Rally Cry

A journalist criticizes coverage of the immigration march.

One argument for greater diversity in American newsrooms can be summed up as follows: Press types who have firsthand knowledge of minority issues are apt to produce more accurate, more meaningful reports about related topics than will those who don't. Likewise, this line of reasoning suggests that even well-intentioned outsiders tend to make errors of fact and judgment when taking on such subjects. Francisco Miraval, the man behind Project Vision 21, an Aurora-based bilingual news-and-information agency, believes that the coverage of the March 25 protest in Denver against proposed federal immigration legislation bears out that theory.

Miraval, whose work has appeared in La Voz de Colorado and more than thirty other newspapers in the U.S. and abroad, titled his commentary "Some New Ways of Ignoring 100,000 People" -- a headline that provokes both thematically and numerically. The majority of news organizations have used the Denver Police Department's estimate of 50,000 participants, but Miraval, a rally attendee, argues that between 20,000 and 50,000 additional folks were unable to join those who congregated at Civic Center Park because of street closures.

"New Ways" (available at Project 21's website, www.newsandservices.com) doesn't rip outfits that accepted the 50,000 figure, but it finds many other faults. Miraval censures one journalist who characterized the rally as "a march of farmers and maids" even though the participants embodied a much broader social strata; takes another to task for focusing on "an anti-immigrant group of less than twenty persons, without saying anything about the march"; and denounces stations that showed only Mexican flags when thousands of American flags were in plain sight. These flaws make it even more important, he contends, "for us to tell our own stories, and to do it in such a powerful way that it will be increasingly difficult for the mainstream media to distort who we are, what we do and what we say."

In conversation, as in print, Miraval, an Argentine immigrant who became an American citizen last year, declines to name the stations or publications that committed these acts. "I am not criticizing anybody in particular," he maintains. "I am sending two messages: One, I'm telling them to do a better job of providing stories, and two, I'm saying this was a missed opportunity."

As a result, determining the fairness of Miraval's observations is a bit tricky. For instance, Miraval charges that "a major English-language radio station spoke about the march only during the traffic reports and only to say there were some streets closed in downtown Denver." If KOA, the area's primary news station, had dealt with the gathering in this manner, the oversight would have been indefensible -- but news director Kathy Walker says KOA's traffic updates were supplemented by live, on-the-scene reports during regular news segments. And though KHOW program director Jerry Bell acknowledges that his signal only included march details in traffic reports, he says, "We don't promote ourselves as being a news giant. We're a talk station -- so it wouldn't have been my expectation that I'd tune to KHOW and there'd be wall-to-wall coverage of a rally on a weekend." Since then, Bell allows, "We've talked about the march a lot," although the conversations -- led by folks such as Peter Boyles, who regularly bashes the John Hickenlooper administration for what he characterizes as its "sanctuary city" policies -- are unlikely to have thrilled marchers.

The "New Ways" complaint against "a major newspaper in Denver" that "printed the story about the march next to another story about Mexico becoming a growing threat to American security" is easier to pinpoint: In its March 26 edition, the Denver Post published a front-page rally article alongside "Mexico Is Global Turnstile to U.S.," a Bruce Finley investigation revealing that some of the people who illegally slip over the Mexican border into this country hail from "countries U.S. officials regard as hotbeds of terrorism." In this case, Miraval's condemnation seems largely justifiable. Because march leaders weren't lobbying for open, unguarded borders, one story didn't really balance the other. Moreover, the juxtaposition unnecessarily insinuated that each migrant is a potential terrorist -- an implication guaranteed to stir resentment.

Not every English-language media operation flopped in respect to the march, Miraval notes. The best TV coverage he saw was on Channel 4, which is part of a "parity project" with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, a group dedicated to increasing the number of Latinos working as info purveyors. The Rocky Mountain News is also an NAHJ parity-project associate, yet its initial coverage was weak, even taking into account that it no longer puts out a Sunday paper. On the weekend of the march, the Rocky's website relied on a fairly truncated account from the Associated Press. But the tabloid played a decent job of catch-up in ensuing days via pieces such as "Some View Immigration Rally as Birth of Civil Rights Movement," a March 28 offering by Rosa Ramirez, Jody Berger and former Westworder Stuart Steers that looked at why the march had been so successful and considered the possibility that it had unleashed a new political and social force.

A similar sort of revolution needs to take place when it comes to covering border issues, Miraval feels. "There's an obligation, a duty, for reporters to report properly about what is being said, so we can have a mature dialogue about immigration," he says. "If not, we'll waste our time talking about misperceptions, and not about what's really happening."

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