On Dec. 14, 2010, the Culture and Media Institute reported that the Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ)’s Diversity Committee announced a year-long campaign to “educate journalists about the hurtfulness of phrases like ‘illegal immigrant,’ which is the term currently preferred by the influential AP Stylebook.”
After the Daily Caller picked up the story, the Fox News Channel followed suit. On Jan. 3, “Fox & Friends’” host Steve Doocy interviewed Leo Laurence, a member of SPJ’s Diversity Committee, who couched the society’s advocacy as a constitutional issue.
“The problem,” Laurence said, “is that under our Constitution, everyone, including non-citizens, are presumed to be innocent of any crime until proven guilty in the court of law. Therefore, only a judge can say when someone is illegal. So we're urging journalists to use the phrase, undocumented immigrant, not illegal immigrant.”
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Furthermore, Laurence asserted that, “It's a very conservative issue because we're following our constitution.”
Since the Constitution doesn’t require torturing language to score a political point, Doocy was rightly skeptical. “So you're saying until the [illegal immigrant] has been through the system, adjudicated, you simply cannot say that?”
“That's correct,” answered Laurence, and smugly gave out his personal phone number and e-mail on the air for “anybody [that] wonders about that.”
As CMI pointed out last month, in advocating for language that contorts and obscures the illegal status of the immigrants in question, the Society for Professional Journalists is abandoning journalism and taking a side in a political issue. It is also insulting American media consumers’ intelligence. A drunk driver is a drunk driver, even if he hasn’t been caught by the police and declared guilty by a judge.
It seems the SPJ itself realizes, if belatedly, the absurdity of Laurence’s assertion. His original article now sports the following note right at the top:
CLARIFICATION: The following article is an opinion piece and does not reflect the views of SPJ, its membership or its Diversity Committee. The committee itself has taken no official initiative on the use of the phrase "illegal immigrant."