Vargas Defends Deceptions
Friday, June 24, 2011
Jose Antonio Vargas works in his New York apartment on May 26. Vargas defended the steps he took to disguise his illegal status. He is unlikely to be deported. (Credit: Bonnie Jo Mount/Washington Post)
Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas' confession that he has been in the United States illegally since childhood prompted a declaration from a former boss that he feels "duped" and a prediction that Latinos — the group most associated with illegal immigration — could face increased scrutiny in newsrooms.
The ombudsman for the Washington Post, which edited the story and then killed it, criticized the newspaper in his column to be published in the print edition Sunday.
"I think The Post missed an opportunity to tell a great and compelling story, and to air and take responsibility for some internal dirty laundry. It’s that kind of act that earns you the lasting respect of your readers. It keeps their trust," wrote Patrick B. Pexton.
Vargas defended himself in an interview Friday on NPR's All Things Considered," telling host Michele Norris, ". . . if I didn't tell those lies, I couldn't have gotten work and I couldn't have survived," and he maintained that his journalistic integrity remained intact. "I have written 650 news articles" with only nine or 10 corrections, he said. "The work speaks for itself.
"Lawyers told me not to publish the story at all. One said it was like legal suicide," he added. But Vargas said he felt compelled to change the conversation about immigration. "I'm going to make sure this is not just about me."
It appeared that there would be no immediate move to deport Vargas.
Vargas shared in a Pulitzer Prize at the Post and went on to become a senior contributing editor for the Huffington Post. He disclosed in the New York Times Magazine and in an ABC News interview that he has been in the United States illegally since his Filipino mother put him on a plane for the United States in 1993, when he was 12.
In the Times and on ABC, Vargas described a life of using fraudulent documents to remain in the country and of deceiving employers. But finally, Vargas wrote, he decided to go public. "I’m done running. I’m exhausted. I don’t want that life anymore," he said in the Times. Vargas has founded Define American, which seeks to "change the conversation" on immigration reform, as the Times phrased it.
"What I'm hoping to do in the next few months is looking at this issue as holistically as possible," Vargas said on NPR, with an eye toward influencing the conversation in the 2012 campaign season.
One former boss, Phil Bronstein, former editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote Thursday, "Jose lied to me and everyone else he worked for, and that's not kosher, especially in a profession where facts and, more elusively, the truth are considered valuable commodities.
". . . Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli told me 'what Jose did was wrong. It's a compelling and interesting story' and Jose is a 'talented and imaginative guy.' But Brauchli seems to feel duped.
"Not so much former Post managing editor — now managing editor at 'Frontline', Phil Bennett. 'I'm torn,' Bennett said when I spoke with him a few days ago. 'Honesty matters. But what Jose has done is courageous and I admire him for it.' "
Ultimately, Bronstein concluded, "For me, despite the subterfuge, he's done what he intended: given a surprising, articulate and human face to an important issue for at least some of those millions of people out there floating in terrifying limbo. For me, it's the face of a friend."
The progressive Media Matters for America wrote, "Predictably, it took almost no time for the right-wing slander machine to gear up its attacks on Vargas and his family."
Not only the right wing was critical. Jack Shafer, writing for Slate magazine, compared Vargas with Janet Cooke, the Washington Post reporter who in 1981 forced the newspaper to return a Pulitzer Prize when she admitted to fabricating "Jimmy's World," about an 8-year-old heroin addict.
"Like Janet Cooke, Vargas lied about who he was. Cooke would never have gotten her job at the Washington Post, would never have written 'Jimmy's World,' would never have won a Pulitzer Prize if she hadn't misrepresented herself on her résumé as a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Vassar," Shafer wrote.
"It may be unjust that Cooke, a black woman and a good writer, couldn't have made the jump to the then-Ivy-centric Post at the age of 25 if she had been honest about her humble University of Toledo undergraduate degree. But the unjustness of the world didn't give her a license to lie to the Post, where she eventually told many more. Likewise, Vargas would never have been hired by the Post had he told the paper the truth about his immigration status. I know the two lies aren't exactly analogous. Cooke told her lies to inflate her status, Vargas to normalize his."
After the Cooke case, black reporters faced increased scrutiny in newsrooms. Vargas’ admission might similarly affect Hispanics, Michele Salcedo, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, told the Poynter Institute's Julie Moos. The episode "affords anti-immigration rights activists [the opportunity] to come forward to say to news organizations around the country, 'What are you doing to ensure that you don’t have a similar situation in your newsroom?' It will be difficult for news managers to say, 'We don’t know, but we’re not gonna check,’ " Salcedo said to Moos.
Salcedo added that pressure "will likely be particularly pronounced for Spanish-language broadcasts and publications, where most of the personnel is Latino," Moos wrote.
Vargas is Filipino, not Latino. However, Doris Truong, national president of the Asian American Journalists Association, who works as a multiplatform editor at the Washington Post, said she could not comment. "I must recuse myself from any comments on Jose because I am editing Washington Post stories involving his revelation," Truong told Journal-isms. "I don't think AAJA has any official comment on this situation. . . ."
On Wednesday, the Post's Paul Farhi, reporting that Vargas' story was originally scheduled to run in the Post but that the newspaper killed it, disclosed "internal discussion about whether the newspaper was getting the full story from its former reporter." Vargas then contacted the New York Times Magazine. "The newspaper found his story so compelling after seeing a copy Wednesday, just 48 hours before the magazine’s June 26 issue was to close, that its editors decided to rush the article into print."
Pexton, the ombudsman, shed more light on the role of Peter Perl, the Post newsroom manager who kept Vargas' secret.
"In an interview, Perl said that he informed Post leadership in an e-mail when the Vargas story was submitted to The Post in March that he had known of Vargas’s illegal status and that he had decided to keep it confidential because he was convinced that disclosing his private conversation would end Vargas’s career, if not cause his deportation. Perl said he has not been docked pay, suspended or fired, but he declined to elaborate."
[Sunday on CNN's "Reliable Sources," host Howard Kurtz and Vargas disclosed that Vargas initially contacted Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth.
[". . . the first thing that I told her is that I'm sorry. The first thing I said to her on the phone, 'I'm really, really sorry about this.' And the second thing is I said, 'I'm going to come forward with my story, and I want to do it for The Post,' because I thought that was the right thing to do," Vargas said.]
"In memorandums issued by ICE director John Morton, the agency clarified that its priorities are to focus on illegal immigrants who present 'a clear risk to national security.'
"In one of the memos, released June 17, Morton said ICE is focused on felons and repeat offenders, gang members, and those with numerous immigration violations such as illegally re-entering the U.S. and committing fraud.
"The memo also directs ICE officials to avoid proceedings against a wide array of individuals, including U.S. military veterans, minors and seniors, pregnant women, those who grew up in the U.S. and 'long-time lawful permanent residents.' "
- Claudia Cruz, patch.com: For Student Journalists, No Burden Guarding Vargas' Secret
- Barry R. Groves, San Jose Mercury News: Mountain View journalist's story shows why we need the Dream Act
- Bill Ong Hing, Huffington Post: Remarkable or Not, All Dreamers Deserve a Chance
- Jade Hua, the Talon, Los Altos High School, Los Altos, Calif.: Local Pulitzer Prize Journalist Hosts Event (video) (Feb. 8)
- Joseph Lariosa, GMA News, Philippines: Illegal alien Vargas not at high risk of deportation
- Julie Moos, Poynter Institute: Vargas wrote at least 4 stories about immigration for San Francisco Chronicle, not 1
- Steve Myers, Poynter Institute: Vargas’ revelations may be a victory for immigration advocates, but not for journalism
- Paul D. Shinkman, WTOP radio, Washington: Pulitzer-winning journalist agitates the immigration debate
- JM Tuazon, GMA News, Philippines: US-based Pinoy journalist defends Pulitzer winner Vargas
- Marian Wang, ProPublica: Journalist’s Story Highlights Patchwork of Immigration Laws
"Today, Gannett and NABJ's leadership discussed the company's diversity record and the impact of the layoffs on journalists of color," the National Association of Black Journalists said Thursday, two days after the Gannett Co. laid off about 700 employees.
"Virgil Smith, Gannett's vice president of Talent Acquisition and Diversity, said the company does not release specific numbers about the ethnicity of its workforce. He reiterated the company's longstanding commitment to diversity.
" 'This was something we truly hoped to avoid,' said Smith. 'We track the impact [of layoffs] to make sure no group is adversely affected.'
" 'We've been able to maintain our percentage of minorities and females across the entire enterprise since 2006. Historically, we have maintained our percentage of minority employees within one percent. On the journalism side, we have not lost more than 2 percent. Gannett has been and will continue to be an industry leader in diversity in our newsrooms and throughout the company,' Smith added.
" 'NABJ and Gannett have shared a strong partnership over many years and have successfully worked together to promote and support diversity within the industry and at Gannett. We look forward to working with the company to find jobs and to address the needs of our displaced members and other journalists,' said NABJ President Kathy Y. Times."
"Few in television have been as focused on the rise of the Hispanic demographic and its implications for the industry as NBCU’s Lauren Zalaznick," D.M. Levine wrote Thursday for Adweek.com "This is the only large-scale growing network audience on television,' Zalaznick says. 'We all know [the] general-market is shrinking…but Hispanic broadcast is growing.'
"Appealing to that audience prompted NBCUniversal to tap Jose Diaz-Balart, the well-known Telemundo newscaster (whom some in the press [have] described as the 'Brian Williams of Telemundo') as a substitute for daytime MSNBC anchor Contessa Brewer while she was away this week. Though the appointment is only temporary, the decision to choose a newscaster from a Spanish-language network [to] fill in for a cable news host was unprecedented at NBCU, and Zalaznick says that it’s all part of a broader strategy to integrate Hispanic and non-Hispanic programming into a broader NBCU programming approach.
" 'There will be more cross-pollination,' Zalaznick says.
". . . In a big election cycle… national issues like immigration, healthcare, and education, there’s a strong through-line of Hispanic voters and news-watchers being very engaged in those national subjects,' she said. 'So as appropriate, I would foresee tapping our great news talent at Telemundo to serve NBC News general audiences who have a similar interest.' "
At this month's convention of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Ramon Escobar, Telemundo's executive vice president for news, said Telemundo's resources had enabled NBC News to lead other English-language networks on such issues as the drug war in Mexico. "My senior management team has a seat at the . . . table, because Telemundo is in the family," he told Journal-isms.
Telemundo will also be important in 2012 election coverage, he said. Speaking of Hispanics, Escobar told attendees, "We will decide the next president of the United States."
Within minutes of the beginning of President Obama's address on Afghanistan, pool photographer Martinez Monsivais of the Associated Press shot from the cut-away position, where he was seated. (Credit: Pete Souza/White House)
"A little bit of White House photojournalism history was quietly made behind the scenes tonight: for the first time an independent press photographer made live photographs of the President of the United States during a televised address to the nation," Donald R. Winslow reported Wednesday for News Photographer magazine of the National Press Photographers Association.
"Until tonight, the old White House practice was to keep photographers out and then let them make pictures afterwards. All that changed after President Barack Obama's speech about the raid to kill Osama bin Laden.
"When it became a matter of public debate over President Obama 'reenacting' about 30 seconds of his live address after the bin Laden announcement, for the benefit of five still photographers in the White House pool who had been kept out of the East Room during the actual speech, the White House press office decided to call a halt to the old [practice]. White House press spokesman Josh Earnest said the practice 'was a bad idea.' "
Obama told the nation that he's decided to remove 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan this year and a total of 33,000 by next September. All U.S. forces -- about 99,000 -- will be back home by 2014, as Catalina Camia reported for USA Today.
The Hollywood Reporter reported that the speech was watched by 25.4 million people — making it the smallest television audience for a major speech since he took office.
"It was carried live on nine networks, and scored a 16.4 household rating. As Yahoo! News's Cutline blog points out, that's far lower than his December 2009 speech on Afghanistan, which drew 40.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen stats. His speech in August 2010 on the end of the Iraq War attracted 29.2 million viewers, the Gulf Coast oil spill in June 2010 was watched by 32.1 million."
- Chris Ariens, TVNewser: How a network wins, when the same thing is on
- Cheryl Contee (Jill Tubman), Jack & Jill Politics: The Prez’s Announcement on Afghanistan – Disappointing, Much?
- Peter Hart, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting: USAT Debates Afghan Withdrawal, Minus the Debate
- Greg Marx, Columbia Journalism Review: Attack of the Drones: Finding the real meaning in Obama’s Afghanistan speech
- Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: What Obama didn’t say about leaving Afghanistan
- Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: Why does the Afghanistan war go on?
- DeWayne Wickham, USA Today: Obama, beware: Don't let wars become your Waterloo (June 20)
A disturbing Time magazine cover photograph of an Afghan woman whose nose and ears were cut off by the Taliban has been named "Outstanding photograph about South Asia, or the worldwide South Asians diaspora (single or series)" by the South Asian Journalists Association.
When the Aug. 9, 2010, issue was published, Time Managing Editor Richard Stengel wrote in his Letter to Readers, “Our cover image this week is powerful, shocking and disturbing ... Aisha posed for the picture and says she wants the world to see the effect a Taliban resurgence would have on the women of Afghanistan, many of whom have flourished in the past few years. Her picture is accompanied by a powerful cover story by our own Aryn Baker on how Afghan women have embraced the freedoms that have come from the defeat of the Taliban — and how they fear a Taliban revival."
The SAJA judges said photographer "Jodi Bieber did an amazing job with a difficult topic and one endemic to countries beyond Afghanistan's borders. Bieber's very human treatment highlights the subject of abuse and violence against women without exploiting the woman as victim. It highlights her inherent beauty as well as the offense."
Others were: "The Shadow War (Series)" by Mark Mazzetti and Dexter Filkins of the New York Times, which won the Daniel Pearl Award for outstanding reporting about South Asia, or South Asians in North America in all media; a series on Bhutanese refugees by Matt O'Brien and Jane Tyska of the Contra Costa (Calif.) Times/Bay Area News Group, for outstanding story about the worldwide South Asians diaspora, all media; "The Organ Dealer," Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, Discover magazine, outstanding business story about South Asia, or the worldwide South Asians diaspora, all media; "How India's Success Is Killing Its Holy River," Jyoti Thottam of Time Asia, for outstanding arts, culture, or travel story about South Asia, or South Asians in North America, all media.
Also: "My Mother's Last Sari," Madhulika Sikka, Daily Beast, "outstanding editorial/commentary on South Asia, or South Asians in North America, all media"; NPR flood coverage, Julie McCarthy, NPR, for outstanding coverage of the South Asian environment, including the Pakistan floods (all media); "The Most Wanted Surrogates in the World," Habiba Nosheen and Hilke Schellmann of Glamour, for outstanding story on any subject, all media; "Across the Border — Tech-savvy, Poverty-ridden," Sujeet Rajan of the Indian Express North American edition, for outstanding editorial/op-ed/commentary on any subject: all media; and "Watch and learn," Riddhi Shah, Boston Globe, for "outstanding story on any subject by a South Asian student in the US or Canada, all media.
From a note to members of the South Asian Journalists Association sent Thursday by the SAJA board:
". . . Over 400 people — journalists as well as non-journalists — mingled and networked with one another and had the opportunity to attend numerous panels and workshops.
"The convention started off on Friday night at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism with a blockbuster roundtable discussion that featured an exciting roster of headliners and experts on Pakistan’s current affairs.
"Throughout Saturday, at Columbia University, we got to hear stories from authors, food and sports writers, business reporters and columnists about how to get your book published to learning how to report and the cover the economy to snagging your dream job.
"There was a huge buzz during the workshops as our speakers and current board members shared their expertise on social media skills for journalists, learning to become a video journalist in foreign lands and how to become a better business journalist.
"We had one of the best job fairs to date in SAJA’s history. Twenty companies were represented such as CNN, NBC News, The New York Times, The Associated Press, Bloomberg, and Dow Jones — just to name a few!
"Young aspiring journalists got great feedback from SAJA mentors. Our experts gave helpful meaningful advice on their next step in the industry, whether it be broadcast, print, new media, or freelance work.
"The convention was capped off with a star-filled gala awards dinner. Our keynote speaker, Rebecca Blumenstein, the international editor at the Wall Street Journal, was the recipient of the SAJA Journalism Leader Award. This award is SAJA’s highest honor recognizing the outstanding achievement over the course of a career in international journalism, along with support for better coverage of South Asia and/or support of South Asians or minorities in journalism.
"We also awarded a record sum of $36,000 in scholarship funds to students. The awards will help students interested in journalism pursue their high school, undergraduate or graduate educations.
"Please check out the convention moments at this link."
It has not been a stellar year for journalists of color in the fellowship programs. On Thursday, the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism announced selections for its fourth fellowship class. All four were white, as was the case with the second and third classes.
The next class "will pursue innovation and entrepreneurship in start-up journalism, new online revenue opportunities, research to improve the design and delivery of news, and networking to more quickly and efficiently share innovation in journalism," a news release said.
"The 2011-2012 class of fellows will work with innovative journalists, entrepreneurs, industry professionals, technology experts in emerging media, scholars, staff and students as they establish leadership roles in their respective projects.
"RJI is very excited to work with this unique class of Fellows," Roger Gafke, acting director of the Reynolds Journalism Institute, said in the release. "I believe, with their big ideas and our innovative resources, we have all the pieces to develop impressive outcomes for the journalism industry in this fourth year of fellowships at the Institute."
Gafke told Journal-isms he did not know how many journalists of color had applied and did not respond to a question about why so few had been chosen, but he said that Matt Thompson was a member of the first class.
Thompson, a black journalist from Toronto, is editorial product manager for Project Argo, "a collection of websites by NPR member stations committed to strengthening local journalism," and indeed has impressive credentials in and out of the digital space.
His bio says in part, "He came to RJI from his position as deputy Web editor for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where he led the creation of the Edgie-award-winning, socially networked arts-and-entertainment website vita.mn.. . . Matt graduated with honors in English from Harvard College in 2002, after writing his senior thesis on the television show 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer.' "
"The Gardner News Inc., publisher of The Gardner News, has agreed to be acquired by Lowell Publishing Co., a subsidiary of Denver-based MediaNews Group Inc. and the parent company of The Sun," the Lowell (Mass.) Sun reported on Wednesday.
"The deal is expected to close in the third quarter of 2011.
"The Gardner News Inc. publishes The Gardner News, a daily newspaper with distribution in Gardner, Westminster, Winchendon, Templeton, Hubbardston and Athol; in Rindge, N.H.; and other communities in central Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire."
When Alberta Saffel Bell, publisher of the Gardner News and a former practicing dentist, created the Leominster Times nearby in 1994, Boston's Bay State Banner wrote that "Bell likely became the only African American owner of a general circulation daily newspaper chain in the United States."
"AOL Inc. . . . after buying the Huffington Post website this year to revive sales growth, is accelerating its expansion of local coverage to lure readers interested in campaign news ahead of the 2012 presidential election," Brett Pulley reported Thursday for Bloomberg News.
"AOL is expanding its Washington news bureau and opening news websites in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, three states where early voting will be held. The company plans to have 33 local sites in those states by the end of July, said Howard Fineman, editorial director at The Huffington Post.
" 'We’ve jumped the schedule to get these online,' Fineman said in an interview, adding that the company is also discussing whether to sponsor a presidential campaign debate. 'We’re talking about it, and we’re talking to potential partners.' "
- Emma Bazilian, Adweek.com: AOL/HuffPo Might Get the Paywall Treatment; Oops — Arianna spoke too soon
- Dylan Byers, Adweek.com: Huffington Post to Expand to France and Brazil: And where else? The audience wants to know
Philadelphia resident Jesse Washington, the Associated Press' national correspondent for race and ethnicity, was named journalist of the year for print by the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. This video was played at the June 11 awards ceremony. (Video)
- Toya Graham, who told Journal-isms this month she was let go from the McClatchy Co.'s weekly Fort Mill (S.C.) Times after being "the only African American journalist/news editor for four of their papers in York County area," has been replaced by Jason Chisari, a white reporter who had freelanced for the paper. Chisari started June 14, according to Beth Taylerson, human resource director for the parent daily, the Rock Hill (S.C.) Herald.
- A memorial tribute to musician and poet Gil Scott-Heron planned for late June or early July is now expected in September, according to former journalist Lurma Rackley, mother of Scott-Heron's son, Rumal Rackley. She told Journal-isms a September date would "accommodate the calendars of a number of artists who expressed a wish to be involved." Scott-Heron died on May 27 at age 62. Not all family members were involved in a June 2 service organized by a Scott-Heron daughter, Gia Scott-Heron, and his former wife, Brenda Sykes.
- First lady Michelle Obama's reception by South African women and girls should be no surprise, Charlayne Hunter-Gault wrote Friday for theRoot.com. "Some of the women in South Africa whom I communicated with . . . said it shouldn't be underestimated that Michelle Obama is a strong female role model visiting a country still ensnarled in a patriarchal culture. South Africa's levels of gender violence and rape are among the highest in the world, and 45 percent of female-headed households here live below the poverty line."
- Chuck Stokes, who joined WXYZ-TV in Detroit in 1981 and was promoted to editorial/public affairs director in 1987, where he has since served, is to be inducted into the Michigan Broadcasting Hall of Fame. Among other achievements, Stokes is a past president of the National Conference of Editorial Writers. He is a member of the political Stokes family, which includes onetime public officials Louis and Carl Stokes.
- "Who Is the Journalist? The Past, Present, and Future of News," an exhibit on display through Sept. 2 at Northwestern University Library in Evanston, Ill., uses "a fascinating array of artifacts, clippings, books, videos and other materials," to raise "thought-provoking questions for anyone who cares where the news business is headed," veteran television writer Robert Feder wrote on his blog for timeoutchicago.com. The exhibit is curated by Loren Ghiglione, who teaches full-time at Medill, at a time when the word "journalism" is being devalued at the school in favor of broader concepts, Feder wrote.
- "Oprah Winfrey ending 25 years on 'free' daytime television is celebrated with the bookazine 'Oprah's Farewell Celebration: Inside 25 Extraordinary Years of The Oprah Winfrey Show.' It is produced by the Susan Casey-led editors of O magazine, the 11-year-old joint venture between Winfrey's Harpo Inc. and Hearst Magazines," Steve Cohn wrote Thursday for min online.
- "Ethiopian authorities have been holding a newspaper columnist incommunicado since Tuesday, local journalists told the Committee to Protect Journalists," the organization reported Thursday." Reeyot Alemu, a regular contributor to the independent weekly Feteh, was expected to spend the next four weeks in preventive detention under what appears to be Ethiopia's sweeping anti-terrorism law."
- A report from the Committee to Protect Journalists is critical of the government of Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade, who in the United States has befriended the National Association of Black Journalists. ". . . Wade, a career lawyer, has prominently used his power to intervene decisively in a case in which Farba Senghor, his former transport minister and the chief propagandist of his ruling PDS party, was found responsible for masterminding the August 17, 2008 ransacking of two critical newspapers, L'As and 24 Heures Chrono," Mohamed Keita wrote. "Among the assailants arrested by police were a driver and bodyguards of Senghor, but state prosecutor Ousmane Diagne declared in an interview that only Wade could 'authorize' criminal prosecution of a cabinet minister. Wade eventually sacked Senghor from the government, only to dictate the terms under which his subordinate would face justice."
Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site BugMeNot.com provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.
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