The nation’s focus on immigration has created a widespread discussion as to whether terms such as “illegal(s),” “illegal immigrants,” “illegal aliens,” etc., should continue to dominate the immigration debate. For progressive leaders and groups, including NHMC, this is a no brainer. Using words such as “illegal” continues to polarize the immigration debate—using charged terminology clouds the issue instead of fostering a substantive discussion.
What’s the big deal? Contrary to general belief, using terms such as “illegal” does in fact create a profound negative effect on listeners. A national poll by NHMC and Latino Decisions found that respondents react more negatively when the term “illegal alien” is used, compared to when the term “undocumented immigrant” is used. More shocking is the fact that over 30 percent of survey respondents believe that a majority of U.S. Latinos are undocumented.
Spokespersons and organizations left and right, have taken a stance against such terms. Even conservative group, Hispanic Leadership Network, has suggested “Dos and Don’ts of Immigration Reform”to GOP members last month.
Why does the media continue to use terms that offends one of the largest subgroups in the United States? It’s no surprise that media personalities such as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Michael Savage, etc. use inflammatory language to enrage their listeners and boost up ratings. And without getting into the media consolidation debate, let’s just say that most media decision-makers are not Latinos and/or have a history of alienating Latinos (cough cough, Fox News… cough cough,Clear Channel).
How are these decisions being made? And what is the rationale behind them? Case in point: Clear Channel KFI AM’s Program Director Robin Bertolucci, who in an interview with RBR-TVBR, an online publicly traded news site, personifies the trouble with media decision-makers who misguidedly support using terms such as “illegal.” This program director catches our attention because we are leading a campaign against the station’s talk show host, precisely for using inflammatory language. Last year KFI AM’s shock jocks from “The John and Ken Show,” released the personal mobile number of an immigrant activist, after which the activist received over 400 messages, some of them threatening his life. The campaign has mostly involved informing advertisers about the effects of hate speech in the media. While John and Ken have “toned” down since the start of our campaign, the interview really made us understand that for some people old habits die hard, even when you “look at yourself in the mirror.”
When Bertolucci was asked,
“Do you have to go over what not to say so as not to offend parts of the audience, a la John and Ken Show?”
“We’ve really looked at ourselves in the mirror, like one of those magnifying mirrors that shows all of your pores. We’ve seen the areas where we can be better than that, where we can improve. One of the things that we’ve changed a year ago, for example, is we don’t say the word “illegals” when we talk about people that are here in this country illegally. We say “illegal aliens” or “illegal immigrant” but we don’t shorthand, because people aren’t illegal.”
I wonder how long they looked in the mirror. I guess using “illegal aliens” is better than using the term “illegals.” Or is it? If this passes as reflection, at this rate it seems the term “illegal” will be dominating the immigration rhetoric for a while.
Bertolucci misses the point; using the term “illegal” and associating a criminal term to individuals not yet convicted of a crime creates an inherent negative misperception and obscures the real issue, regardless of whether you follow the word with “immigrant” or “alien.”
But not all hope is lost. Some media executives have recognized the effect of this inflammatory language. Fox News’ CEO, Robert Ailes, was quoted in favor of this point:
“I think the word ‘illegal immigration’ is a false name,” [Ailes] continues. “You are talking about two separate issues. One is sovereignty. . . . The media trying to make America feel guilty because we want borders—that, to me, is complete bullshit. Immigration is a separate issue. . . . We should all defend sovereignty, then take a Judeo-Christian approach to immigration. I don’t have any problem with a path to citizenship.” (See the full article, here).
With continued advocacy by leaders such as Antonio Vargas, Drop the I Word campaign, and other coalitions, we hope leaders will drop this divisive term and focus on substantive issues, just like Ailes suggest.
With all this push from different voices we hope KFI AM will truly reflect and change its ways, but we won’t hold our breath though.