Saturday, April 07, 2007

Geraldo: If "Ramos" was "Raminski," would we care?

A personal tragedy in Virginia Beach ignited a firestorm of conflicting opinions about illegal immigration on Fox News Channel this week. Morning news shows were abuzz Friday over a shocking screaming match between Geraldo Rivera and Bill O'Reilly on the "O'Reilly Factor."

The altercation began while the pair discussed an alleged drunk driving accident that involved a suspected illegal immigrant who plowed into and killed a pair of teenage girls. Click here to watch the video.

On one side, O'Reilly claimed the incident was another sign that the United States should tighten its borders. On the other side, Rivera contended that the story was about drunk driving -- not illegal immigration. The two Fox correspondents fingerpointed and volleyed arguments vehemently, making CNN's Crossfire look like high tea.

I first stumbled upon this story on the Chicago Tribune. The article seemed interesting, but the issue only seemed blog-worthy after I watched the video. The pair's fury was almost palpable, even on the tiny three inch by three inch screen. O'Reilly's temples throbbed and his voice almost cracked with unadulterated agression. Rivera shot fire with his eyes and refused to be bullied.

O'Reilly: This guy shouldn't have been here!
Rivera: Cool your jets. I has nothing to do with illegal aliens, it has to do with drunk driving. Don't obscure tragedy to make a cheap political point!
O'Reilly: You want anarchy! You want open-border anarchy.

O'Reilly and Rivera cleary come from different backgrounds. Turns out, the latter has special ties to the issue. He reportedly told the AP that his father came to the United States from Puerto Rico as an immigrant. As reporters, we wield tremendous power. When our unique perspectives help bring a minority voice to the table, I think we have an obligation to our community to speak up. Many news stations appear semi-homogeneous: most of the newsroom comprises people who share the same skin color, the same economic status and the same privileged lifestyle. As the saying goes, we can be the difference we choose to see in the world -- even if we catch heat for it on national TV.

Are pundits using their news shows to promote a xenophobic view? If so, should moderate reporters feel responsible to temper this view point -- without seeming sympathetic to people who aren't following the law? How do you find Aristotle's Golden Mean in this situation (if that's the appropriate principle to follow)?


At Saturday, April 07, 2007, Blogger GN said...

"Are pundits using their news shows to promote a xenophobic view? If so, should moderate reporters feel responsible to temper this view point...?"
I guess moderate reporters, and all reporters, have the responsibility to add voices to the table. That's the essence of their job. But given the trend toward sensationalism, I'm afraid the more extreme your view, the more likely you will draw attention.
And I'm not pointing fingers. I think we all do in at some level, when we choose certain soundbites over others.

At Saturday, April 07, 2007, Blogger AJS said...

Of course pundits are using their news shows to promote xenophobic views. That's why they are pundits, and not journalists. That's not necessarily an insult--many pundits (experts on everything from Iraq to rock and roll) don't want to be journalists, and guys like Limbaugh or O'Reilly probably don't consider themselves journalists.

The problem is when pundits get put in places where we're used to seeing or hearing or reading journalism. It's awfully uncomfortable for the reporters to have to deal with. You can tell the "legit" CNN reporters are awfully frustrated after having Lou Dobbs wrap around their piece with anti-immigrant rhetoric. So I think news reporters definitely need to try and moderate the discussion. But the difficulty with that is 1) The pundits are in charge of the show, and most reporters don't want to start a clash as Rivera did and 2) If reporters, who want to maintain an air of objectivity, start to argue the other side -- even if it is only to moderate the views of someone who is extreme -- it makes them seem as if they have a stake in the issue. So it's a very tough balancing act.

At Sunday, April 08, 2007, Blogger J? said...

I saw this exchange between O'Reilly and Geraldo and my first reaction, wow this is awesome. Two guys who are so consumed with their own egos and filled with hot air screaming at each other, what great theater. And then I started thinking about it, and I was deeply disturbed. For starters I think it could have been staged. These guys are entertainers as much as anything else. Second, I think anybody who watches the O'Reilly factor should be aware of the point of view his statements are coming from.

AJS is 100% right about pundtis being put in places where we expect journalism. And it is absolutely the responsiblity of all journalists to set aside our personal biases when we are reporting. But Bill O'Reilly is not a reporter, he's just a loud-mouth. No reporter who goes on that show could possibly try a temper his viewpoint. No matter how wrong it is. We just have to remind people where the views are coming from.


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