There’s been no shortage of controversy stirred up by the H1B visa program that brings immigrants to the United States to take jobs allegedly requiring special talents – mostly in technology companies. So when what could well have been the first public debate ever that centers on this subject is held that included a researcher on the visas (who has charged that they overwhelmingly go to foreign workers who simply lower wages for companies who want to replace more expensive Americans) and a politician who’s been strongly in favor, you’d think a major newspaper would find that pretty newsworthy.
In the case of the Mercury News, however, you’d be wrong. And much worse, it looks like the San Francisco Bay area daily is keeping a video of the event under wraps because it makes the politician – whose views closely mirror the paper’s pro-H1B editorial stance – look absolutely terrible.
Here’s the skinny on the event. Precisely because there’s no recording available, I’m relying on this account from participant Norman Matloff, a computer science professor at the University of California, Davis, a leading national authority on immigration issues and the H1B program in particular, and a strong critic of the latter. Joining Matloff on a panel convened at the newly opened offices of the Voice of America’s Silicon Valley bureau were freshman Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna and Kamran Elahian, who Matloff describes as “an immigrant tech entrepreneur.”
According to Matloff, most of the H1B exchanges took place between him and Khanna, who has been characterized in the press as “the favorite of the tech industry since he tried to first overtake incumbent Mike Honda in the 2014 election” in large part because of his defense of the domestic tech industry’s H1B practices.
As Matloff describes it, Khanna – who has also been described in the national media as a rising Democratic party star and champion of pragmatic fixes for economically besieged middle class Americans – was stunningly ignorant about recent H1B-related news developments. More troubling: Khanna sunk to thinly disguised personal (and completely unjustified) attacks on Matloff and several times seem to have flown off the handle when presented with evidence that clashed with his preconceived ideas.
I’d say “Don’t take my (or Matloff’s) word for it; see for yourself” – but I can’t. The debate was filmed by the Mercury News, but in response to a query from Matloff about whether the video would be posted, a reporter he knew at the paper told him that
“it looks like the video was essentially scrapped as a standalone report, but there’s apparently a possibility that parts of it will be used in coverage of Rep. Khanna. Not sure the reason(s) for this, but I know videos of such events are often just used in bits and pieces…”
As Matloff noted in an email to me, “Certainly it would have cost the Merc nothing to put the video on the Web, quite easily and simply.” And it’s hard to disagree with his judgment that the paper “would be performing a major public service by placing the video online (in full, of course).”
So it’s necessary to take seriously Matloff when he speculated, in that same email to me: “I can certainly see the Merc wanting to protect Rep. Khanna. They had endorsed Khanna, and generally feel their loyalty is to the tech industry. Their coverage of H-1B has been fair, but their editorial position has always been pro-H-1B.”
Matloff’s views are hardly dispositive – though I have always found him to be scrupulously honest. What could not be clearer, however, is that the Mercury News could reenforce its claims to objectivity by posting the video. With every passing day that it fails, the case for questioning its motives can only grow.