FNC's Baier Apologizes for Not Describing Guandique as an 'Illegal'

FNC's Bret Baier did something Friday night you rarely, if ever, hear from a journalist: He apologized for incomplete reporting, specifically for failing to identify as an illegal alien the man charged with murdering Chandra Levy. Picking up on a Friday Washington Times article which quoted media coverage information reported Tuesday night on NewsBusters (and Wednesday on MRC.org), Baier noted in his “Grapevine” segment: “The Washington Times reports CBS, CNN and the Associated Press described Ingmar Guandique either a 'Salvadoran immigrant' or a 'laborer from El Salvador.'” He then acknowledged:
Fox News is not escaping criticism on this. Although Bill O'Reilly has referred to Guandique as an "illegal alien," the report points out that Fox newscasts, including this one, have used the term "Salvadoran immigrant." We apologize for not being more precise.
My Tuesday night NewsBusters item, “National Media Avoid Identifying Levy Murder Suspect as an Illegal,” recounted:
CBS, CNN, FNC and the AP on Tuesday all failed to identify Ingmar Guandique, for whom an arrest warrant was issued for the 2001 murder of Chandra Levy, as an illegal alien. In a full story on the CBS Evening News, reporter Bob Orr described him simply as a “Salvadoran immigrant.” During CNN's Situation Room, Zain Verjee benignly called him “a laborer from El Salvador” and later, on Anderson Cooper 360, news reader Erica Hill referred to him as “a U.S. prison inmate from El Salvador.” (In between, the contrarian Lou Dobbs did identify Guandique as “a criminal illegal alien.”)

FNC's Bret Baier, on his 6 PM EST show, cited the new charge against “a Salvadoran immigrant” while multiple dispatches from the AP's Brian Westerly described Guandique as “an imprisoned Salvadoran immigrant.”...
An excerpt from the top of the March 6 front page Washington Times article, “To be 'illegal' or not to be: Newsroom question; Levy suspect's status stirs debate,” by Jennifer Harper:
It has become the dreaded "I-word" at many news organizations.

Much of the press has shunned the terms "illegal alien" or "illegal immigrant" to describe Ingmar Guandique, recently charged by police and federal prosecutors in the 2001 slaying of Washington intern Chandra Levy.

The designation of Guandique -- who entered the U.S. illegally in 2000, was convicted of two nonfatal attacks on women and incarcerated -- has reignited a debate over whether a person's immigration status is relevant to the story. Journalists also are debating whether the words "illegal" and "immigrant" are too loaded to use in an already emotionally charged story. And maybe even racist.

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists has long cautioned journalists against using the word "illegal" in copy and headlines. The practice is "dehumanizing" and "stereotypes undocumented people who are in the United States as having committed a crime," said Joseph Torres, the group's spokesman.

That has not prevented Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly from repeatedly calling Guandique an "illegal alien," though Fox used plain old "Salvadoran immigrant" in its news coverage. Guandique has been called "Salvadoran immigrant," "incarcerated felon," "suspect" and "jailed attacker" in assorted accounts.

"Too many journalists don't want to provide ammunition to those who want stricter immigration laws, so avoid connecting illegal immigrants to evidence which will bolster the argument that illegals cause harm," said Brent Baker of the Media Research Center.

"So, when police charge an illegal immigrant with murdering Chandra Levy, reporters for CBS, CNN and AP benignly describe him as a 'Salvadoran immigrant' or as simply 'a laborer from El Salvador,' " Mr. Baker said.

USA Today, the Washington Examiner and The Washington Times, however, referred to Guandique as an "illegal immigrant."

"We aspire to give our readers as much accurate and relevant information as possible. Ingmar Guandique's immigration status and his entire criminal history fell within our definition of reporting as near as possible the whole truth. We saw no reason to censor ourselves or deny information to our readers," said Michael Hedges, managing editor of the Examiner.

"The suggestion that immigration status somehow is irrelevant or should be treated like race in a crime story seems flawed. Being white or black or Hispanic or Asian isn´t a crime. Entering the country illegally is," said John Solomon, executive editor of The Times....
Baier's item in the March 6 “Grapevine” segment on Special Report:
It seems much of the media is not referring to the man accused of killing Capitol Hill intern Chandra Levy in 2001 as an "illegal alien" or "illegal immigrant" even though he is in the country illegally. The Washington Times reports CBS, CNN and the Associated Press described Ingmar Guandique either a "Salvadoran immigrant" or a "laborer from El Salvador." Other media accounts call him an "incarcerated felon," "suspect," or "jailed attacker."

Fox News is not escaping criticism on this. Although Bill O'Reilly has referred to Guandique as an "illegal alien," the report points out that Fox newscasts, including this one, have used the term "Salvadoran immigrant." We apologize for not being more precise.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center