[Previous Winners: Andrew Lam, Pacific News Service, 2002; Michael Hiltzik, LA Times, 2003; Jim Spencer, Denver Post, 2005; Bart Jones And Mae Cheng, Newsday, 2006; Nina Bernstein, New York Times, 2007; Miriam Jordan, Wall Street Journal, 2008]
What a coincidence!
In a departure from tradition, O'Brien is our first worst immigration winner from the broadcast, not print, media.
O'Brien, who is half Cuban black, half Australian Irish, has gathered many boring conventional awards, including one named after herself: the "Soledad O'Brien Freedom's Voice Award" from the Morehouse School of Medicine for being a "catalyst for social change".
But, because the competition is stiffer, ours is harder to win—and therefore more prestigious.
I note that the "O'Brien Award" given to O'Brien is significant because, as you will soon learn, she's in love with herself.
Therein lies the secret of O'Brien's success. No matter what the assignment O'Brien, ethnically speaking, is the right reporter for the job.
When CNN wants a black to interview Michelle Obama, the Hurricane Katrina displaced, or Haiti's victims, there's O'Brien posing as a black. (See O'Brien with Obama, her "passion for justice" for New Orleans' residents displaced by Katrina and the Haitian orphan victims here, here and here. More evidence: in this interview discussing another of her documentaries, "Black in America", O'Brien identifies herself as black.)
However, if CNN decides that it would be a good idea to run a documentary about being "Latino in America", they can call on O'Brien, a self described Latina. (Here, among a Hispanic audience, O'Brien reconfirms that description.)
When a highfalutin' organization needs an ethnically all-purpose speaker, O'Brien is their girl. Her appointment calendar is booked solid because she's everything all rolled up into one: female, African-American, Hispanic and Irish.
For example, last year on November 10th O' Brien travelled to Yale University as the guest of the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism to present her speech agonizingly titled "Diversity in the Media: Behind the Scenes & in Our Lives".
Chances are good that O'Brien used the same notes from her October 28th speech at St. Joseph's University: "Diversity on TV, Behind the Scenes and in our Lives".
Before I launch into why O'Brien won this year, a little biographical information will help you understand why my choice is an easy one.
O'Brien never misses a chance to literally cash in by referring to herself by her complete name, María de la Soledad Teresa O'Brien.
Although she doesn't speak Spanish, this gives O'Brien an excellent opportunity to define herself as a multicultural maven who's perfect for CNN or any other mainstream media outlet. Maybe if she looks back far enough in her genealogical tree, she'll find Asian ancestors!
Against all evidence, O'Brien stretches to make a point of her black/Latina roots. In an interview for her official CNN biography, O'Brien states that she has: "a mass of kinky hair, light brown skin and lots of freckles".
Photographs of O'Brien do not support her claim. In this ethnically ambiguous photo I see a traditional hairstyle, no freckles and either light brown skin or too much make up.
Now to my topic: During her seven year CNN career and before that at NBC, O'Brien has been consistently terrible on immigration and race.
What iced our award for O'Brien is her two-part documentary, "Latino in America", which bombed in the ratings and had the curious effect of angering everyone including some Latinos. Her 2007 documentary, "Black in America", also raised the ire of many blacks.
Defending "Latino in America", O'Brien tries to make the case that she represents a "voice for the voiceless".
The immigrant story is told repeatedly in the most sympathetic terms on CNN or in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and other major dailies.
What the CNN documentary does, apparently without O'Brien catching the irony, is emphasize why illegal immigration does not—as she would have you believe—make the case for diversity but instead exacerbates the problems of multiculturalism.
One of O'Brien's subjects is Francisca Abreau, a Dominican high school student apparently in the U.S. illegally, who when pregnant at 14, contemplated suicide. Then, after Abreau gave birth to her anchor baby daughter Destiny (!!!), she received therapy for her continued identity struggles.
Here's what I take from Abreau's story: at taxpayer's expense she took up a seat in a New York classroom, delivered a baby and underwent costly psychological treatments. In the light of my twenty-five years in the California public school system, I would place Francisca's odds for success as an adult at near zero.
In another segment, O'Brien featured Tucson illegal alien activist Isabel Garcia, who during an open borders rally beheaded a pinata that resembled Sheriff Joe Arpaio. (See it here.) Garcia (email her) defended it as free speech.
One of the interesting things about O'Brien is that for as much time as she spends defining herself as black or Latino, she never refers to herself as American—even though she is American-born, raised in Long Island in comfortable, middle class surroundings.
When O'Brien discussed the conceptual evolution of Latino in America, she said that she was approached by many ethnic groups urging a special on Asian in America, Gay in America, and Muslim in America. But O'Brien never mentioned what would be the most interesting of all: White in America. At least one black viewer agrees.
O'Brien is sharp enough to realize that the multicultural angle works for her. She's parlayed it into a fat salary and inflated speaking fees. Moreover, she's married to an investment banker and lives the high life in Manhattan.
Her ethnic roots, whatever they may be, have paid O'Brien rich rewards.
Along with her five siblings, O'Brien is a Harvard graduate. However, she didn't learn much.
The final jeopardy question that O'Brien couldn't answer: "Trees with biblical names include the Joshua tree and the world's oldest tree, a 4,700-year old pine named for him. What is it?" O'Brien's reply: "Who is Moses?" (Correct answer: "Who was Methuselah?")
O'Brien's excuse: the buzzer is hard to operate.
Along with her complete failure to report honestly about immigration, I deducted points for O'Brien's smug attitude and grating voice, a big minus for a television anchor. (Watch her talk about Spike Lee here.)
Finally, O'Brien is not only a phony but flat out just not a nice person!
In a non-journalism related incident, last year O'Brien signed an eviction notice for her co-op neighbor because she did not like his dog!
According to O'Brien, a Neapolitan Mastiff in her building offended her because of its "size, slobbering, shedding, drooling, gassiness and odors".
Luckily for Ugo and his owners, the judge threw O'Brien's case out.
We're resigned to lousy media immigration coverage.
Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.