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Yes, We in the U.S. Media Are Lousy at Covering H-1B Visa Abuse

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The most valuable contribution made as a result of my recent post, "Why the Anti-H-1B Argument Isn't Being Taken Seriously," came from a reader who raised a critical question: Why isn't the U.S. media doing its job in covering the H-1B visa abuse issue?

 

Check this out:

Help me out here. Why is it all too often I have to go to INDIAN websites to learn of the issues, the problems with the H-1B program? Seems the Indians are very, very interested in our program. Here's some news the American (corporate) business press is not covering. Seems a month doesn't go by and yet another scandal, problems with the H-1B program is exposed, but then most of it is ignored by the (American) media.

The reader supplied two links to a story about a U.S. employee at Indian outsourcing services provider Infosys who is alleging that the company is engaging in large-scale visa and tax fraud. He linked to coverage by India's Hindustan Times and Economic Times.

 

Separately, another reader e-mailed me a link to the Times of India's Feb. 28 coverage of the story, and wrote that he hadn't seen the story picked up in the U.S. press. Here's an excerpt from that article to give you the gist of the story:

In a year when sustained unemployment in the US is threatening to raise the rhetoric against India's outsourcing sector, Infosys Technologies is facing tax and visa fraud charges in the top market for software exports after an employee filed a case against the company last week.

 

Jack Palmer, who has been working with the company as a principal consultant since August 2008, has filed a complaint with the Alabama Court saying the company was sending employees on B1 visas to work full time in the US, though the visa is only meant for visitors who come for meetings, conferences and business negotiations.

 

In his complaint, he has also accused Infosys of not paying federal and state taxes in the US. Palmer said Infosys had asked him to come down to its headquarters in Bangalore to devise ways to overcome the restrictions on H1B visas that had been put in 2009. He was also asked to write "welcome letters" for Indian employees so they could come on B1 visas.

After reading the article, I have to tell you that I was extremely skeptical that the story had not been covered in the U.S. press, so I did a search. What I found-or, more to the point, what I didn't find-was stunning. I couldn't find a single U.S. media outlet that covered the story. I found three UK sites that covered it-Computerworld UK (a blog post that partially plagiarized the Times of India story), ComputerWeekly (citing the Times of India story) and Information Age. Palmer's attorney filed the lawsuit on Feb. 23, but based on my search, not only did the business/trade press in this country (including IT Business Edge) fail to cover it, but it was overlooked by the mainstream press, as well. There was a news service for attorneys and a law blog that wrote about it, but that was the extent of any U.S. coverage that I could find.

 

So why is that the case? Some people insist it all has to do with some massive corporate/media conspiracy to import cheap labor to maximize profits, and that covering stories about companies like Infosys engaging in visa and tax fraud is either overtly or covertly prohibited for fear of damaging business.

 

I've been in this line of work for a long time, and I can tell you that's simply preposterous. It's just not the way things work. Journalists may not be your favorite people, but they're not mindless, manipulated puppets tasked with mindlessly manipulating the public. By nature they're aggressive, inquisitive and skeptical, and they see their calling as a noble one. Corporate interests aren't above trying to manipulate the press, but I assure you that any such attempt fires journalists up to be that much more aggressive.

 

If a news organization doesn't write about something that's truly newsworthy and that it should be writing about, it isn't because it fears retribution from advertisers or the parent company, or because it's toeing some corporate line. It's much more subtle than that.

 

Let's talk about bias and prejudice. Although the two words can be used synonymously in some contexts, for the purpose of this discussion I want to make a distinction between the two. A "bias" is a bent or tendency; an inclination of temperament or outlook. "Prejudice" is preconceived judgment or opinion; an adverse opinion or leaning without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge.

Now, whether we like to admit it or not, we all have biases. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Having a favorite sports team is a bias. If you aren't completely neutral about something, then you're necessarily biased for or against it.

I, for example, am not neutral about globalization. I am biased in favor of globalization. It's impossible for me not to be, because I believe that humankind is inevitably destined to live in peace, and that it won't happen until we start thinking of ourselves as world citizens. A lot of people think that's a crock, and that's fine. But at least you know where I'm coming from when I blog about global issues.

Every other person on the planet, and that necessarily includes everyone who works in the media, has biases, too. The U.S. press is, overall, liberally biased, and the pro-global outlook is more of a liberal theme than a conservative theme. That does tend to be a bad thing, because that bias can stand in the way of neutral reporting.

Good journalists can manage their biases, and they do. But remember what I said about them not being puppets. They're 100 percent human, which makes it extremely difficult to manage a bias with 100 percent effectiveness.

With that in mind, I invite you to scroll down through the reader comments under my aforementioned post. You'll see that, as is invariably the case when I write on this topic, the reader commentary is peppered not just with intolerance, but with hateful slurs, threats and personal attacks. Consider this reader's comment, for example:

Don Tennant, when the 40 million unemployed Americans finally wake up and realize that they will never again be able to afford to buy food, fuel, or clothing, they will do that which they should have done years ago: overthrow the federal government of the USA. Then, they shall round up all you Republican traitors who maximized your corporate profits by giving our jobs to the freaking immigrants. These unemployed, starving, American patriots shall give you traitors your long-overdue comeuppance: violent death.

You don't have to come across too many advocates for the overthrow of the U.S. government and the violent death of those on the other side of the debate to be inclined to paint the anti-H-1B movement with much too broad of a brush. That's unfortunate, but it's human nature. And let's not fool ourselves and suggest that this radical fringe element is too obscure to have gotten the attention of the media. Over the past year in my blog, reader commentary on the H-1B topic has been laced with this stuff-one single blog on a single, relatively small, website. Now, multiply that by the number of sites that discuss the H-1B issue, including all the sites that are many times larger and more widely read than this one, and you can see that the anti-H-1B argument is absolutely infested with this stuff.

So my hunch is that there's a lack of any inclination by the media to pay attention to developments that are supportive of a position that people like that advocate. In fact, prejudice likely comes into play, in that adverse opinions are formed without sufficient knowledge. It's not a legitimate excuse, but it's probably a fact of life that many in the media have formed an opinion of the anti-H-1B movement without really investigating the issues. But they simply have no interest in investigating arguments that are advanced by hate-mongers.

One of the saddest dimensions of all of this is the inexplicable unwillingness of the more moderate anti-H-1B voices to speak out against the hate-mongers. Last week I received an e-mail from a reader who's staunchly anti-H-1B, but who approaches the issue with moderation and without vilifying anyone. Here's an excerpt from that e-mail:

I wanted to respond privately to your blog. I have always agreed with you that we should be framing our argument (regarding the H-1b) much differently and certainly more respectfully. I think we can have honest and respectable debate, or at least we should. There are some people who are like poison to an issue. Fortunately, they are not seen as credible voices -- but they are still a negative force.

I have received any number of similar e-mails over the years, and for the life of me I can't understand why these people won't say in public what they say to me in private. They'll sit back and watch as the hate-mongers spew their poison and unleash their attacks, and never say a word. When the hateful slurs, threats and personal attacks are launched, why aren't they challenged? Where's the one decent human being who has the guts to respond to them directly in the public forum where their hatefulness is so maniacally spit out, and beat into their senseless heads that they're only hurting their own cause? I don't recall ever having seen one. Not one.

The moderate anti-H-1B voice needs to summon the courage to speak out directly and forcefully against those who poison the discussion-not just whisper disapproval behind closed doors. And we in the U.S. media need to suck it up, get off our butts and do our jobs. When the poison is drained and the media snaps out of its toxic stupor, then maybe something will be done about the H-1B problem.

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