Recent reports that California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman hired an illegal immigrant as a maid have been widely covered by the mainstream media. Some pundits are even reporting that the allegations are enough to derail Whitman’s candidacy in her race against former governor Jerry Brown.
Lost in most of the media coverage is the fact that Whitman has produced over a dozen documents proving her maid, Nicky Santillan, lied to her about her resident status. Not only did Santillan provide a California driver’s license and a social security card, she filled out a W-4 and an I-9 stating she had been a legal resident of the United States for several years. At a press conference led by celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, Santillan played the victim, claiming Whitman took advantage of her and “only” paid her $23 an hour to work part-time.
In the media, however, much of the coverage is not on the details of the scandal, but on the furor being raised by political pundits trying to score points against Whitman. CNN and MSNBC ran headlines on Thursday, September 30, highlighting Whitman claiming her innocence and an accusation that Whitman’s husband saw a letter from the Social Security Administration questioning Santillan’s legal residency. That letter turned up in Santillan’s possession, raising suspicions that as their maid, she intercepted the letter before the Whitmans saw it.
When accusatons against high-profile individuals are made, the press has a responsibility to look past the hype to the facts. In this case, with a Republican female candidate, they haven’t. In past cases, where Democrats are involved, the media has been reluctant to create a furor and blow accusations into a scandal. When President Obama faced charges he was not born in this country, the media correctly reported the facts, that show he was born in Hawaii as he claimed. They tempered any rumors to the contrary and pointed out there was no evidence that he was born anywhere else.Where is such level-headed reporting now? Perhaps the answer is found in who the accusations are against. It is a clear example of the media choosing how stories are reported and which stories get “legs.” By playing up the furor now, the media knows full well that on election day, voters will not remember the facts of the story. They will only remember the supposed outrage that has tarnished her image. In this case, perception may overrule reality. With their irresponsible, sensational reporting, the media seems to be counting on it.