The myth of objectivity in journalism failed the Latinx victims in El Paso

by Charlie Vargas, Staff Writer

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Earlier this month, in El Paso, the U.S. saw one of the deadliest anti-Latinx hate crimes in decades. 22 people lost their lives. 

The motive of the shooter resounded the rhetoric of white supremacist ideology that immigrants are “invading” and will soon replace whites in the West. As a Latinx person, this attitude is very familiar. 

Anti-Latinx sentiment traces back to before the very inception of America. In 1929, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans experienced the Mexican Repatriation. This movement led to the mass deportation, including the expulsion of 60% of birthright citizens. The Mexican Repatriation ignored citizenship and based its exiles on race, something arguably similar to ethnic cleansing.

At the time, the campaign was exasperated by economic anxieties caused by the Great Depression, but it mobilized with fear and racism. The familiarity of the sentiment of the early 1900s was again prevalent in the motive of the El Paso terrorist attack. It also echoed the very discourse used by an openly anti-immigrant and racist president. At this point, there are various examples of Trump showing us how he feels toward immigrants, especially those of non-European descent. 

As a journalist of color, I am quick to recognize when his language and speech is racist and xenophobic. Major news outlets are more hesitant to classify or name him a racist, something that has become increasingly problematic. News coverage around the Trump administration has been cautious — and when it isn’t favorable — Trump immediately criticizes it as unfair. 

In a way, his self-victimization not only boosts his narrative, but also bends the media to his favor, whether it is intentional or not. 

We saw this transpire days after the El Paso attack in five of the most prominent U.S. newspapers. The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and the San Diego Union-Tribune all had headlines proclaiming that Trump denounced the attack.

Esmeralda Bermudez, a staff writer for The Los Angeles Times, tweeted, “Reading headlines across the U.S. today you wouldn’t know that one of the deadliest hate crimes against Latinos happened three days ago. You wouldn’t see victims faces or get any hint of how Latinos feel. You would know that Trump condemned bigotry, assailed hate, denounced racism.” 

Journalists Lulu Garcia-Navarro, Adrian Carrasquillo, Aura Bogado and Luis Gómez also took part in criticizing major publications for disregarding the pain and loss the Latinx community experienced. 

Journalism often prides itself on the notions of objectivity and transparency. These are values that theoretically protect news organizations from being labeled as biased. The New York Times changed its untactful headline, but this serves as an example of how the press can support deflection. 

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “Let this front page serve as a reminder of how white supremacy is aided by – and often relies upon – the cowardice of mainstream institutions.” 

With these past headlines, I remind myself that there is little to no objectivity in journalism. 

It was a lack of objectivity of white editors that allowed every major newspaper to catapult Trump’s decoy message of unity instead of the anxiety and fear facing Latinx people. It was the lack of objectivity in white writers and editors that failed to cover the rise of white nationalist mobilization online until it was too late. It’s a lack of reflection in white identity that allows editors and writers to overlook a community’s suffering in favor of a repeated antagonizer’s call for unification.

Oversights of this nature will continue to happen until we have more Latinx and people of color as editors in publications, and we realize that no one is truly objective. We often see gilded objectivity collide with Latinx journalists and their identities. 

Aída Chávez, a reporter at The Intercept and journalism graduate from Arizona State University, is one of many examples of a bias contradiction. ASU reprimanded Chavez while interning at Walter Cronkite News Washington for tweeting “Fact: I wouldn’t be here if my father didn’t cross the border. He’s an engineer. I’m trying to get two degrees and graduate early.” 

The Cronkite School saw her statement as an issue of bias. To assume Chavez is biased based on her experiences perpetuates a culture of objectivity that is only attainable through the lineage of citizenship and whiteness, which in itself would be considered a bias. 

Having journalists with opinions do not make them immoral — it acknowledges that journalists are sophisticated individuals, not just disseminators of information. What turns it into an exploit is when news organizations claim they are free from being slanted one way or the other. It distorts their transparency and evokes a distrust of the media, which, as Trump has shown, can be weaponized. 

Acknowledging biases not only indicates  journalists’ complexities, but it also allows for greater transparency and room to raise their voice. The reason several Latinx journalists voiced their concern was that their identity allowed them to recognize that our stories are not part of a different picture, but a piece of an even bigger one.

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