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Crossing the Line

Mainstream media have impeded effective policy making on immigration, say panelists at Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration seminar.

By Pamela J. Johnson
November 1, 2008

Crossing the Line

Focusing almost exclusively on dramatic, episodic events like the Elián González saga and other illegality issues, mainstream media have distorted the story of immigration in America, panelists said during a recent seminar.

Sponsored by the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration, the seminar included USC College’s Michael Dear, professor of geography; Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, housed in the College; and Roberto Suro, professor in the USC Annenberg School for Communication.

A joint effort of the College and USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development, the center’s co-directors are Manuel Pastor, professor of geography and of American studies and ethnicity in the College, and Dowell Myers, professor of urban planning and demography in SPPD.

Moderated by Myers, the seminar for faculty and students probed immigration and the media.

During the event, Suro discussed a new report by Annenberg and the Brookings Institution, “Democracy in the Age of New Media: A Report on the Media and the Immigration Debate.”

Suro, a contributor to the report, said that for decades, the media have conditioned the public and policymakers to consider immigration a breaking news event tinged with crisis, illegality and controversy. He gave as an example the relentless 2000 coverage of Elián González, a Cuban boy found at sea who became the center of an international custody battle.

An analysis of 1,848 Associated Press stories on immigration topics from 1980 to 2007 showed that 79 percent were about illegality, he said.

Of 2,614 stories on immigration in The New York Times over the same period, 86 percent dealt with illegality.

Further, of 381 stories about immigration on the “CBS Evening News” from 1990 to 2007, 87 percent were about illegality. Results from other news organizations show the same pattern.