It is one thing for the Seattle Times to miss a story happening in its own backyard; that sorta thing happens all the time these days, what with the devastating newsroom cutbacks suffered industrywide over the past few years. But it’s another thing to fill that gap by credulously running an AP piece that totally mischaracterizes the underlying story, and under the misleading headline “In Washington, illegal immigrants canvassing for Democrats.”
Hear that…? Those dirty Democrats are at it again folks, this time using illegal immigrants to help steal another election. Or at least that’s the spin that’s prompted news outlets to pick up this provocative headline nationwide.
But in reality, that spin couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the real story here, the one which truly deserves the headlines, is the story about how Seattle-based OneAmerica Votes has put together a team of enthusiastic volunteers to canvass immigrant voters throughout Washington state. It is an inspiring story about how our region’s newest Americans have passionately embraced their adopted nation’s grassroots democratic traditions.
Instead, the AP cynically cherry-picks its lede:
When Maria Gianni is knocking on voters’ doors, she’s not bashful about telling people she is in the country illegally.
She knows it’s a risk to advertise this fact to strangers — but it’s one worth taking in what she sees as a crucial election.
The 42-year-old is one of dozens of volunteers — many of them illegal immigrants — canvassing neighborhoods in the Seattle area trying to get naturalized citizens to cast a ballot for candidates like Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, who is in a neck-and-neck race with Republican Dino Rossi.
As a writer, I can’t argue with the storytelling; admittedly, that’s a damn compelling lede. But as a journalist, AP reporter Manuel Valdes (or maybe, his editor) has selectively mischaracterized the nature of these outreach efforts, doing both his subjects and his readers a great disservice.
According to director Pramila Jayapal, OneAmerica Votes has recruited a team of over 150 volunteers, only four of whom Valdes interviewed. And of those four only Gianni told the reporter she was undocumented. That’s one out of four out of 150. So I’m not sure where Valdes conjures up the assertion that “many of them” are “illegal.”
“I have my suspicions,” Jayapal told me when asked how many volunteers were undocumented, “but we certainly don’t ask people about their status.” And while she’s “proud” of Gianni for the personal risk she is taking, Jayapal insists that whether it’s one or a handful or a dozen, the media’s focus on undocumented volunteers entirely misses the point.
“The exciting story here,” (and one, by the way, that starkly contradicts the prevailing national narrative), “is that even people who cant vote are energized about this election, because they understand that it’s their future that is at stake.” Indeed, many of OneAmerica Votes’ volunteers can’t vote, not because they are undocumented, or even non-citizens, but because they are simply underage.
“We have an amazing group of high schoolers who are canvassing with us,” Jayapal told me, “who say to me ‘Wow… I just woke up to politics.’ That’s very exciting to watch.”
As are the results. Over the course of this election over 162,000 immigrant voters throughout the state have been contacted by OneAmerica Votes, including over 41,000 homes canvassed by phone and/or at the door by volunteers. That’s a huge chunk of the 230,000 registered immigrant voters who make up over 7.5% of the Washington state electorate.
And far from this being the Democratic GOTV effort the AP headline implies, much of OneAmerica Votes’ efforts have focused largely on the many initiatives cluttering the November ballot, with the organization translating voter guides into six languages, and inviting proponents and opponents alike to initiative forums in neighborhoods with large immigrant communities. That’s a unique, grassroots voter education effort that should be celebrated, not vilified.
“It’s a shame,” Jayapal lamented. “The way that this whole story has been spun is scary.”
And ironic, especially considering that at the same time the FOX News crowd frets over a 13-year, tax-paying undocumented resident urging her fellow immigrants to exercise a precious right she doesn’t have, our media has for the most part shrugged off as politics as usual the tens of millions of dollars of out of state money pouring in to influence our local elections, many of the contributors undisclosed, and some of them even foreign.
Is it any wonder then that the most intelligent commentary on this latest manufactroversy comes from a satirist, the website Wonkette?
Does this make you feel bad about being a lazy Yuppie/voter? Well it should. Because it’s sort of sad that the only people willing to “get out the vote” are the people who can’t vote and also that these same people are hunted like feral animals by douchey government agents.
In the end, I understand the national media picking up this AP story, and lazily inferring the worst from its misleading headline and selective lede; that’s the way the wire services work.
But the Seattle Times has no such excuse. This is a story unfolding in its own backyard, and they could’ve just as easily picked up the phone and talked to Jayapal as I did. In fact, far from reprinting the AP story unchallenged, as Seattle’s sole surviving daily, and the largest newspaper in the state, I’d argue that the Times has a unique obligation to debunk it, thus setting the record straight.
So yeah, I’d say the Seattle Times owes OneAmerica Votes and our local immigrant communities a followup story… if not an outright apology.