CNN Spins Arizona's English Ed. Standard as Accent 'Crackdown,' 'Ban'

CNN did its part to perpetuate the liberal talking point about Arizona's supposedly racist campaign against illegal immigrants by airing a report three times on Monday that spun the state's standards for English teachers as an "accent ban" or "crackdown." Anchor Kyra Phillips even opined that it was "just wrong to judge a teacher by his or her accent as to judge on their hair or skin color."

The network's American Morning program first aired correspondent Thelma Gutierrez's report 27 minutes into the 6 am Eastern hour. Three minutes earlier, anchor John Roberts previewed the upcoming segment by noting that "some schools in Arizona [are] cracking down on English teachers who have accents." Roberts then introduced Gutierrez's report, stating that "state education officials want immigrant teachers with heavy accents removed from classes for students who are still learning English. They say they're simply following federal guidelines that were set up by the Bush administration back in 2002. But critics are calling it an ethnic witch hunt."

The "guidelines...set up by the Bush administration" line by Roberts was actually a reference to the No Child Left Behind law which passed with bipartisan support in Congress in 2001, and signed into law by then-President Bush in January 2002. Gutierrez mentioned this during her report as she introduced the Arizona state education official defending his state's guidelines: "State School Superintendent Tom Horne says, as part of No Child Left Behind, he's been monitoring ELL teachers for bad grammar and mispronounced words for the past eight years." But instead of mentioning this detail, the CNN anchor labeled it as being from the Bush administration.

The CNN correspondent leaned towards the opponents of the Arizona regulation by having sound bites from four opponents, with only Horne supporting it, and pressed the state school superintendent after he revealed that his parents had thick Polish accents:

CRISTINA PARSONS: Some people are saying that teachers like me should not be teaching students who are learning English.

THELMA GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Some teachers like Cristina Parsons in Tucson believe they're being targeted by the Arizona Department of Education because they have accents.

GUTIERREZ (on-camera): A state monitor came into your class?


GUTIERREZ: They audited you?

PARSONS: Yes. They just walked in in the middle of class.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Parsons, who was born in Brazil, has taught ELL, English Language Learners, for more than 20 years. She has two university degrees. This is the first time she's been audited, and she resents the extra scrutiny.

SUPERINTENDENT TOM HORNE: You could have a PhD and be a bad teacher.

GUTIERREZ: State School Superintendent Tom Horne says, as part of No Child Left Behind, he's been monitoring ELL teachers for bad grammar and mispronounced words for the past eight years.

GUTIERREZ (on-camera): Are you going after one particular accent?

HORNE: We're not going after any accents, including Spanish accents. It has to be faulty English- if students are being taught English and they're going to refer to a 'comma' as a 'coma,' people are going to misunderstand them.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): English professor Roseann Gonzalez disagrees, saying studies actually show that non-native speakers make better English teachers.

GUTIERREZ (on-camera): Are you saying that a teacher's pronunciation of specific words is not important?

PROF. ROSEANN GONZALEZ, UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA: That's right, because language is very contextual. We depend on the context to understand what words mean.

HORNE: You would tell somebody who could not be understood that they need to go into another profession.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Of the 1,500 teachers who were monitored last year, 25 were found to have pronunciation issues. That worries teachers Charles Collingwood from Trinidad and Ian Kipp (ph) from Ireland who wonder who's judging.

IAN KIPP: You can't say there's one way to pronounce anything in America.

CHARLES COLLINGWOOD: Seeing what kids are learning, those are more important things than if I say 'think' instead of 'think' (different pronunciation).

GUTIERREZ: Horne's critics say he's going after immigrant teachers.

HORNE: It's totally idiotic. I grew up in a household where my parents spoke Polish, and they certainly spoke English with a heavy accent.

GUTIERREZ (on-camera): But here you are, superintendent.

HORNE: Right.

GUTIERREZ: So it didn't hurt you.

HORNE: No, but my teachers spoke proficient English.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Cristina Parsons says she's also proficient.

PARSONS: The Arizona Department of Education gives a certificate saying- yes, you are certified to teach. After that, they say, no, I don't think you can do it, so I'm going to go into the classroom and see if you're doing a good job. Let's go.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Parsons is still awaiting results of her audit. If she doesn't pass, she could be reassigned to another position somewhere else in the district. Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Tucson, Arizona.

Roberts's American Morning co-anchor, Kiran Chetry, re-aired Gutierrez's report 42 minutes into the 8 am Eastern hour. Her introduction to the segment included the on-screen graphic "Accent Ban."

One hour and eight minutes later, anchor Kyra Phillips reran the report during the Newsroom program. She made it absolutely clear that she stood with the opponents of the Arizona regulation during her introduction and postscript (an on-screen graphic during this reairing touted how "Arizona Cracks Down on Teacher Accents"):

Kyra Phillips, CNN Anchor | NewsBusters.orgPHILLIPS: All right. This story gets to a lot of us, and I just can't let it go. We've talked about this new crackdown in Arizona, the crackdown on teachers' accents. Too thick- you're out. There's the door. Have a nice day. I just don't understand how some measures- accent thickness. It's not like there is a breathalyzer out there for it. Let's hear from a teacher though, who's holding her breath as higher-ups check her accent and from the superintendent who thinks these accent checks are needed. Check out the story from CNN's Thelma Gutierrez and then let's talk....

Would a guy like the governor of California be allowed to teach Arizona kids how to learn English? Arnold's Austrian accent is as thick as his biceps, but his English seems to be just fine. How about Paula Deen? [Her] accent's as thick as three melted sticks of butter in a frying pan. It seems just wrong to judge a teacher by his or her accent as to judge on their hair or skin color. Their accents reflect who they are and where they came from. What's more important- what teachers say or how they say it?

-Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.