Zenger’s vs. Fox on “Undocumented” vs. “Illegal” Immigrants

author: 
Leo E. Laurence, J.D.

Does it look to you like he’s wearing a dress? That’s just one of the loonier accusations leveled against Zenger’s Newsmagazine associate editor Leo E. Laurence, J.D., shown being made up for one of his two recent appearances on Fox News. He was invited on “Fox and Friends” and “The O’Reilly Factor” to discuss his campaign to get the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) to recommend that immigrants in the U.S. without official papers be referred to as “undocumented” rather than “illegal.” What he got was a firestorm of bigoted, prejudiced and frequently ad hominem attacks from members of Fox’s core Right-wing audience; “idiot” was actually one of the less mean things he was called in the hundreds of e-mails that flooded in to his accounts after the shows.

Zenger’s Associate Editor vs. Fox News Fans
Backs Due Process for Undocumented Immigrants, Branded an “Idiot”
by LEO E. LAURENCE, J.D.

Copyright © 2011 by Leo E. Laurence, J.D. • All rights reserved

PHOTO: Does it look to you like he’s wearing a dress? That’s just one of the loonier accusations leveled against Zenger’s associate editor Leo E. Laurence, J.D., shown being made up for one of his two recent appearances on Fox News. (Photo: Daniel Hutson, Jr.)

“You are a certifiable nutjob,” wrote John Stuben just minutes after I went on Bill O’Reilly’s na-tional Fox News show “The O’Reilly Factor” on Jan 4.

Though I made my appearance in San Diego, Fox’s national headquarters arranged my appear-ance in the style typical of New York City; sending a big, black Lincoln limo to take me to an independent studio at Third & Market streets downtown.

As a longtime member of the Diversity Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), I’m helping spearhead a national debate encouraging working journalists to avoid the phrases “illegal immigrant” or the more offensive “illegal alien” (from which planet?) in writing media stories, to be consistent with our U.S. Constitution.

Enshrined into that document is the legal doctrine that everyone (including non-citizens) is presumed to be innocent of any crime until proven guilty in a court of law. Only judges can say if someone is “illegal,” not a journalist.

It’s an insider issue that applies largely to working journalists, but conservatives worldwide are exploiting this to vent their raw, racist anger. (They love to hate.)

Issue Explodes

As a function of my role on the SPJ’s diversity committee, I wrote a comprehensive analysis of the issue on page 13 (lucky) of the November-December 2010 issue of the Quill, the official magazine of the SPJ which goes to working reporters and editors in all media.

That article, and some similar blogs I wrote for the SPJ’s national Web site (SPJ.org) were noticed by conservative, internet media and they were furious.

The apparently controversial issue was picked up by Matthew Boyle, 25, of the Daily Caller in Washington, D.C. who quickly was blasting it across the conservative Internet media worldwide.

Radio stations in Seattle, New York, Tampa, St. Louis, NYC and Canada (among many others) aired extensive live interviews with me.

This “illegal alien” thing just exploded, serendipitously.

For unknown reasons, the SPJ’s officials at international headquarters in Indianapolis appeared to dislike it. Disclaimers were flying everwhere, including the SPJ’s Web site.

They were quick to disavow anything to do with the issue, wrongly saying the SPJ hadn’t taken a stand as yet. That was misguided and suggests those officials did not carefully read my Quill article closely before commenting. Or they just didn’t like the heat or wasn’t in control of it.

A private diversity committee meeting will be conducted via a telephonic conference call is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 25 specifically to explore the issue.

I’m a Idiot, Say Fox Fans

After appearing nationwide on Fox & Friends on Monday, January 3, the Fox producer in NYC on my Monday appearance said I had done something never done before in the history of their news shows. I gave my personal cell-phone number and e-mail address on-the-air, nationwide, to 5.3 million viewers. (619) 757-4909, leopowerhere [at] msn.com

So many calls suddenly hit my cell phone that it shut down, as did my laptop, overloaded with e-mails. For my Tuesday appearance on the O’Reilly Factor, however, I created a special, new e-mail account: immigrant.description [at] gmail.com

Here are some of the 300+ e-mails I’ve received:

Though I was wearing a three-piece suit with a vest, Randy Fant wrote: “I don’t need some old self important fossil in a dress to tell me whether somsthings [sic] legal or illegal.” (rfant [at] gmail.com)

And this from Mike Gross (idlehour1 [at] bigpond.com): “Mister, anyone your age (78 on 1/13) and lack of teeth wearing ear rings has something seriously wrong with them.”

Or, from New Yorker Frank Reinbold (nydockingpilot [at] gmail.com): “saw you on o rielly [sic]. Your [sic] nutty.” My response: “I’m assuming your spelling also reflects your intelligence, or maybe you’re just lazy ‘n ‘ignornt’.”

“You’re an idiot saying only a judge can determine that someone is illegal. I looked at you on TV and thought to my self [sic] there is someone who cares not a whit about the will of the people. FUCK YOU LEO!,” wrote Craig Haught (2009yellOwshOe [at] gmail.com)

Another:

“Chin thrust forward. Arrogant. *ss Kisser. All this told us you want your 15 minutes of fame. UGLY. Now that you have had your 15 minutes of fame – please go away. Seriously, GO AWAY. Dumb comments and a stupid way to present,” wrote Jan Hale of Ankey, Iowa (jc8plus11 [at] q.com).

And another:

“Hi Leo. I saw your appearance on the Bill O’Reilly Show with my wife and friends. We all think you are a total idiot!,” wrote Mike Speer (MIKEnJUNE2 [at] aol.com).

Still another:

“After watching your interview on “Fox & Friends” this morning, I was left with the opinion that you are a complete idiot,” wrote Tom Chrisman (tomchristman1 [at] aol.com).

And this one:

“Well you got your face on TV. You came off by your body language as a pompus self important [sic] ass. The majority of America is sick of liberal crap. You are an idiot in spite of the comments praising your education,” wrote Henry (ashamed to give last name? iwantmail [at] juno.com).

Or this one:

“They are illegal regardless of what an arrogant pompous self-rightious [sic] faggot says on ‘Fox & Friends’,” said Nathine Pine (nate60516 [at] yahoo.com).

Here’s another e-mail I’ve received:

“Do you really call yourself a journalist? I hope that you enjoyed your five minutes of fame – you and your stupid smirk,” wrote Walden P. (waldenpp [at] gmail.com).

Apparently I’m a certified idiot:

“Saw you on O’Reilly. You are a freaking idiot,” wrote Ray G on Facebook.

Here’s more:

“You are an asshole. They (undocumented immigrants) are as illegal as you are dumb,” said C. Abate (cabate [at] snet.net).

Or this e-mail:

“One question: do you or your organization receive government grants or subsidies to pursue ri-diculous causes such as the one displayed today?” wrote “Mr. Blackburn” (njb578 [at] gmail.com) “PS: You are far too old to wear earrings.”

My two gold earrings really bothered some Fox News viewers:

“People like you are the reason the country is in the shape it’s in. Wishing Steve Doocey Happy New Year in Spanish was SO cute. Your bong buddies will pat you on the back for that one. You need to stay off television – you and your stupid earrings are embarrassing to normal people,” wrote Bob Elliott (moondogey [at] hotmail.com).

“First, I am offended that this issue was on national news . . . Oh, another word of advise [sic] …. Lose the ear rings [sic]. If you really want someone to take you seriously, look the part. You look like you are going through a mid life [sic] crisis, for maybe the second or third time with the ear rings and all,” wrote Mack Brown of Gamer, NC (mackbrown [at] nc.it.com).

Brian Brandt apparently doesn’t know much English, so he only wrote: “!@#%&**!@#&%@#!!!” (brandtbooO [at] hotmail.com).

And I’m still an IDIOT: This good reputation is still solid!

“YOU ARE AN IDIOT!,” wrote Russ (Russ_Harrison [at] comcast.net).

Or this:

“you [sic] are a jackass. Just saw you on Fox. You seem to be an arrogant boob,” wrote Jim Davis in a Facebook posting.

Many conservatives wrongly believe the U.S. Constitution applies only to citizens, as Penny An-derson wrote (timandpenney [at] gmail.com): “The Constitution does not govern the citizens of other countries and in my opinion would not apply to persons here without proper documentation.”

Jason Buehler wrote: “I saw you on Fox & Friends. People like you scare me. GOD bless your ignorance.” (jdbuehler1969 [at] yahoo.com)

“You are among a host of inarticulate misguided commentators from the destructive left. You, sir, take the cake. P.S. Buy some Rogaine,” wrote John (merlin1246 [at] aol.com)

William Bergthold (612) 385-5726 wrote: “I saw you sorry face on Fox News this morning. You are a complete nut case for all the disjointed [sic] beliefs that bounce around in your tiny cranium. Get off whatever drugs you are doing. Seek advice from Obama’s end of life counselors.” (billandpom [at] pressenter.com)

Or this: “You move [sic] to Mexico …. Your’re [sic] what’s wrong with this country,” wrote Ja-son Watson on Facebook.

Supportive e-mails

“I just read about you and what you are doing for the community. I am a Latina who has been very frustrated and hurt by all the hatred around my community. I support you in your efforts. Don’t give up. Thanks a lot,” wrote Gabi Mayorga (farceanima [at] hotmail.com)

And from a 12-year-old in 7th grade in Pioneer Middle School: “Mr. Laurence, I agree with you on some points. It may be wrong . . . to profile (undocumented immigrants) as ‘illegal aliens.’ After obtaining permission from her mother, we will be working together later. Yet another supporter:

“I was great talking to you today! The Drop-the-I-Word team (http://colorlines.com/droptheiword/) is thrilled that SPJ’s diversity committee will help inform its members about this harmful language and try to get a (national) resolution passed at the (SPJ na-tional) 2011 convention. We’re on the same team,” wrote Mónica Novoa (mnovoa [at] arc.org).

A student and mother of three in Rio Rancho, NM wrote: “We are all ‘innocent’ until this status is changed by a ruling determined in court. Thank you for your courage,” wrote Karen L. Deleewerk (kllee16 [at] yahoo.com).

The vice president of the St. Louis SPJ and a reporter with the Belleville (IL) News Democrat wrote: “Our local SPJ chapter voted to issue a statement of support for your call to use ‘undocu-mented immigrant’ in place of ‘illegal’ immigrant, or worse ‘illegal alien’.” (link: http://www.stlspj.org/?p=595) I hope this conversation continues, even if the (SPJ diversity committees have taken no official stance. Thank you for reminding us of the importance of language and our continuing need to use it effectively and fairly in the work we do.” (edonald [at] bnd.com)

A retired ABC News (San Francisco) correspondent, Peter Cleaveland) said: “you handled your-self quite well for a man dealing with a certified asshole. You didn’t rise to the bait, even when the head of the SPJ sort of threw you under the bus, you didn’t go for it. O’Reilly had his chance to be a journalist during his stint with ABC News, and he failed. . . Like the earrings . . . they lent an air of avant garde to your appearance. Keep up the good work.” (PeterPalm [at] aol.com).

Contact Leo E. Laurence at (619) 757-4909 or at leopowerhere [at] msn.com

EDITOR’S NOTE: It is the style of Zenger’s to use the term “undocumented immigrant” and to avoid any use of the term “illegal” to refer to someone who has not been duly convicted of a crime.