Comedians Call Out Politicians on Refugees

Royal Hashemite Court via Getty Images
Royal Hashemite Court via Getty Images

Want to see the best coverage of the global refugee crisis? The worst displacement, according to a top State Department official, since World War II?

Check out late-night comedian John Oliver's take on the subject. Oliver skewers dishonest reporting by Fox News Channel, Eastern European countries that are shutting the door on the displaced and American politicians who invoke scare tactics rooted in nativ- and other -isms. (video)

The "best coverage" designation come from Anne C. Richard, the U.S. State Department's assistant secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.


She was speaking Monday before 30 opinion writers assembled at the department for the annual briefing given the Association of Opinion Journalists. Her colleague, Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, said the global crisis includes Colombians fleeing narco-traffickers, West Africans victimized by Boko Haram and Syrians who escaped to Lebanon, as well as Yemenis, East and Central Africans and others.

Together, the world's displaced would be the 24th largest country on the planet, he said.

The sheer numbers, coexisting with the threat of terrorism, "challenges us to live up to our own humanity," Richard said, a responsibility that also falls on journalists — even if the "journalism" must be practiced by comedians.

"In fact there was only one time in American history when the fear of American refugees wiping everyone out did actually come true," (video) Oliver said in September on his HBO program, "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver." "And we'll all be sitting around the table celebrating. It's on Thursday," he said as a Thanksgiving photo appeared on the screen.


Richard also named another unconventional source: comedian Samantha Bee of TBS, who like Oliver uses humor to challenge false notions that equate refugees with terrorists. In one of her programs on the subject, soundbites of past and present Republican presidential candidates flash as she names some of the culprits.

"Who are these refugees, and why do they hate us so much that they're willing to be bombed into homelessness just so they can freak us out," Bee asked on her "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee" show in February. (video)


While Oliver and Bee use humor to refute canards such as "We don't know who these people are" or that there is no vetting process for those who enter the United States or other countries, the satirists are up against a deeply rooted isolationist tradition that belies the countervailing "Give me your tired, your poor . . ." message engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.


In November, Drew DeSilver reported for the Pew Research Center, "A look back into the opinion-polling archives (courtesy of Cornell’s Roper Center for Public Opinion Research) shows that American opposition to admitting large numbers of foreigners fleeing war and oppression has been pretty consistent, regardless of official government policy. We examined instances over the past eight decades where large groups of refugees from specific countries or regions were seeking admission, typically above and beyond the immigration rules in place at the time, and for which there was reliable polling data.

". . . In the years leading up to the Second World War, as has been noted elsewhere, large majorities of Americans opposed allowing refugees from European dictatorships to come to the United States. In 1938, the polling firm Roper found that 67% opposed 'German, Austrian and other political refugees' coming to the U.S., versus 18% who would allow them to come and 5% who would encourage them to come. In 1939, a Gallup poll found similar opposition when it asked more specifically about support for '10,000 refugee children from Germany' coming to the United States. . . ."


Richard told Journal-isms outside the briefing room that reporting on real people, and not just statistics, can make a difference.

Chris Buckley reported in the New York Times last July, "The story of a family from western Myanmar that was torn apart during a regional migration crisis, published in The New York Times has elicited an outpouring of response from readers who want to help them and other members of the Rohingya ethnic group.


"The family’s mother, Hasinah Izhar, fled poverty and persecution in Myanmar late last year, taking her three younger children with her on a grueling sea journey with smugglers to reunite with her husband in Malaysia. But she left behind her oldest son, Jubair, unable to find him when she left and unable to afford his journey.

“ 'Thousands of people will read this story,' one reader wrote. 'Thousands of us will want to do something to help. I can’t magically get this child across the sea into his mother’s arms, but I’d do it if I could.'


"Others offered to adopt the boy, to fly him to his family in Malaysia, pay for him to get an education, or move the family to a better life in the United States. . . ."

Richard also cited reporting in the local section of the Washington Post.

There, Pamela Constable wrote in October of Syrians who fled the brutal war in their country and settled in the Washington area.


"Very few of these dissidents have been approved for political asylum," Constable wrote, "and most have been waiting more than a year to learn their fates. Like the homeless refugees in Lebanon awaiting clearance to enter the United States, they are subject to painstaking scrutiny by government agencies looking for any sign that they are Islamist extremists. They are not allowed to work while their asylum applications are pending. Some end up sleeping on friends’ couches — and borrowing money to eat. . . ."

Richard said of the refugees, "They are the innocent victims of terrorism. It really makes me feel bad because I really want to help them. Most Americans would if they met them."


The State Department used much of its meeting with the journalists to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations that awaits congressional approval. It would be the largest regional accord in history and was cast as a choice between the United States and its allies setting trade rules for the area or having them set by China.

Responding to a question about the culpability of U.S. policy in helping to create terrorist groups, Justin Siberell, acting coordinator for counterterrorism, dismissed the notion. "I reject the idea that our actions are responsible for terrorist groups emerging in the first place," he said.


John F. Kirby, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Public Affairs, said later that "terrorism has been with us for as long as we have been a species" and that it was better to focus "less on what happened before. . . . We're trying to fix things for the future."

Chris Buckley and Thomas Fuller, New York Times: A Migrant Mother’s Anguished Choice: Lost in the diplomatic wrangling over the fate of the Rohingya fleeing Myanmar are the harrowing personal consequences (July 5, 2015)


Pamela Constable, Washington Post: Most U.S. voters view immigrants positively. Most Trump voters don’t. (March 31)

Jack Davis, Trump Warns Of Refugees Causing ‘Attacks That You Wouldn’t Believe’


Bruce Drake and Carroll Doherty, Pew Research Center: Key findings on how Americans view the U.S. role in the world (May 5)

Ameé Latour, Here's How Donald Trump Is Completely Wrong When It Comes To Refugees


Aamna Mohdin, Quartz: There are 20 million refugees in the world. Less than 1% of them have been resettled

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: United States Policy Toward Jewish Refugees, 1941–1952


YouTube: John Oliver explains refugee vetting process. (Nov. 22, 2015)

Ferguson Deal Includes Media Training for Police

Four journalists who settled a lawsuit against the St. Louis County Police Department over their arrests in Ferguson, Mo., after Michael Brown’s death two years ago won’t be allowed to talk about it, Mariah Stewart reported on Monday for HuffPost BlackVoices.


"Under the deal, Ryan Devereaux, Lukas Hermsmeier, Ansgar Graw and Frank Herrmann cannot 'take any steps to publicize any of the terms' of the settlement. The agreement requires St. Louis County to pay $75,000 to resolve the federal civil rights lawsuit from the reporters, but like many settlements does not require the county to admit liability.

"The agreement, a copy of which was obtained by The Huffington Post through a public records request, will also require all officers with the police department to undergo mandatory in-service training on media access and the right to record police activity.


"A 'qualified legal instructor with significant experience' in freedom of the press and constitutional rights will lead the training, according to the settlement. St. Louis County police have 60 days within the agreement’s effective date to begin the training. The settlement was announced Wednesday.

"As part of the department’s new media policy, officers 'shall not unreasonably interfere with media access to incidents or intentionally prevent or obstruct the photographing or videotaping of news in public places. Intentional interference such as blocking or obstructing cameras or harassing a photographer constitutes censorship.'


"Members of the press on private property “will not be arrested, or threatened with arrest for criminal trespass or otherwise, unless an owner or representative expressly indicates that the press is not permitted to enter or remain on the property. . . .”

Christine Byers, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Former St. Louis cop arrested, charged with first-degree murder for 2011 police shooting


Dahlia Lithwick, Slate: Still No Answers: Jamycheal Mitchell’s death in a Virginia jail cell still hasn’t been explained. It should be a national scandal.


BET's Lee Named to Twitter Board of Directors

"Debra Lee, who has been CEO of Viacom’s Black Entertainment Television (BET) since 2005 and its chairman since 2006, has joined the board of Twitter. She tweeted out the news earlier today," Connie Loizos reported Monday for Loizos also wrote, "Lee has been with BET for most of her career, joining in 1986 as a VP and the company’s general counsel. She has also been the company’s chief operating officer and served as its president in the ensuing years. Prior to joining BET, she spent five years as an attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Steptoe & Johnson.


"Twitter is far from Lee’s only board appointment. She also serves as a director with the Washington Gas Light Company, WGL Holdings, Marriott International, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, BET Holdings, Girls Inc., the Telecommunications Development Fund and the National Cable Television Association.

"Lee . . . previously sat on the boards of Revlon, Eastman Kodak and Genuity, a major Internet carrier during the era that subsequently went bankrupt.


"According to a newly issued statement from Twitter, Lee will also chair the company’s Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee. . . ."

Loizos added, "Twitter has been criticized repeatedly over its lack of diversity, both within its workforce and, earlier, on its board. When the company went public in 2013, each of its directors was white and male, including then-CEO Dick Costolo.


"In more recent years, it has repeatedly stressed its commitment to making the company a better reflection of its users.

"According to Pew Research, 28 percent of black Internet users are on Twitter. Similarly, 28 percent of Hispanic internet users are on Twitter. Meanwhile, just 20 percent of white Internet users are on the platform. In terms of gender, 25 of male Internet users are on the platform, compared with 21 percent of female Internet users."


Allan Holmes, Eleanor Bell Fox, Ben Wieder and Chris Zubak-Skees, Center for Public Integrity: Rich people have access to high-speed Internet; many poor people still don't

Jon Lafayette, Broadcasting & Cable: Upfronts 2016: BET Relaunches Website and Mobile App (April 20)


Lucia Moses, 43 percent of social media users don't know where the stories they read originally appeared

Alice Truong, Quartz: These Twitter directors almost never tweet

N.Y. Times on Trump, Women Is Most Read

The New York Times interviewed dozens of women who had worked with or for Donald Trump over the past four decades, "in the worlds of real estate, modeling and pageants; women who had dated him or interacted with him socially; and women and men who had closely observed his conduct since his adolescence. In all, more than 50 interviews were conducted over the course of six weeks," Michael Barbaro and Megan Twohey reported for the Sunday print edition of the New York Times.


"Their accounts — many relayed here in their own words — reveal unwelcome romantic advances, unending commentary on the female form, a shrewd reliance on ambitious women, and unsettling workplace conduct, according to the interviews, as well as court records and written recollections. The interactions occurred in his offices at Trump Tower, at his homes, at construction sites and backstage at beauty pageants. They appeared to be fleeting, unimportant moments to him, but they left lasting impressions on the women who experienced them.

"What emerges from the interviews is a complex, at times contradictory portrait of a wealthy, well-known and provocative man and the women around him, one that defies simple categorization. . . ."


On Monday, Theodore Kim, an assistant news editor at the Times, tweeted, "Metrics are in: The @nytimes article on Donald Trump's treatment of women is our most read story of the year."

Meanwhile, "Trump woke up Monday staring down the barrel of a terrible news week," Dylan Byers and Brian Stelter reported for CNNMoney. "A scathing New York Times report about his 'unsettling' treatment of women was the talk of the morning shows and looked set to dominate the news cycle for days.


"But by the time the morning shows were over, Trump had muddied the narrative. Now the Times, too, was on the defensive.

"For the umpteenth time this campaign cycle, Trump seemingly succeeded in shifting scrutiny away from himself and back onto the media. He does so by capitalizing on any uncertainty in the reporting and then aggressively calling attention to it.


"In this instance, Trump's opening was former girlfriend Rowanne Brewer Lane, who appeared on Fox News and accused the Times of spinning her words. . . ."

Adrian Carrasquillo, BuzzFeed: Trump Campaign Canceled A Reporter’s Interview After They Heard Him Speak Spanish


Nick Fernandez, Media Matters for America: “People Expect It": Media Downplay NY Times Report On Trump’s Treatment Of Women

Mark Joyella, TVNewser: Donald Trump Calls CNN Control Room Over Story

Mark Joyella, TVNewser: Ben Carson Calls Walter Cronkite a ‘Left-Wing Radical’

Rachel Stockman, Mediaite: NY Times Reporter Who Wrote Trump-Women Piece is Hardly Objective


Adrian Walker, Boston Globe: Elizabeth Warren, Donald Trump spoiling for a fight

Erik Wemple, Washington Post: A laughable backlash against the New York Times article on Trump’s treatment of women


S.F. Media to Report Simultaneously on Homeless

"As the editor in chief of The San Francisco Chronicle, Audrey Cooper has overseen countless stories on homelessness," Thomas Fuller reported Sunday for the New York Times.


"But the issue became personal three years ago when she was pushing her 6-month-old child in a stroller through the city’s business district. A homeless couple in a tent on the sidewalk were having sex, tent flaps open, as their pit bull stood guard.

"Ms. Cooper expressed her outrage loudly and in colorful language.

“ 'I probably shouldn’t have started yelling at them,' she said in an interview in her fishbowl office in the heart of the Chronicle’s newsroom. 'They let their dog loose.'


"San Francisco residents have over decades become inured to encounters with the city’s homeless population, the clumps of humanity sleeping on sidewalks under coats and makeshift blankets, or drug addicts shooting up in full view of pedestrians. There are also the tension-filled but common scenes of mentally ill men and women stumbling down streets, arguing with imaginary enemies or harassing passers-by.

"One particularly vocal group of residents, San Francisco’s journalists, say they feel a sense of urgency in addressing the problem. They are banding together in an exasperated, but as yet vaguely defined, attempt to spur the city into action.


"Next month, media organizations in the Bay Area are planning to put aside their rivalries and competitive instincts for a day of coordinated coverage on the homeless crisis in the city. The Chronicle, which is leading the effort, is dispensing with traditional news article formats and will put forward possible solutions to the seemingly intractable plight of around 6,000 people without shelter.

"Representatives from Bay Area television and radio stations, The Chronicle, The San Francisco Examiner, Mother Jones and online publications, among others, met last month to figure out a plan to share resources and content. They agreed to publish their reports on homelessness on June 29. . . ."


Commercial Appeal Evaluates Its Mixed History

"As lightning split the night sky and a chorus of storms echoed the turbulence of the times, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s baritone thundered through Mason Temple, exhorting striking sanitation workers to persevere in their quest for justice and assuring them, in a stirring finale to the most famous speech ever delivered in Memphis, that he had been 'to the mountaintop,' " Tom Charlier reported Saturday for the Commercial Appeal in Memphis.


"Somewhere in the South Memphis sanctuary on that evening of April 3, 1968, sat a reporter for The Commercial Appeal who would disregard the most memorable parts of the speech. The unnamed reporter's story, buried on Page 11 in the next day's editions, mentioned nothing of the mountaintop, nothing of King's soaring rhetoric, nothing of his emotional appeal to constitutional ideals. It did, however, make note of the 'disappointingly small crowd.'

"The dismissive report on what would be King's last speech was hardly surprising for a newspaper that had relentlessly attacked the civil rights leader and Nobel laureate as a dangerous agitator while depicting his followers, the striking workers, as lazy opportunists trying to blackmail the city. It was a newspaper, after all, that after 40 years still ran a daily cartoon featuring an insulting caricature of an African-American named 'Hambone' even as black strikers walked the city's streets wearing signs attesting that 'I Am a Man.'


"In retrospect, it may be difficult to describe The Commercial Appeal's journalism during the period leading up to King's April 4, 1968 assassination in Memphis as anything other than tragically inadequate. But it wasn't always so.

"Less than a half-century earlier, during the early 1920s, this same newspaper boldly crusaded against the Ku Klux Klan as the terror group rode to nationwide prominence on a wave of nativist and racist hatred. Through articles chronicling the KKK's violence, and editorial cartoons condemning its bigotry, The Commercial Appeal helped blunt the Klan's power. For its efforts, the newspaper became the first in the South awarded the Pulitzer Prize.


"The Commercial Appeal is observing its 175th birthday this year by looking back on its history — good, bad and otherwise — and peering ahead into a future that appears increasingly uncertain for newspapers everywhere. . . ."

Anchor's Choice Words for a Critic of Her Jewelry

"Since we spent today going over the criticisms women on the news receive for what clothes they wear and the types of bodies they have, why not round it out with a story of a woman whose jewelry alone was enough to anger a viewer into sending out an email?," Lindsey Ellefson reported Monday for Mediaite.


"Barbara Ciara is a veteran anchor at WTKR 3, a CBS affiliate that serves parts of Virginia and North Carolina.

"She is also a brave woman who has taken a stand against 'people [who] feel empowered by social media, how they can hide behind the keyboard.' She wrote that before the Internet and social media came around, people had to write her letters if they had an issue with her. Thus, she tended to only receive letters that were well thought-out and worth the effort of writing, addressing, and sending.


“ 'Today,' she wrote, 'anyone can hack out their random thoughts and press the send button, and create a new email address.' . . ."

Ciara, a former president of the National Association of Black Journalists, wrote Monday to her friends on social media:

"This is an email I opened from a gentleman viewer after our broadcast last night typos and all—


"All the female reporters and anchors wear [little] to no jewelry but B Ciara wears the biggest and worst jewelry I have ever seen, please have her play by all same rules as every one else."

"And this is how I replied:

"Thank you so much for watching News 3.

"I read your email with a great deal of interest. On a day where a multi-million dollar lawsuit was filed against one of our regional jails, A Navy Seal lost his life during training, The Mayor of Suffolk delivered her state of the city address, and an overlooked neighborhood in the East End of Newport News finally gets a grocery store— you noticed my jewelry.


"Perhaps you are correct, you are so distracted you didn’t hear a word I said.

"Have a blessed day,

"Barbara Ciara

"Celebrating 38 years in Broadcasting ‪#‎beenaroundtoolongtobebullied"

Nominate a J-Educator Who Promotes Diversity

The Association of Opinion Journalists, formerly the National Conference of Editorial Writers, annually grants a Barry Bingham Sr. Fellowship — actually an award — "in recognition of an educator's outstanding efforts to encourage minority students in the field of journalism." The educator should be at the college level. Nominations, now being accepted for the 2016 award, should consist of a statement about why you believe your nominee is deserving. The final selection will be made by the AOJ Foundation board and announced later this year, when the presentation will be made.


Since 2000, the recipient has been awarded an honorarium of $1,000 to be used to "further work in progress or begin a new project."

Past winners include James Hawkins, Florida A&M University (1990); Larry Kaggwa, Howard University (1992); Ben Holman, University of Maryland (1996); Linda Jones, Roosevelt University, Chicago (1998); Ramon Chavez, University of Colorado, Boulder (1999); Erna Smith, San Francisco State (2000); Joseph Selden, Penn State University (2001); Cheryl Smith, Paul Quinn College (2002); Rose Richard, Marquette University (2003).


Also, Leara D. Rhodes, University of Georgia (2004); Denny McAuliffe, University of Montana (2005); Pearl Stewart, Black College Wire (2006); Valerie White, Florida A&M University (2007); Phillip Dixon, Howard University (2008); Bruce DePyssler, North Carolina Central University (2009); Sree Sreenivasan, Columbia University (2010); Yvonne Latty, New York University (2011); Michelle Johnson, Boston University (2012); Vanessa Shelton, University of Iowa (2013); William Drummond, University of California at Berkeley (2014); and Julian Rodriguez of the University of Texas at Arlington (2015) (video).

Nominations may be emailed to Richard Prince, AOJ Diversity Committee chair, richardprince (at) The deadline is May 20. Please use that address only for AOJ matters.


Short Takes

"On Tuesday at 7:00 [a.m.] ET, with the launch of The Undefeated, ESPN’s micro site on the nexus of sports, race and culture, the company gets a big opportunity to boast about something transformational and positive within its walls," Richard Deitsch wrote Monday for Sports Illustrated. ". . . Last week, in a conference room on the 22nd floor of ESPN’s New York offices featuring sweeping Upper West Side views, four ESPN public relations staff members, [Kevin] Merida, the site’s editor in chief and The Undefeated senior writer Michael Fletcher laid out their vision of the site for a handful of reporters, including this one. I came away impressed by the site’s intellectual ambition and potential. . . ."


"Emily Pelland is a white multimedia journalism student at Morgan State University," Stacey Patton wrote for the Morgan Global Journalism Review, published by the School of Global Journalism & Communication at Morgan State University. "She knows firsthand what it’s like to be the only person who looks like her in a room full of black people — an uncommon experience for the majority of white students enrolled in American colleges. . . ." The issue was posted on Monday.

"This past January on 60 Minutes, we reported a story about espionage, orchestrated by China, to rip off American trade secrets and intellectual property," Bill Whitaker reported for Sunday's program. "The Justice Department considers it a national security emergency costing our economy hundreds of billions of dollars. Three years ago, the U.S. government launched a new strategy to fight back with more aggressive investigations and a greater number of prosecutions. We've discovered the dragnet isn't just catching Chinese spies, it's ensnaring a growing number of Americans who aren't spies at all. . . . More than 40 members of Congress have called on the Justice Department to conduct an independent investigation of whether [Xiaoxing] Xi and [Sherry] Chen were targeted because of race. . . ."


"The New York Times is close to selecting its next public editor, nearly three months after Margaret Sullivan announced she was leaving the publication for The Washington Post," Michael Calderone reported Monday for the Huffington Post. He also wrote, "Veteran journalists Debra Adams Simmons and Elizabeth Spayd are among those still being considered, sources familiar with the process told HuffPost. . . ."

"For years the long-neglected, predominantly black Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C., has fallen off the city map — sometimes literally," April Simpson reported Monday for "But a new community-based project, Anacostia Unmapped, is training local producers to go into the neighborhood and tell unfiltered stories about the area, reporting on the community with a familiarity that the city’s public media outlets struggle to achieve. Facilitated by Washington’s WAMU, the project is giving longtime residents a platform where they can express a full range of emotions. . . ."


"The National Association of Hispanic Journalists will bestow the 2016 NAHJ Presidential Dale Award to Julian Rodriguez (pictured above), UT-Arlington lecturer, news director of UTA News en Español and research chair of BEA news division," NAHJ announced on Monday. It also said, "The 'dale' award is given to an individual or organization that has gone above and beyond to ensure fair and accurate representation of Latinos in the media. Julian’s commitment to the future Latino journalist and Spanish-language journalism is the type of work that is needed, appreciated and will set the stage for more fair, accurate future for Latinos in America. . . ."

"Journalist Manuel Torres González, 45, was shot in the head from behind on May 14 after leaving state offices in the city of Poza Rica in northern Veracruz, as reported by Milenio, citing the Attorney General of Veracruz," Teresa Mioli reported Monday for the Journalism in the Americas blog at the Knight Center for Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. "Torres was a collaborator with the city council of Poza Rica and a reporter and editor-in-chief of news site Noticias MT. . . ."

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