In a column a little over two years ago, I referred to Dave Gorak, executive director of the Lombard-based Midwest Coalition to Reduce Immigration, as "something of a gadfly to the media, stinging us periodically with e-mails and phone calls to keep us awake and, he hopes, honest in our coverage of immigration."
Gorak liked the image well enough that he adopted the title "Media Gadfly" for a portion of his organization's Web site. (Confession: I borrowed the image from the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, who used it to describe the role of the philosopher in the Athenian democracy of his day.)
That part of the site has since disappeared, but Gorak hasn't. He continues to monitor the Tribune's coverage of immigration and to fire off darts when he thinks we're being less than accurate or honest. In just the last six weeks he has sent at least that many e-mails to the newspaper, calling attention to headlines, stories or opinion pieces that he considers flawed.
"What will it take," he asked in a Nov. 16 message, "before your reporters and editors (including headline writers) acknowledge the very real difference between those who are genuinely 'anti-immigrant' and those seeking real reform of our dysfunctional immigration policy?"
This complaint was prompted by a headline, "Immigration foes learn ways to advance cause," on a story in the Nov. 15 editions about a meeting a couple of days earlier of the Midwest Immigration Reform Summit.
"We are not 'foes' of immigration," Gorak went on, "we are sworn enemies of mass immigration, half of which today is illegal." And illegal immigration, he says, "is a criminal offense."
But what has really been getting Gorak's goat over the last few weeks has been the coverage in the Tribune and elsewhere of the new intelligence bill and what he says is the failure of the press to appreciate the critical role that immigration played in stalling the measure.
Most of the coverage focused on reservations by key House members such as Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, about shifting control over part of the Pentagon budget to the new director of national intelligence control, and on doubts by some members about the wisdom of creating such an intelligence czar in any case.
But, contends Gorak, "The immigration provisions were at the heart of the rebellion in the House. You cannot talk about protecting the American people without talking about driver's licenses" and other immigration provisions.
He was referring to a proposal, now dropped, to include in the intelligence overhaul a provision forbidding states to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. "The driver's license, Don, is the key to the kingdom," he said, adding that, among them, the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks possessed 63 driver's licenses from various American states.
Given the key role played by driver's licenses as identification in the post -Sept. 11 world of travel and business transactions, Gorak's observation seems, if anything, even more important.
I must confess that mass movements and organizations expressing doubts about immigration, legal or illegal, make me nervous. They can slide all too easily down the slope from high principle to ugly nativism or racism.
But I've not detected any such invidious motivations in Gorak or in organizations that he often cites as authorities, like the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies. They seem to me to be honest gadflies, stinging a complacent America, and us in the media especially, hard, painfully, but often legitimately.
We ought to pay attention.