Monday, November 12, 2007

Driving Us Crazy at the NY Times

In yesterday's NY Times the paper did what it usually does, drive us crazy on the issue of drivers licenses for illegal immigrants. It's not that the paper consciously shills for the pro position on this issue; its more on what it chooses to focus on, and what it tends to ignore.

The story in this case was examining the impact that the governor's policy shifts on the drivers license for illegals would have on the illegals themselves. The paper, however, adds a new twist by looking at the schools that profit from the immigrant business-both legal and illegal.

Our concerns here are not so much with the story itself, a piece that we found both informative and balanced. One driving school owner made the following well-reasoned point: “Of course it’ll be good from a business point of view,” said Mr. Iqbal, whose customers are from Pakistan, India and Eastern Europe, among other places. “And I understand the advantages: Now we can identify a person — if someone is living here with no ID, then we know who he is. But we have to make sure these IDs would not be abused. If they’re lenient about issuing them, one person can have multiple licenses.”

So, from Mr. Iqbal-and more so than from the NY Times Editorial Board- we get the idea that there needs to be some care taken before we proceed in this area. He even alerts us to the security issue by describing the lively trafficking in phony IDs.

We also get a sense that many illegals don't approve the governor's amended plan because they'd rather continue to stay below the government radar. As one legal immigrant told the Times about one of his illegal relatives: "Mr. Chavez said his cousin Pablo would rather not risk the scrutiny that holding Mr. Spitzer’s limited license might expose him to. “He’d rather stay as he is now,” said Mr. Chavez, 21. “He doesn’t want to be in a government database.”

So we like the Times story. What we're concerned with, as we've said, is the things that the paper chooses to focus on, and what it ignores. There's nothing wrong with yesterday's story; it explores the impact of government policy on a group that's most personally impacted. But where's the story on the 77% of Americans-and 72% of New Yorkers- who think that the NY governor is daft?

Many years ago, the political scientists Bachrach and Baratz wrote about "decisions," and "non-decisions." They were examining the ways in which local governmental power structures make policy. What they found was that it was often more significant to ignore the decisions made by the locality, and instead focus on those issues and policy areas that were ignored so that they never even made it to the larger policy-making agenda.

The so-called non-decisions were generally not considered because of a certain "mobilization of bias" in the locality, a conforming ideology that unconsciously hid certain issues from view. And so it goes with the NY Times. The average New Yorker's views on the drivers license question get shuffled aside for the more compelling-in the paper's worldview-look at the angst of the dispossessed. The end result is a one-sided coverage of an important issue.