Tom Brokaw Loses His Journalistic Objectivity

Published on March 19th, 2011

Maria FotopoulosMy CAPS writing colleague, Rob Sanchez, wrote about NBC’s seriously flawed report from earlier this month, entitled, “Can America keep best, brightest immigrants?,” and made some excellent points. This story has “stuck in my craw” since I first viewed it, and I’ve a few other thoughts to add to Rob’s. NBC’s Brian Williams introduced the story, saying, “How to take advantage of the large number of foreigners who come here, get educated in our great colleges and universities and want to stay here but can’t. It’s causing an expensive brain drain.” Maybe I’m dreaming this, but I seem to remember from my college days having discussions about foreign students on campus, and the consensus was how important this was because students could then take their American educations, along with learned American standards and principles, back to their home countries, ostensibly to create a better world there and to spread the “American way.” How this thinking apparently has now shifted – at least in the eyes of NBC and its so-called journalists, Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams – to some sort of tragedy in which America is being “deprived” of foreign talent is yet another indicator of the disingenuousness of some of the country’s mainstream media. Brokaw might as well have said that America is so lacking in homegrown talent to move our country forward that we must rely on foreign talent. That’s certainly one way to interpret his story. I don’t believe that’s true, but one has to wonder what Brokaw was thinking. To me, it seems a net positive that students can be educated in the U.S., return to their home countries and create businesses and build value in those countries. I was taught competition is a good thing. What? Now we have to “hoard” talent, because there’s so little of it in a country of 311 million people? The POV put forth by Brokaw is so narrow and out of character with the idea of sharing American “exceptionalism” with the world. Brokaw of course is widely known for his book and documentary, “The Greatest Generation,” defined as the “American citizens who came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War and went on to build modern America.” I wonder how these people who fought for America in WWII feel when they see the current iteration of the country. Would they have been as likely to have fought for America if they’d known where the country would end up at the start of the 21st century? A country that has systematically offshored chunks of its manufacturing, with the response of “retrain” to all those workers who lost jobs. (The refrain – “For what?” – isn’t so often given voice.) A country that often favors illegal workers over American workers. A country that often imports foreign workers for “highly skilled jobs” over American workers. That Greatest Generation would have to ask, “What were we fighting and dying for?” It’s commonly held that there’s a social pact in the U.S. between the country and its citizens. Fighting for your country has been part of that pact, with the understanding that those who fight the wars will be treated right, both now and in future generations. Along with other commonly held beliefs, it now seems that the country is throwing that pact into the mud – and driving over it with a truck. (For more examples, watch how some U.S. corporations treat their U.S. employees.) One thing the NBC story certainly did not address was how much the H-1B visa program for “highly skilled foreign workers” (where no American workers can be found) has been gamed. There have been numerous examples of the system being used to bring in workers that aren’t truly highly skilled and to replace American workers with lower compensated foreign workers. The Brokaw-Williams piece, however, actually was very timely in light of CAPS’ recent TV spot. The CAPS ad questions the wisdom of the U.S. continuing to bring in legal immigrants and temporary workers given the country’s persistent high unemployment. While a global world that had a level playing field, sustainable economic prosperity for all and could fairly accommodate the global movement of workers would be a beautiful thing, right now that Utopia doesn’t exist (and probably could only exist on a planet that has a significantly smaller population). So it seems we should focus first on getting Americans to full employment before worrying about foreign workers. Williams concluded the piece with: “Powerful story, heartbreaking at times.” I don’t find it “heartbreaking” that smart, educated foreign students (who could afford to be educated here in the first place) can return to their home countries to create wealth and prosperity there. It is heartbreaking that we are writing off American workers who may be “too old” or simply wanting a fair wage for their work.

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