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SOUND OFF: Who gets to decide if there's a 'crisis' at the border?

Reader: About every six months I write to you regarding The Bakersfield Californian using The Associated Press as a news source.

Associated Press hierarchy have instructed their writers to not call the Biden mess at our southern border a crisis, but to refer to this crisis as an event or situation. The American public knows this is a crisis caused by Biden. This was done purely for spite against President Trump’s successful handling of the southern border. President Trump stopped the catch and release program, negotiated an agreement with Mexico for the illegals to stay in Mexico until their cases were brought to court. He also had agreements with the three triangle countries to address the problems within those countries.

Biden, in one ill-advised executive order, changed everything. Many of us do not buy the Associated Press's tepid response to Biden’s lack of actions on this crisis. Many of these illegals have a bogus claim of needing asylum. Once in the United States they never show up for their court date. Biden is also releasing COVID-19 illegals on the American public. Again, no mention of these practices in the Associated Press releases.

Most of this was written for the Tuesday, April 6, publication of The Californian. ...

Christine, have you ever considered another source for the nation news? The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, Reuters come to mind.

Remember Kern County is still considered conservative. You could increase the circulation by getting another national source.

— Gary L. Williams

Peterson: Gary, you unpack a lot of observations and questions here, and I will take up some of them.

I was intrigued that you wrote "Associated Press hierarchy have instructed their writers to not call the Biden mess at our southern border a crisis, but to refer to this crisis as an event or situation." So I wanted to check that out.

John Daniszewski, vice president for standards at AP, wrote a blog to his colleagues with the headline "Describing what's happening at the US border" dated March 26. AP editors said I could quote from that, so I present Daniszewski's writing here:

"With immigration and the U.S. border back in the news, it is especially imperative for the AP to consistently use accurate and neutral language in its coverage along with giving proper context to border numbers given the political rhetoric on the topic.

"There has been a rise in unaccompanied minors crossing the southwestern U.S. border in the last two months since the start of the Biden administration. This follows a monthly increase in border crossings each month since April, or the last eight months of the Trump presidency. The current level of crossings in 2021 is roughly equal to the last upturn that occurred in mid-2019.

"The current event in the news — a sharp increase in the arrival of unaccompanied minors — is a problem for border officials, a political challenge for Biden and a dire situation for many migrants who make the journey, but it does not fit the classic dictionary definition of a crisis, which is: 'A turning point in the course of anything; decisive or crucial time, stage, or event,' OR 'a time of, or a state of affairs involving, great danger or trouble, often one which threatens to result in unpleasant consequences [an economic crisis].'

"Therefore, we should avoid, or at the least, be highly cautious, about referring to the present situation as a crisis on our own, although we may quote others using that language.

"If using the word 'crisis,' we need to ask of what and to whom. There could be a humanitarian crisis if the numbers grow so large that officials cannot house the migrants safely or in sanitary conditions. Migrants may face humanitarian crises in their home countries. In theory, there could be a security or a border crisis if officials lose control of the border, allowing people to enter unencumbered in large numbers. But, in general, avoid hyperbole in calling anything a crisis or an emergency.

"Because migration is such a hot-button issue, we also should try to avoid imagery conjuring war or natural disaster, which could portray migrants as a negative, harmful influence. Avoid emotive words like onslaught, tidal wave, flood, inundation, surge, invasion, army, march, sneak and stealth.

"Rather, let’s be as neutral as possible while backing up our characterizations with numbers and facts. So, for example, Biden is contending with the largest number of migrant encounters at the border since a four-month streak in 2019. It is the among the largest number of unaccompanied children encountered at the border on record. Overcrowded detention facilities that have sent U.S. authorities scrambling for space and prompted the administration to dispatch FEMA to the border.

"We should explore widely all perspectives on this controversial issue. At the same time, we should be mindful of misinformation and think through which quotes we are using to ensure that we are not repeating factual misinformation in quotes and provide fact checking as part of the story."

I hope, Gary, that that answers some of your questions about a contentious topic. I realize you may disagree with Daniszewski, but at least you and other readers will know AP's guidance to its news staff.

Also, I kept your wording about "illegals" in your question. But in news stories and opinion pieces, we follow this guidance: Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person.

Some of the alternatives to Associated Press you suggested don't offer daily news coverage to newspapers to purchase for use. One of AP's many strengths is offering robust national coverage, state news and sports all in one. We need all those!

Gary, you also wrote: "Remember Kern County is still considered conservative."

I checked with the Kern County Elections Division to get the latest voter registration breakdown. (I don't necessarily buy that Republican Party is synonymous with conservative, and that Democratic Party is synonymous with liberal. But it's a measure we have that is not just going off our guts.)

As of Thursday, here's that breakdown: There are 161,434 active registered Republicans, 150,099 active registered Democrats and 95,176 people registered as no party preference. Those are the three largest. There are also lots of other parties — think Green (1,226 active registered voters), Libertarian (4,938) and Peace and Freedom (2,529), and some you may not have heard of before, such as the California Pirate Party (2) and the Veterans' Party of America (6).

Republicans and Democrats are closer in numbers than some readers might have thought.


Reader: My hats off to Alexander Fan for his great Community Voices ("All Kern County schools need to adopt Dolores Huerta Day resolution, implement curriculum," April 13) on Dolores Huerta day. It is so refreshing to see how our young people are getting involved in our community events and I hope so many more will follow. This type of involvement may help keep our local leaders on their toes and it refreshes the opinion pages from the dry old politics big paper columnists always write about. They might learn from a bright new prospective.

— James McCall, Taft

Peterson: As I have said before in Sound Off, I appreciate young people contributing Community Voices pieces on a variety of topics. And I give Alexander points for persistence — he lobbied hard for his piece to be in last Saturday or Sunday's newspaper, even though those days' Opinion sections were long complete. I let him know I could not accommodate his piece until Tuesday, and then it published.


Reader: I’m curious as to why there was no coverage of the vote in Sacramento (Tuesday) regarding the defeat of the anti-oil, anti-fracking and anti-prosperity Senate Bill 467.

Kudos to state Sen. Shannon Grove for her unwavering support of our oil industry in the face of half-baked “scientific studies” and sob stories.

— Charles Comfort, Taft

Peterson: Thanks, Charles for your question. You are right; we did not have a story the day it happened. That's because Business Editor John Cox was already busy as can be that day, cranking out two other noteworthy stories: "Adventist names medical campus but hasn't decided whether it'll be a hospital" and "B3K spotlights Kern's economic challenges, potential opportunities ahead." Both were robust stories with a lot of information and sources.

However, John did pick up SB 467 the next day with this in-depth story: "Committee vote all but kills California anti-oil bill." His presentation included not only a story, but a sidebar of quotes from oil industry representatives and yes, the other side of the debate.

So yes, given all the reporting that had to be accomplished, we traded a quick mention of the vote the day it happened for a bigger, more complete story a day later. Tough trade-offs!


Reader: Dear Christine – I am nominating you for Sainthood. Please accept this award when it comes your way. Personally, I would have hired hit men by now. I just can’t believe what some people say to you – and you remain so nice. You are a gem.

— Suzanne Brierley

Reader: I read your "Sound Off" section all the time. I don't envy you taking on all that criticism, which in these "terrible times" must be much more than ever before. I admire your ability to maintain a positive attitude.

— Betsy Gosling

Peterson: Suzanne, you can call me a gem, but definitely not a saint. I am far from qualified. (I'd say one reader I talked with this week would say I am worthy of quite the opposite; she was NOT happy with me.) But thank you for your kind support! Thank you too, Betsy. 


Peterson: I spoke with a reader this week who questioned whether Sound Off might be ending as last week I wrote that I would be speaking with "an esteemed group of local professionals," who in part asked me to address "how I survive Sound Off."

The reader thought that might have meant I was talking with my bosses about the future of Sound Off. Nope! I spoke via Zoom to the Bakersfield Breakfast Rotary Club (great, welcoming group!) about Sound Off and what I do in my profession. As far as I am concerned, Sound Off is here to stay.

Executive Editor Christine Peterson answers your questions and takes your complaints about The Californian’s news coverage in this weekly feedback forum. Questions may be edited for space and clarity. To offer your input by phone, call 661-395-7649 and leave your comments in a voicemail message or email us at Please include your name and phone number.