US: Ethnic Press Covers the Race With Gusto

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Feb 1 15:04:26 UTC 2008

January 31, 2008,  4:29 pm
Ethnic Press Covers the Race With Gusto
By Fernanda Santos

Will Senator Edward M. Kennedy's endorsement of Senator Barack Obama
sway Irish-Americans? What about The Irish Voice's endorsement of
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton? Could Mr. Obama become a household
name among Chinese-American voters? Will American relations with
Russia and Pakistan affect immigrant voters here? And can any
Republican contender distance himself from Bush administration
policies in the eyes of Arab-Americans?

These questions have not figured high — or figured at all — on
televised debates and in the mainstream media coverage of the 2008
presidential campaign. But they are being asked in New York City,
which is not only a media capital, but also the ethnic media capital,
host to about 200 periodicals and broadcast outlets in dozens of
languages — including Bengali, Tagalog, Dari, Latvian, Yiddish,
Malayalam and Hungarian.

These ethnic media outlets have been intensely attentive to the
presidential competition, not only because it is the most competitive
presidential race in decades, but also because American foreign policy
and immigration reform are also headline issues that resonate with
their audiences. With an eye cast here and another overseas, a group
of ethnic media reporters participated in a radio project called Feet
in Two Worlds and went to New Hampshire last month to cover the
primaries. City Room interviewed five of those journalists ­ as well
as other ethnic media journalists on how the campaign is being covered
in their communities.
Perhaps the most impressive effort is being put out by the
Spanish-language ImpreMedia chain, which was freshly formed during the
last campaign cycle from a merger and now expanded to a combined
circulation of 10 million weekly. This election cycle, the media chain
is embedding six reporters with various campaigns, covering Super
Tuesday from seven battleground states, and doing its own extensive
polling of Hispanic voters.

"In the history of ethnic media, there has been no comparable level of
coverage as what we are providing for this election," said Alberto
Vourvoulias Bush, editor of El Diario/La Prensa, one of the
publications in the 11-newspaper chain. Arguably, ImpreMedia is
devoting more resources to the election than many mainstream English
publications. In December, ImpreMedia conducted a poll of Hispanic
voters and identified the war in Iraq, immigration and the economy as
the top issues. "Because of those three things, we realized that
sometime back this election would take place under a heightened
awareness and heightened interest," Mr. Vourvoulias said. "We decided
to commit to commit extra resources to campaign coverage and to
provide world class coverage of their readers."

Among topics that the chain is paying close attention to: the drug war
in Mexico and the question of driver's licenses for illegal
immigrants, which caused Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to stumble in
October, when she clarified her position. But above all, perhaps the
major concern in the ethnic press is immigration reform. "For us, it's
not a border security or national security issue. It's a daily life
issue," Mr. Vourvoulias said.

Taisheng Won, editor in chief of the Chinese-language World Journal,
which has a circulation of 70,000 in the New York metropolitan region
and 300,000 nationwide, agreed. "Immigration is our priority, our top
concern," he said. He said the newspaper was following candidates'
position on immigration policy very closely. "If they say something on
the immigration issue, we will take it from A.P., Reuters or A.F.P.,"
he said, referring to The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse,
two leading wire services. Kazi Shamsul Hoque, the editor of Akhon
Samoy, a Bangladeshi newspaper based in New York City, said his
readers, many who are undocumented, are following the candidates
closely on the issue. "We actually studied their positions on the
Internet," he said. "We are listening to their speeches. We are in
favor of giving some kind of legality to undocumented people."

As Mr. Hoque's comments suggest, the line between news coverage and
editorial advocacy is not always sharply drawn in the immigrant press.
And not all ethnic news outlets necessarily favor leniency for
undocumented workers. Many Armenian-Americans are second- or
fourth-generation, and thus, "Armenians generally vote just like any
Americans," said Chris Zakian, the managing editor of the
English-language Armenian Reporter. (In fact, Mark Krikorian, the head
of the Center for Immigration Studies, a research organization that
promotes stricter immigration enforcement, is of Armenian descent.)
But one issue that resonates with the Armenian-American community is
the long-running fight to obtain Congressional recognition of the
Armenian genocide in Turkey, which many presidential candidates have
take positions on — whatever that may mean later on. "They are
reassuring, friendly and certainly encouraging, but I think Armenians
has become skeptical of the translation of a candidate policy later
on," Mr. Zakian said.

Foreign policy positions can take on an stronger resonance for ethnic
communities that still maintain ties to home. For example, when Mr.
Obama said in a major foreign policy speech in August that he would
take a harder stance on Pakistan — and suggested a willingness to bomb
the country — it became the lead story in the Pakistani press, both
overseas and locally."The moment he gave these remarks about Pakistan,
it was reported by the U.S. media and electronic media — those reports
were picked up immediately by Pakistani media in Pakistan," said
Mohsin Zaheer, editor of The Weekly Sada-e-Pakistan, a Pakistani
periodical based out of New York. Thanks to satellite television,
those channels were also broadcast back in the United States. "Those
words spread immediately. Within one hour, everyone knew," he said.

"After these remarks, we covered the reaction of the Pakistani
community," he said. "There was a demonstration outside a fund-raising
event of Barack Obama in Chicago. We got widespread coverage of these
demonstrations on our front page." "The American policy has immediate
consequences on the very existence of the Arab and Muslim community,"
said Mohrez El Hussini, publisher of Al-Manassah Al-Arabeyah, an
Arabic language publication based in New Jersey. "The community that
are most concerned with the war on terror is not the Chinese or the
Greeks; it's the Middle Easterners," said Antoine Faisal, the
publisher of Aramica, an Arab-language biweekly with a circulation of
30,000. "Even though we are still in the primaries, many from our
community are trying to tune in to find out what kind of message,what
kind of communication are the candidates doing toward the Arab world."

Fairly or not, Mrs. Clinton is strongly associated with the foreign
policies of her husband's eight-year presidency in the minds of many
immigrants. That helped her draw the endorsement from The Irish Voice,
which noted she "was with her husband every step of the way during his
intervention in the Irish peace process, without which there would
never have been the successful resolution that we're currently
witnessing in Northern Ireland." And the Clinton administration's
support of Jean-Bertrand Aristide to Haiti, to reclaim his presidency
in 1994, is still remembered by the Haitian immigrant community in New
York. "Some of them are very pro-Clinton and some of them are very
anti-Clinton," said Ricot Dupuy, the general manager of Radio Soleil,
a Haitian radio station with about 200,000 listeners. "The Aristide
factor is the determining factor for that."

And among other groups, Mrs. Clinton's association with her president
is even more simple: name recognition.
"Americans are loyal to political parties. Chinese are not. They vote
for the candidate they know," said Lotus Chau, reporter for the
Chinese-language newspaper Sing Tao Daily. "Between Hillary Clinton
and Obama, they'll definitely vote for Hillary Clinton." Why? "Because
she was first lady. And she went to China." The Bush administration's
foreign policies will likely affect whichever Republican candidate
wins the nomination. The war on terror isi "an exodus from the
Republican Party to the Democratic Party" among Arab-Americans, both
Muslim and Christian, "and that has to do with the
guilt-by-association mentality that has taken hold in the past years,"
said Mr. Faisal, publisher of Aramica.

The feeling also permeates New York's Pakistanis, who "feel as if they
have been unjustly victimized since 9/11," said Jehangir Khattak, a
contributor for the English-language newspapers Pakistan News, which
is published in New York, and Dawn, which is based in Pakistan.
Because of President Bush's close support of the Pakistani president,
Pervez Musharraf, "the general consensus among the Pakistani
communities of this country is that if a Republican candidate is
elected, there will be more years of Musharraf, which means more years
of an undemocratic democracy," Mr. Khattak said. Under the same
notion, Russian-Americans are paying close attention to what the
candidates say about President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and, for
different reasons, about Israel, since many of the Russians who live
in New York are Jewish, said Ari Kagan, senior editor of Vecherniy New
York, a weekly Russian-language newspaper in Brooklyn.

"I recall in 2004 that one of the reasons the Russian community voted
for George Bush over John Kerry was that they perceived George Bush as
a much closer friend of Israel," he said. "But if the candidates
praise Putin, like Bush has done, they will not be very popular with
most of the Russians here." Major issues in the race — like the Iraq
war, the economy and health care — are scrutinized through different
prisms. The war in Iraq has greater, more personal significance among
Hispanics voters than the overall population because of the large
number of Latinos in the armed forces, said Mr. Vourvoulias of El
Diario/La Prensa. The poll found that about half of Hispanic voters
wanted the troops to come back now and just under half knew someone
who is serving in Iraq. "This is an issue that affects Hispanics in a
life and death sort of way," he said.

The Haitian community pays especially close attention to the health
care policies, since many of them are among the 47 million uninsured
Americans, said Mr. Dupuy or Radio Soleil, the radio station. And
Russians are unhappy about how expensive the food imported from Europe
and sold in local stores has become since the dollar has dropped in
value against the euro, Vecherniy New York said. One topic that unites
nearly all the ethnic media outlets, no matter what political outlook,
is the importance of getting their audiences to vote in the most
contested American presidential election in over a generation. And
ethnic media outlets are playing a much more service-oriented role in
the lives of their audiences.  The Polish Daily News published a voter
registration guide with dates, addresses and Web sites, said Czeslaw
Karkowski, its editor. "We just inserted it into our newspaper."

The Korean Central Daily News has done a number of articles explaining
why they should vote on this primary and general election. "Even a
vote from immigrants can count," said Steve Chong, a reporter there.
The immigration debates have helped galvanize the ethnic communities
around the election, Mr. Vourvoulias said. "It heightened awareness of
the political process and the importance of the political process."

Jennifer 8. Lee contributed reporting. Read more Primary Journal blog
entries from the New York region.
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