there, you’ll find a few Latino faces on television — Fox News contributor Steve Cortes and CNN contributors Ana Navarro and Maria Cardona among them. But their views are often predictable, and fall in line with what producers are expecting when they book them.

Believe it or not, the nation’s 58 million Latinos — representing America’s largest minority — are complicated. They’re not as one-dimensional as you would think from hearing the extreme views of a handful of pundits on cable news.

It may make for good television to have Fox News host Tucker Carlson — who has abandoned what used to be moderate views and morphed into one of the most openly anti-immigrant voices on television — bicker with Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, an activist impersonating a journalist who seems comfortable with the idea of an open border and zero deportations. But the debate — and the nation — gain nothing.

A Latino policy analyst, and former television commentator, told me the media brownout is a result of producers, bookers and editors not having enough colors in their crayon boxes.

“This is a black-and-white world,” he said. “There is no room for us. I blame white liberals for that, because they’re the ones who run the media. It’s to the black community that they feel their strongest connection because that’s where they feel their greatest guilt — over how blacks have been treated.”

It doesn’t help that Latinos, he said, are used to being ignored, neglected and passed over. So we don’t make a fuss.

“We were taught growing up to go along to get along,” he said. “We’re a quiet, hardworking group that you don’t notice when you walk into a room. We’re cleaning up, and serving drinks. But guess what? They’ll sure notice us when we’re gone.”

That’s not bad. But I have another theory: When it comes to the media, Latinos are trapped in a Catch-22. A lot of the people who decide who goes on the air, or onto newspaper op-ed pages, think that Latinos can only talk about immigration. Of course, they also think we’re not so good at talking about immigration because we’re too close to the subject, too emotional and too biased. We can’t win either way.

Thus, Americans can expect the brownout to continue for a while longer, along with traditional media’s gradual descent into the darkness of total irrelevance.