Valley News Live Clowns Do A Disservice To Both Sides Of The Refugee Debate


Cani Abdullah, left, reacts to a Valley News Live report with friends Hamida Dakane and Hukun Abdullah who gathered to watch the report by the news station's "immigration and relocation" reporter Bradford Arick targeting the local refugee population as "health risks" to those living "in a refugee resettlement area" on Monday, May 16, 2016. Nick Wagner / The Forum

Recently the rodeo clowns at Valley News Live promoted what they claimed was a major story (video at the link) about the threat of tuberculosis from foreign refugees settled in the Fargo area.

The problem? The story wasn’t terribly accurate. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s a couple of doctors, quoted by Fargo Forum reporter Adrian Glass-Moore, saying as much:

Dr. John Baird, health officer at Fargo-Cass Public Health, watched the story and said it was wrong. He said refugees do not pose a public health risk with tuberculosis. He said the bacterial disease is “not a major problem for our community.”

“I’m not going to say anything to refute a doctor,” Valley News Live News Director Ike Walker said Tuesday in an interview with The Forum when told about Baird’s assessment. “I mean the reality is, the numbers stand on their own, the reporting stands on its own.”

Asked if living in a refugee neighborhood would pose a health risk, North Dakota Department of Health tuberculosis expert Dee Pritschet said, “I don’t know why it would be.”

So why would Mr. Walker (who, full disclosure, repeatedly banned me from Valley News Live’s programming when I was critical of his station’s stories) promote a story about the health risks of refugees if public and private health professionals are saying it’s bunk?

The fact that May is a ratings sweeps period might explain it, which Glass-Moore notes. But the VNL folks doggedly stand by their story, claiming that those critical of it are only motivated by politics:

Brie Blackburn, a 28-year-old marketing coordinator in Moorhead, emailed the station to complain that it was “purposefully singling out people and creating fear for them.”

The response she received from Wareham, the general manager, had the subject line “Get a grip.”

“Brie, Thousands of our viewers are facing a health crisis that no one told them was happening. Sorry their danger is inconvenient to your political narrative,” Wareham wrote in the email, which Blackburn provided to The Forum.

Let me pop a hole in that particular argument, because I’m certainly not someone who has a political bias for refugee resettlement.

I have been critical of refugee resettlement in Fargo. I think Lutheran Social Services, the private entity which oversees resettlement in our region, does a terrible job. I don’t think they’re transparent enough with local officials about the impact of refugee resettlement on things like school enrollment. I don’t think LSS always serves the refugees very well when it comes to helping them integrate into our communities, both on a professional and personal level.

I think the proponents of refugee resettlement are far too quick to dismiss concerns over impacts on crime and, yes, public health. They’re also too quick to attribute criticism of refugee resettlement to racism.

All that said, what’s not helping this debate out at all is Valley News Live running shoddy, petty stories aimed more at provoking their audience than informing it. Many critics of refugee resettlement might be tempted to defend VNL because their stories are also critical of resettlement.

That would be a mistake.

I think VNL does this because, at least in the short term, it’s been successful. They’ve seen their ratings go up. Their stories often incite social media firestorms which lead to lots of clicks and likes.

Maybe that’s a good short-term business model. Long term you risk turning yourself into the local television equivalent of the National Enquirer.