Let’s All Sing ‘Kumbaya’ Now

Published on April 3rd, 2013

Growing up in the heyday of Woodward and Bernstein, I aspired to a career in journalism. Fortunate to be part of a school system that had journalism programs, I became a “roving reporter” in junior high and the editor of the newspaper in high school, going on to earn a journalism degree at university.

Along the way, besides the dynamic duo at The Washington Post (made all the more exciting on film with Robert Redford), there was other 20th century inspiration, from Hemingway to Martha Gelhorn. But my greatest inspiration to try to follow a path in journalism was my high school journalism teacher, Jean Faulconer. She instilled a real sense of what fact-based reporting was, and the concept of objectivity in journalism and its importance in reporting news.

Factoring in my youth and naiveté, I viewed the journalism profession as one with a high level of integrity, with the prime directive being truth. Of course, age and reality can chip away at perception and ideal, but I still believe the majority of journalists hew closer to the standard than not.

So it’s very disappointing to hear of the decision from the Associated Press that it will cease using the words “illegal immigrant” in their AP Stylebook. The AP’s reason? It's inaccurate, according to the news organization. Objectively, this smells of veering away from the facts that are the basis of journalism.

The AP just is not being truthful.

 This is not much ado about nothing. The reference guide is the “bible” for journalists. So, it’s a “big deal” for how journalists use words on a daily basis – words that go to millions of readers.

The idea behind the AP Stylebook is “to provide a uniform presentation of the printed word, to make a story written anywhere understandable everywhere.” I myself just recently purchased the 2012 version, thinking it was past time to replace my 1992 version (the new version is much thicker than my old copy, so apparently I did need to catch up on what’s changed in the world of writing style and consistency).

Interestingly, the 1992 version does not have the term “illegal immigrant,” perhaps yet another indicator of how the problem of illegal immigration has ratcheted up in the last 20 years. There is an entry for “immigrate,” which then refers the user to the entry for “emigrate, immigrate,” defined as “One who leaves a country emigrates from it. One who comes into a country immigrates. The same principle holds for emigrant and immigrant.”

The 2012 version does include the term “illegal immigrant,” with this definition: “Used to describe someone who has entered a country illegally or who resides in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Acceptable variations include living in the country without legal permission. Use of these terms, as with any terms implying illegalities, must be based on reliable information about a person’s true status. Unless quoting someone, AP does not use the terms illegal alien, illegals or the term undocumented.”

An AP representative said the organization is “trying to eradicate reductive labels, and push its writers to use more specific, and therefore accurate, descriptors instead.” Read the full explanation on this at the AP blog – along with a bizarre rationale on schizophrenia to help explain the shift on how to reference illegal immigrants.

Hrrrm. I don’t know how you can get much more specific about describing someone who enters the country illegally with the intention of staying than by using the term “illegal immigrant.”

Oh wait. There is a much more specific term: alien.

An “alien” is defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act as “any person not a citizen or national of the United States.” Of course, this term has already been eradicated from lamestream media, so the next logical move was to eradicate use of “illegal immigrant.”

Language matters. The AP knows this. The decision puts the AP squarely out of sync with fact-based journalism and in the realm of political activism.

The only other possible explanation is that the AP has moved so far toward political correctness that – again – the organization is still missing its Fourth Estate directive to deal in fact and truth. If this is the case, lamestream print media might as well just fill their many column inches with the words, “Life is beautiful,” repeated over and over, while their broadcast brethren play “Kumbaya” ad infinitum.

It’s all a bit too much for me right now … I’m taking a Sting break to listen to a “legal alien.”


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