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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Tom Friedman should do his homework

I've just ranted a bit on Bruno Giussani's blog after he wrote about a column that Tom Friedman (of The World is Flat fame) published on immigration April 5. Friedman is the New York Times' foreign affairs columnist. He argues that America needs strong borders and more immigrants. As a U.S. citizen, frequent traveler and visitor to a large part of the world, I agree absolutely about the immigrants. Let's hang out that welcome sign!

I think the point about borders is dubious and will never be enforceable, or at least not at an acceptable price. We should not risk further alienating the rest of the world, whose post-911 understanding has been pushed to its limits by recent changes that have made entering the U.S. as a tourist far too difficult.

My rant was not about U.S. policy, though, it was about sloppy reporting.

Tom Friedman, do your homework, please!

As Bruno points out, Friedman just plain gets it wrong in a couple places.

People love to give journalists a hard time about inaccurate or inadequate reporting, and it's tough to be on the receiving end of that stick if you are in fact a conscientious journalist. I am one of those. I don't have the fame and editorial clout of Friedman and his paper. When a colleague lets down the reporting forces, he makes the rest of us pay for months, if not years. I'm unhappy about that. There's some interesting food for though in Naked Conversations about this problem, and where blogging fits into it.

Okay, I am annoyed by, but can live with, yet another U.S.-based reporter perpetuating the Swiss cuckoo clock myth. Friedman does this when he writes about immigration (and I'm not including a link here because the New York Times doesn't offer yesterday's news for free online). I can't live with this: he implies strongly that it's hard to become a Swiss citizen, and from there we are to understand that Switzerland is not competitive because it doesn't welcome immigrants.

Tom Friedman, you shouldn't have let us down!

Whoa, just a minute. Who did you talk to, Tom? Where are the facts? Isn't that information just a little out of date, let's say by 20 years or so? Responsible reporting, please. A good starting point would be a country profile article published in Migration Information Source, by three authors from the Swiss Forum for Migration and Population Studies in Neuchatel.

A few facts about Swiss immigration in 2006

I'm about to become a Swiss citizen (and will remain an American one). I know firsthand that Switzerland now welcomes immigrants, the process is easy and straightforward, and it costs a minimal amount of money. Moreover, the evidence is all around me that the country has benefited enormously from its approach to immigration in recent years. Accepting dual citizenship after 1992 in particular prompted a sharp increase in applications for citizenship.

Taking a tough line on facts

I worked for several years for Time Magazine, in Paris and in Switzerland, and I had tough bosses who insisted that we back up every statement we made. Fact checkers would come back to me at midnight my time on Friday night, asking what often seemed like irritating and tedious questions. The weekly news magazine was closing in New York but I was having dinner at La Coupole in Paris. The other journalists from Time and I would grumble about that fleet of people sitting in cubbyholes high above Avenue of the Americas in New York, trying to find the loose threads that would make our stories unravel. We swapped tales about the dumbest fact checker questions ever.

If they caught a thread, I could figure on an urgent call from an unhappy bureau chief, suggesting I hustle pretty fast to get the problem sorted out.

We didn't like those checkers, or the bureau chief's calls, but they kept us on our toes, kept us honest, and taught us the value of doublechecking everything, even the things we thought we knew. They saved our skins on occasion, when it had been too easy to take someone's word at face value, or to fill the space with odd facts we had stored in our mental cupboards.

I know a lot of journalists who work like this, rushing to the net to meet deadlines while nevertheless taking time to check and check again that they got it right. It's a bit like playing fast tennis while trying with the other hand to hold up your trousers.

I never, never let down these journalists. And I expect them to do the same for me.

Tom, you just shouldn't have been sloppy. :(


Anonymous Henry Muller said...

Thanks for calling Friedman on his stupid reference to Switzerland. He must have had a bad fondue at the WEF once, otherwise there’s no explanation for his gratuitous (and in any event inaccurate) slap. Also worth noting is that Switzerland houses roughly twice as many foreigners per capita as the U.S. (roughly 20% vs. 10% of the population), laying to rest any notion that Switzerland is some sort of closed society hostile to outsiders and their contributions. Finally, perhaps a blogger more learned than I can list the things that were really discovered and invented here, beginning with the Theory of Relativity. It’ll be a pretty impressive list for a country with one fortieth the population of the U.S.

That said, Friedman has committed far greater sins in his career, notably his support for the disastrous war in Iraq, which he will spend the rest of his life trying to weasel out of.

Henry Muller

9:09 AM  

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