From a post by James Taranto under “Best of the Web” at the Wall Street Journal (original post date 4/3/13):
“Oregon on Tuesday [April 2] took two major steps to help integrate some of the thousands of immigrants living in the state illegally,” the Associated Press reports. The Beaver State’s governor signed a law permitting what the AP calls “people who can’t prove citizenship” to pay in-state tuition at state universities, and lawmakers introduced a bill that would allow, again in the AP’s words, “people living in the state without documentation” to get driver’s licenses.
What’s notable about this story is actually the AP’s choice of language. “Immigrants living in the state illegally . . . people who can’t prove citizenship . . . people living in the state without documentation.”
Why all the verbiage? Why not just say “illegal aliens”?
Because, according to the AP’s official blog, the wire service has just updated its stylebook. Here’s a statement from AP exec Kathleen Carroll:
The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term “illegal immigrant” or the use of “illegal” to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that “illegal” should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.
Why did we make the change?
The discussions on this topic have been wide-ranging and include many people from many walks of life. (Earlier, they led us to reject descriptions such as “undocumented,” despite ardent support from some quarters, because it is not precise. A person may have plenty of documents, just not the ones required for legal residence.)
Those discussions continued even after AP affirmed “illegal immigrant” as the best use, for two reasons.
A number of people felt that “illegal immigrant” was the best choice at the time. They also believed the always-evolving English language might soon yield a different choice and we should stay in the conversation.
This column also doesn’t care for the term “illegal immigrant,” also because it’s imprecise. But the problem is with the word “immigrant,” not “illegal.”
An immigrant, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a person who comes to a country to take up permanent residence.” It’s pretty clear who counts as a legal immigrant: anyone who is a naturalized citizen or permanent resident alien. …
But at what point does someone who is in America illegally become an “immigrant”? The term no doubt is descriptive in many cases; if you’ve lived in Oregon for years and are planning to attend Oregon State, you’re probably planning to stay for good, even if you’re in America illegally.
The word “alien,” however, simply denotes the disjunction between citizenship and current location at any given time. You’re an alien if you’re in the U.S. and are not a U.S. citizen or national. You’re a legal alien if you have an unexpired visa or a green card. You’re an illegal alien–one with no legal right to be in the country–if you entered the U.S. without a visa (which is a crime) or stayed in the U.S. after your visa expired (which is not).
The AP already had a policy against using “illegal alien,” we suppose because it thought readers weren’t bright enough to distinguish Mexicans from Martians. Sadly, like most of our media institutions, the AP is less interested in clarity than in political correctness.
In his post, Mr. Taranto says: “the AP is less interested in clarity than in political correctness.” Do you agree with Mr. Taranto’s assertion about the AP’s use of language to describe foreigners who are in the U.S. illegally? Explain your answer.
Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the answers.
WHAT IS THE ASSOCIATED PRESS?
(As you read news in the future, begin to look for the AP next to the dateline of a news article. It indicates that the story was written by an AP reporter and purchased by the newspaper. A dateline is a line at the beginning of a news story giving the name of city from which the story was sent. Note the number of news articles coming from the same source – the AP)
From their website, the fundamental mission of the Associated Press (AP) is “to provide state, national and international news, photos, graphics, broadcast and online services of the highest quality, reliability and objectivity to its domestic owners as economically as it can. News bearing the AP logotype is expected to be accurate, balanced and informed.” (ap.org/pages/history/mission.htm)
For more than a century and a half, men and women of The Associated Press have had the privilege of bringing truth to the world. They have gone to great lengths, overcome great obstacles – and, too often, made great and horrific sacrifices – to ensure that the news was reported quickly, accurately and honestly. Our efforts have been rewarded with trust: More people in more places get their news from the AP than from any other source.
…always and in all media, we insist on the highest standards of integrity and ethical behavior when we gather and deliver the news.
That means we abhor inaccuracies, carelessness, bias or distortions. It means we will not knowingly introduce false information into material intended for publication or broadcast; nor will we alter photo or image content. Quotations must be accurate, and precise.
It means we always strive to identify all the sources of our information, shielding them with anonymity only when they insist upon it and when they provide vital information – not opinion or speculation; when there is no other way to obtain that information; and when we know the source is knowledgeable and reliable.
It means we don’t plagiarize.
It means we avoid behavior or activities that create a conflict of interest and compromise our ability to report the news fairly and accurately, uninfluenced by any person or action. …..
It means we must be fair. Whenever we portray someone in a negative light, we must make a real effort to obtain a response from that person. When mistakes are made, they must be corrected – fully, quickly and ungrudgingly.
And ultimately, it means it is the responsibility of every one of us to ensure that these standards are upheld. Any time a question is raised about any aspect of our work, it should be taken seriously.
Opinion question. Answers vary.