Interview with Reverend Jim Wallis

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

The complainant said a segment on CBC Radio's The Sunday Edition demonstrated bias in favour of immigration. I did not conclude there was a violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

On November 11, 2012, CBC Radio's The Sunday Edition featured an interview with Reverend Jim Wallis, leader of the Sojourners Congregation in Washington and a well- known spiritual advisor to several U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama.

Wallis was appearing in the days following the U.S. presidential election. Host Michael Enright asked a range of questions about the election results, including the divisiveness of the lengthy campaign and its consequences. Near the end of the segment, Wallis noted the changing demography of America.

Wallis said: “The demographic time bomb has now exploded in American political life. It is no longer enough to get white votes to win an election. And the Republicans discovered that. Our country is changing, dramatically. Our diversity now is real, and Barack Obama won such an overwhelming majority of black and Hispanic and Asian votes, plus he still won the young vote and he won the women's vote. And so a lot of conservative white men are not sure what do so because their votes no longer control the destiny of America. And that's a huge change in the country's perception of itself.”

The complainant, Dan Murray, wrote December 6 and said Enright demonstrated bias by not questioning Wallis about the appropriateness of U.S. immigration policy.

He said “most U.S.-born citizens would probably say ‘What is inevitable about an immigration policy which is not a constitutional rule and which could be reversed?' and ‘What is good about becoming a minority in one's own country?' To most Americans this ‘achievement' has happened because the U.S. gov't has permitted unnecessary legal immigration (between 1 and 2 million per year) in spite of persistent high unemployment. It has also occurred because the U.S. gov't has not enforced its illegal immigration laws. Why did host Michael Enright not ask Chaplain Jim Wallis about this?”

He also noted that in another segment of the interview Wallis talked about spiritual views and the treatment of immigrants.

"Wallis applies the words of Jesus to the U.S. immigration issue: ‘Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it to me.' The big question is this: Whose ‘least' (poorest people) is the U.S. or any country responsible for: its own or those from all the world? Wallis implies that the U.S. should care for both. Considering the state of the U.S. economy, even patient Jesus (with his experience with the Roman invaders) would have challenged Wallis on that, but the host said nothing."

Again, he said, Enright was not sufficiently challenging of U.S. policy on such issues as immigration amnesty.

Susan Mahoney, the executive producer for The Sunday Edition, wrote back December 18 and said the focus of the interview was on the presidential election and not immigration policy. She said Wallis' observations on U.S. demography were accurate and that many he described — African-Americans, young people and women, for instance — were, in fact, not immigrants.

“You may believe that if the United States had a different immigration policy, the election results might have been different. But that was not the topic under discussion in this interview,” she wrote.

She said that Murray's other observation about the relationship between spiritual support and immigration misunderstood Wallis, who was at that point referring to a meeting between Obama and religious leaders and the recent political attention to the middle class.

Murray wrote back December 21 and asked for a review. He said the program had a policy to exclude criticism of immigration.

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices call for respectful, even-handed treatment of individuals and for its journalists not to take sides in issues of public debate. It also calls for journalism that does not give rise to hatred or contempt.

Conclusion

While demography in all countries has been shaped over centuries in part by immigration policy, a mention of the former does not necessitate an examination of the latter. Nor does it follow that the absence of such an examination constitutes a bias.

Wallis stated what a range of commentators of varying political persuasions had been noting accurately in the days following the election about the changing American demography and Obama's successes. It should be noted that neither Wallis nor the program expressed views on immigration policy.

I did not find a violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Additionally, the program did not explore any intersection of spiritual leadership and support of immigration policies, as the complainant indicated. The passage in question was observing ascendant political attention on the middle class.

Kirk LaPointe
CBC Ombudsman