We’ve gotten used to hyperbolic headlines from conservative opinion websites like Breitbart: “Atlanta Mayor Puts Out Welcome Mat for Illegals, What Will (Michelle) Nunn Do?” or “Maine Gov. Paul LePage: Obama Forcing States to Prioritze Illegals Over Citizens.”
And when we see headlines like The Blaze’s “‘Potential for a Public Health Disaster’: Illegal Immigrant Surge Leaves Officials With ‘No Idea’ Which Diseases Are Coming Across,” we remind ourselves that it’s Glenn Beck’s rag that’s publishing them, after all, not a news venue we actually respect.
Clickbait xenophobia is what we call it — a cynical means to boost website visits by appealing to, and exploiting, the worst fears and prejudices of the potential readership.
So, how about this headline: “Welcome, foreign felons.”
Breitbart’s hyperbole? The Blaze’s sensationalism?
Nope, just Stu Bykofsky’s July 18 column in the Philadelphia Daily News (and on Philly.com). And with the words reversed a bit (“Foreign felons, welcome!”) his article of May 2 dealing with the same issue — Mayor Michael Nutter’s executive order requiring ICE to present a judicial warrant in order to effect a deportation “detainer” on someone the agency suspects could be undocumented. (Prior to Nutter’s executive order, ICE could have the suspected undocumented person held in police custody indefinitely until they could determine whether in fact, he or she was truly undocumented or simply looked like it, or seemed likely to be, in the particular ICE agent’s estimation.)
Beyond the Bykofsky/Daily News headline, some key phrases in the stories:
• “illegal-immigrant sympathizers”
• “foreign-criminal enablers”
• “gangbangers and others who threaten the community”
• “we have ‘immigrants’ (which is what language-abusing apologists call them, foreswearing the precedent ‘illegal’).”
And, just so we know exactly which immigrants Bykofsky is referring to, there is this description (from the May 2 article): “Our illegalistas.”
Worse, how’s this for hedging your bets journalistically while stoking public fears (emphasis ours): “The city’s turn-a-blind-eye policy might have enabled the June rape of a doctor in her Spruce Street apartment.”
We don’t often write editorials that comment on other media organization’s editorial choices and doings. In fact, in recent memory, we’ve only written one such editorial, in response to Philadelphia Magazine’s ill-conceived and troubling “Being White in Philly” cover story in early 2013.
But don’t mistake our journalistic collegiality for a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to the media criminalizing our whole community — documented or undocumented — on the basis of three examples. Don’t expect us not to call attention to stories laced with stereotype and maliciously wielded tropes. We don’t let national venues get away with that sort of thing unremarked, and we certainly aren’t about to let it pass here, in the City of Brotherly Love we cover alongside the Daily News.
The truth is, we like and respect the Daily News. We’ve worked collaboratively with their editorial team on two special sections on World Cup soccer, and have invited both the DN’s editor, Michael Days, and one of its columnists, Helen Ubiñas, to be participants in our series of panels on Media in the City.
What’s more, we even like Bykofsky, who our reporter Ana Gamboa interviewed in Aug. 2013 for a piece she wrote about Philadelphia’s venerable Pen and Pencil Club. Bykofsky is cranky and crusty (like us) but genuinely loves both the news biz and our city (again, like us).
But we don’t like or respect the decision made by the Daily News and Philly.com in choosing to run these fear-mongering stories (and their inflammatory headlines not once — God help us — but twice). Neither do we like or respect the way Bykofsky chooses to pointedly break with the AP-style he otherwise adheres to by calling undocumented immigrants “illegals” and then “Spanishifying” the offensive term.
Our increasingly global city deserves — demands — media that can respectfully grapple with the challenges its new diversity presents, as well as the undeniable promise such diversity holds. It deserves more than clickbait xenophobia. It deserves the Daily News, Philly.com and Stu Bykofsky at their best, not at their worst.