Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Small but cumulative ways our press misleads

This morning I was reading an AP story about illegal immigrants "pouring into" the community of Sarco, Texas, "worrying many of the 40 residents and prompting some to join up with the controversial civilian border patrol group known as the Minuteman Project."

Now there is a real story here and a bogus one, or more accurately, a real story hidden deep within the bogus premises of the story.

OK, so we have AP reporter Abe Levy traveling to Sarco to get the real, on the ground skinny on the flood tide of mojados sweeping this beleagered community away. And, in passing, a little bit about the plans and a little example of the successful PR, of the Minutemen. Which is the real story.

But back to the bogus part. Levy places himself and his story in a community which is almost impossible to find, which last had a post office in 1923. The claim of "40 residents" is based on the 1990 census, and given the age profile of those 40 it's doubtful if half are alive today. It is down a tiny spur road, which may or may not be paved, off of a farm-to-market road running between Nowhere and Nowhere Else, Texas. It is not on the way to anywhere at all.

Levy, however, alleges that "the county also offers distance from border checkpoints, overworked law enforcement and easy access to jobs in San Antonio, Victoria, Corpus Christi or Houston." Technically, this is true. He has quietly switched from talking about Sarco, which is far from any major highways, to talking about Goliad County, (which Sarco is barely within). A main highway from the border to Houston does go through Goliad County.

But nowhere near our beleagered community of 40 counting some folks in the graveyard.

But let's go on. Where is the evidence of beleagerment?

"You used to be able to walk down the road for exercise or a child could ride a bike," said Sarco landowner Bill Parmley. "Now it's just like the Indianapolis 500."

Mr. Parmley has been out in the woods too long, I have to say. Or watching too much Fox News, more likely.

Here is more evidence:
A woman and her grandson spotted several men believed to be immigrants bathing in a creek, said Sarco resident Kenneth Buelter, a supporter of the Minutemen.

Another resident answered a knock on her door to find two men looking tired from long travels and requesting food and water. She called authorities and they were arrested, Buelter said.

Tire tracks are still visible in a right of way near Buelter's house, he said, from a truck speeding and believed to be carrying about 15 illegal immigrants.

Sooo... it seems the evidence, which I certainly have to say is not very impressive to start with, is all directly or indirectly from the mouth of someone who is a local Minuteman supporter.

Plus they asked for bread and Buelter's anonymous housewife, no doubt a Republican, gave them a stone. Called the Migra on 'em. I'd say that's certainly not news, in today's America.

But now we come to the real news in this so-called news story.

Goliad County has become an unofficial Texas headquarters for the Minuteman Project. Some residents welcome the volunteers. But their recent visit to set up chapter groups has also revived racial tensions in an area where Mexican forces famously killed Texas revolutionaries nearly 170 years ago.

Evidently they are setting up shop here in Texas, in Goliad County--but not in Sarco of course--and currying favor with the locals by spreading rumors of a tide of illegal aliens. The choice of Goliad makes sense in that it has some historical importance for Texas racists as the scene of an 1836 massacre of Texans by the Mexican Army, plus the town of Goliad itself is big enough to rent office space and set up a fax machine. In an electronic age, you can send your email alerts from anywhere. Well, almost anywhere. I am not sure about Sarco.

And, given the completely uncalled-for existence of this so-called news story, we have positive proof of the success of their efforts. Mr. Levy actually traveled from wherever he lives to interview people in Sarco, Texas. How did that happen? Did he just drive down that road and knock on a door and hit news paydirt?

No. I'd guess he was working from a press release.

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