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From the Editor: 'Mexican' isn't a dirty word

We published a story at on Thursday about a deadly car crash. And people freaked out.

Nobody had qualms about the story; it was the headline that sparked a debate on Facebook and in reader comments under the story on our website and a few emails to me: “Mexican man killed when pickup flips in Lincoln County.”

The newspaper was being racist, critics said, because we pointed out his ethnicity in the headline. “What’s next,” one reader posted, “FAT LADY DIES IN HEAD ON COLLISSION?”

No, that’s not next. And we did not point out his ethnicity. We pointed out his nationality.


Because when someone dies or makes news, we’ve found that readers tend to want to know where that person was from. That’s why you’ll see headlines all the time in the Times-News that may say things like: “Paul man injured in crash,” or “Burley woman convicted of murder” or “Twin Falls resident honored with award.”

In fact, our digital data have shown that readers tend to click on stories more frequently when the headline mentions a place. That’s not surprising, because people who live in Paul, for example, typically like reading about people who live in Paul.

“Jerome man killed in U.S. 93 crash” is an actual headline we printed not long ago. No one complained.

Think about it this way: Would anyone have complained about the Thursday story if the man had been from Canada and the headline had read: “Canadian man killed when pickup flips in Lincoln County?” What about if it was a Peruvian or German or Russian?

It works the other way, too: When an American student was beaten to death in Greece this summer, nearly every major news outlet in the United States ran a headline that was some version of “American student beaten to death in Greece.” Yes, “American,” not “Black student,” even though the student was black. The country of origin was worth noting in the headline; his race was not.

So what’s different about “Mexican?”

I think a few things are at play here.

For one, consider the political climate. Latinos (yes, that’s an ethnicity, not a nationality) feel under fire from the Donald Trump administration, especially this week when the president said he plans to end the so-called DACA program in six months, a move that would end protections for more than 800,000 children of illegal immigrants living in the United States.

Closer to home, Jerome County is in talks with federal immigration agents about housing suspected illegal immigrants at the county’s new jail, sparking fears in the immigrant community about roundups and deportations.

Consider, too, that not so long ago in the Magic Valley some people used the word “Mexican” in a derogatory sense. Even though “Mexican” is not a dirty word, its use caused some people to cringe, perhaps because they’ve heard it misused in the past.

Past and the present circumstances influence how we rationalize the news. So do our own milieus, the social environments that shape how we see the world. If you’re sensitive about discrimination, I can see how the headline might cause you to pause. If you’re concerned about being overly politically correct, I can see how outrage over the headline could seem ridiculous.

That’s how a seemingly innocuous descriptor of a person’s nationality can suddenly become a lightning rod for what we believe about race, politics, the media, everything. It was fascinating to read the online comments and see how quickly people upset by the headline turned on those justifying it, and vice versa. On both sides, their own biases about race were driving their outrage. This wasn’t so much a debate about word choice in a headline but about what people believed about racism. (It’s worth noting, too, that hardly anyone posted something about the tragic death of a human being; the focus was all on the headline.)

Ultimately, the conversation quickly devolved into a debate between “racists” and “snowflakes.”

So what’s the takeaway?

One, we have no plans to change our preferences for headline styles. Expect to keep seeing place names in headlines. They don’t have anything to do with race or ethnicity and everything to do with providing basic, relevant information.

Second, for me anyway, all the hubbub has reminded me to be a careful reader, to not project my own biases onto the news or try to find hidden meanings in word choices. Believe it or not, we in the hometown newspaper business aren’t secretly trying to provoke or make political points with word choices in car-crash headlines. We’re just trying to tell it like it is.

A Mexican is a person from Mexico. Simple as that.

Letter: I'm related to Jerry Kimball. Shame on Twin Falls.

My comment is for the family of Kent Storrer and the attorney Grant Loebs as well as Judge Stoker. I realize they are angry and going through a grieving process and I am sorry for their loss and yes it is tragic. But there is no excuse for the inappropriate comments made in the hall of the courthouse about “with the looks of the family, no wonder Jerry Kimball is the way he is.”

We may not be wealthy or look like the Storrer family, but we are work hard and dress the best we can. Tattoos do not make a person white trash, as you implied. And blaming a family for the way one person turns out is pathetic at best. You do the best you can teaching a child right and wrong and living by example, and each child does their own thing and we all pray remembers how they were raised to act.

We aren’t drug addicts or alcoholics, and we aren’t wealthy like you people are, but shame on you for your inappropriate comments and accusations. My guess is you all think you are without sin and are casting all the stones. Pretty sure you aren’t.

And the unprofessional behavior of that attorney should be investigated by the law board. The judicial system in this country and this city is pathetic and Jerry’s sentence was totally wrong. He admits to his wrongdoings but the judge who said he was someone who could be manipulated and deserved 45 years needs to be removed from his position.

Reading the worthless paper Twin Falls produces, I noticed you can kill your wife and only get 20 years in jail and a kid who made the wrong decision about befriending someone gets 45 years. Something terribly wrong with the system.

Barbara Schaeffer

Napa, Calif.

Cal Thomas: On taxes and immigration: look to Hungary

BUDAPEST — Congress has returned to Washington after another unearned vacation and faces at least two immediate challenges, in addition to the familiar ritual of raising the debt ceiling.

President Trump has called the indecipherable U.S. tax code “self-destructive.” He has also decided to end the Obama-era program that allows “undocumented” immigrants who came to America as children to gain work permits. Congress would be given six months to replace it.

For advice on taxes and immigration, the president and Congress might learn something from Hungary.

On Jan. 1, 2017, the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban lowered the corporate tax rate from 19 percent to 9 percent, the lowest rate among the 28 member states of the European Union. By comparison, the United States’ top marginal tax rate is 38.92 percent, just behind Puerto Rico and the United Arab Emirates.

In an interview, Zoltan Kovacs, secretary of state for Public Diplomacy and Relations in Orban’s Second Cabinet, tells me the country’s 15 percent flat tax and lower corporate taxes have — surprise — increased government receipts because more people are being hired and they generate additional tax revenue.

In the last seven years, Kovacs says, 700,000 new jobs have been created in Hungary, only 150,000 of which are government jobs. The government jobs are mostly for people who had relied in the past on social welfare programs. Even here, he says, they know the meaning of the word “workfare.” The unemployment rate in Hungary is 4.5 percent, according to Kovacs, down from 11.4 percent in 2010 when the current government took power. Economic growth ranges between 3.5 percent and 4 percent, he says.

While American debt keeps rising, Hungary’s debt is falling. In 2010 it was 85 percent of GDP. Today it is 74 percent. True, Hungary has a high value added tax of 27 percent, but Kovacs says that is “temporary” (is there any such thing as a temporary tax?) and the government’s goal is to reduce it as revenue continues to increase.

Hungary has some of the toughest immigration policies in the European Union. Since 2015, says Kovacs, “400,000 immigrants have passed through” the country. Asked how many stayed, he replies “none,” adding, “They (immigrants) all wanted to go to Western Europe, Germany, Scandinavian countries.” Why? Because, he says, they have welfare programs in those countries and Hungary deliberately does not.

The charges for this policy are familiar to Americans: “We are racists, we hate those people who come in,” when in fact, Kovacs says, it is about maintaining Hungary’s culture and way of life.

What about the religious component when it comes to migrants from Muslim countries?

“We do not underestimate that element,” he responds. “Islam is mostly fundamentalist. Europe is mostly secular, but even for those who don’t believe in God, or go to church. The very culture of Europe is Christianity.”

Kovacs suggests the massive flow of mostly Muslim immigrants is “undermining the very foundations of the European countries.” He says even secularism is a threat to those foundations, “but when you bring in a completely different culture — and it’s not superiority vs. inferiority — it’s simply about the difference. If you see the experience in other societies, Islam is not integrating. They exist in parallel societies and live by their own rules. We don’t like what we see in France, The Netherlands and Germany.”

He might have added that if a nation loses its culture, it loses the nation. The failure of especially Muslim immigrants to assimilate in ways that will preserve their host’s culture is critical. Otherwise, it is not immigration, but invasion, which appears to be happening in Europe, a continent that has a lot of experience over many centuries when it comes to that practice.

Hungary has provided a good example when it comes to tax reform and immigration policy. The U.S. could learn from it.