Megyn Kelly got all worked up yesterday over Leo Laurence's piece outlining an initiative by the Society of Professional Journalists' Diversity Committee to, as they put it, "engage in a yearlong educational campaign designed to inform and
December 30, 2010

Megyn Kelly got all worked up yesterday over Leo Laurence's piece outlining an initiative by the Society of Professional Journalists' Diversity Committee to, as they put it, "engage in a yearlong educational campaign designed to inform and sensitize journalists as to the best language to use when writing and reporting on people of different cultures and backgrounds". (Notably, Kelly makes it sound as though this were some kind of active campaign, when in fact, as the SPJ notes, "The committee itself has taken no official initiative on the use of the phrase 'illegal immigrant.' ")

So she brought in GOP operative Brad Blakeman and Jehmu Green from the Women's Media Center to engage in a classic Fox 'fair and balanced' debate in which the host and the right-wing guest get to run roughshod on the token 'liberal'. You could pretty much figure where Kelly was coming from when she lobbed this softball to Blakeman:

Kelly: How far could you take this? You could say that a burglar is an unauthorized visitor. You know, you could say that a rapist is a non-consensual sex partner which, obviously, would be considered offensive to the victims of those crimes.

Hey, nothing like a classic "fair and balanced" analogy to make the segment complete, eh? Memo to Megyn Kelly: You're comparing violent criminal acts to a civil misdemeanor, which is what having undocumented status is. (More on that in a moment.)

Obviously Kelly was quite enamored with the analogy, because she returned to it with Green:

Kelly: What if there was a push by the criminal defense... bar to re-brand the use of the word rapist to nonconsensual sex partner?

Finally, she wrapped it all up in a bow with one of the dumbest comparisons of 2010:

Kelly: You know, we did a segment earlier in the year on how little people find the term midget offensive, and so you can't say that anymore. There's so many words that are suddenly becoming hurtful, and part of the group thinks it's hurtful, and the other group doesn't, and you're left as a journalist saying, I don't know what to do.

Sigh. Well, we've explained this before:

There's a reason the National Association of Hispanic Journalists urges their colleagues to avoid dehumanizing terms like "illegals":

The term criminalizes the person rather than the actual act of illegally entering or residing in the United States without federal documents. Terms such as illegal alien or illegal immigrant can often be used pejoratively in common parlance and can pack a powerful emotional wallop for those on the receiving end.

Moreover, as Eric Haas at the Rockridge Institute points out, it's a grossly misleading phrase -- and one that reveals a powerful xenophobia:

But the phrase "illegal immigrant" is misleading. There's a grain of truth, but the emphasis is only selectively applied -- it's misapplied -- we don't call speeders "illegal drivers" or people who jaywalk "illegals." And that selective application to immigrants is harmful.

Most people don't understand that "illegal immigration" is in fact only a civil misdemeanor -- which, as legal infractions go, places it on the same scale as speeding or illegal parking. Instead, we've managed to work it up in our minds that being undocumented in the United States is a big-time crime, and thus the undocumented are criminals.

Thus we get Rep. Steve King saying this in response to the Democrats' common-sense efforts:

"If anybody can, with a straight face, advocate that we should provide health insurance for people who broke into our country, broke our law and for the most part are criminals, I don't know where they ever would draw the line," he said.

I wonder if Steve King has ever exceeded the speed limit while driving on the freeway. Because, applying his own logic, he would himself also be "a criminal."

Moreover, nearly half of the undocumented workers in this country didn't "break into" the country -- they came here on legal visas that then expired, and they simply didn't leave.

Calling them "illegals" and "illegal immigrants" is a noxiously dehumanizing habit -- one that only encourages hatefulness and violence against Latinos. It would always help, as Marisa Trevino at Latina Lista points out, if President Obama himself would stop using it.

Because the logic of "illegals" eventually leads to a mindset like that noted by Albor Ruiz at the New York Daily News, describing the kind of commentary that usually accompanies discussions of immigration:

"Save the taxpayers of this country a great deal of money and kill them [the undocumented immigrants] on the spot, along with those who think [they] deserve anything better," he said as a reaction to "Immigration's self-deportation program is a real government gem," a column that ran in this space on Aug. 6.

Ironically, the writer used the case of an illegal immigrant who committed murder in Texas to justify calling - patriotically, I guess - for a much more horrible crime, an "ethnic cleansing" of sorts against all immigrants and - why stop there? - thousands of people "who think these pieces of (I'll spare the reader the disgusting epithet) deserve anything better." If this guy and others like him had their choice, I and others like me would be well advised to "go back to where we came from." Or else.

That, of course, is classic eliminationism. It underlies the use of "illegals." And that alone is reason for major-network TV anchors to stop using it.

As Steve Benen observes:

Here's a tip, Megyn: call people whatever they want to be called. It's really not that complicated; even Fox News personalities should be able to keep it straight.

Ryan J. Reilly at TPM has more.

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