Jose Antonio Vargas, Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist, Outs Himself as an Illegal Immigrant


In Sunday’s edition of the New York Times Magazine, online today, a former Washington Post reporter and senior contributing editor for The Huffington Post, Jose Antonio Vargas, tells the story of his own life as an undocumented immigrant. Sent by his mother to the United States from the Philippines at the age of 12, even Vargas had no idea of his illegal status until a D.M.V. worker told him his green card was fake. To get work as a adult, Vargas used counterfeit documents, including at HuffPo and the Post. As if this wasn’t a juicy enough media story, there’s yet another (more meta) angle: Vargas planned to write his confessional tale for the Post‘s Outlook section, only to have them back out and kill the story; the Times Magazine scrambled to make room for it in only 48 hours. More details inside Press Clips, our daily media column! Plus, another set of insights from Bill Keller and the possibly end of the inflight magazine.

First-Person: Vargas’s entire account is a must-read for its honesty and array of conflicts both personal and professional.

In one especially stressful section, he describes his secret clashing with his work as a reporter:

I did my best to steer clear of reporting on immigration policy but couldn’t always avoid it. On two occasions, I wrote about Hillary Clinton’s position on driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. I also wrote an article about Senator Mel Martinez of Florida, then thechairman of the Republican National Committee, who was defending his party’s stance toward Latinos after only one Republican presidential candidate — John McCain, the co-author of a failed immigration bill — agreed to participate in a debate sponsored by Univision, the Spanish-language network.

It was an odd sort of dance: I was trying to stand out in a highly competitive newsroom, yet I was terrified that if I stood out too much, I’d invite unwanted scrutiny. I tried to compartmentalize my fears, distract myself by reporting on the lives of other people, but there was no escaping the central conflict in my life. Maintaining a deception for so long distorts your sense of self. You start wondering who you’ve become, and why.

When he wins a Pulitzer Prize as part of the Post team reporting on the Virginia Tech shooting, Vargas is asked by his grandmother in Tagalog, “What will happen if people find out?”

As it turns out, Post editor Peter Perl eventually did come to know about Vargas’s situation, and that detail is included in the piece. That’s very possibly why the Post decided not to run the story, which HuffPo says a Post editor spent “several weeks working on it.” Michael Calderone reports:

Carlos Lozada, editor of the Post’s weekend Outlook section, confirmed to The Huffington Post that Vargas came to the paper with the story.

“I worked on it for some weeks with the intention of possibly running it in Outlook,” Lozada said. “Ultimately, the decision was to not move forward with it.”

“We made a judgment not to run the piece,” Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti said. “We think it is a really interesting first person account and we’re glad he found a place to share his story.”

Hugo Lindgren, editor of the Times Magazine, said they “were delighted to have it fall in our laps.” At the magazine’s Times blog, the story’s eventual editor Chris Suellentrop tells the full story from his side, including “tearing up the book” to fit in the Vargas story ASAP.

…if there was any chance of closing it in time — of editing it, fact-checking it, photographing Jose, designing it, etc. — we needed to see it right now. Just before 5 p.m., 48 hours before the magazine is supposed to close, Jose e-mailed me a draft of the story.

The Post‘s Outlook editor, perhaps after seeing the story he gave up (perhaps understandably due to legal complications) light up the internet today — with appearances for Vargas approaching on ABC’s World News, Good Morning America and Nightline — told the Times that he was “delighted that the author found such a great home for the piece in the Sunday Magazine at The Times — certainly a fine second choice after The Washington Post Outlook section.”

Man in Charge (Still): Elsewhere in Timesland, outgoing executive editor Bill Keller gave an interview to Reuters blogger Anthony De Rosa. Keller discusses his controversial columns this year, including those on the dangers of the Huffington Post and of Twitter, and says that “there’s a misconception that I’m opposed to social media.” He considers Twitter, Facebook and the like, “tools, not a religion.” Keller continues:

In case you’re wondering, by the way, I do not believe that Twitter literally makes people stupid. … I think Twitter can encourage distraction, superficiality, short attention spans, bumper-sticker-level discourse. It can make you SOUND stupid. But, no, I don’t think it makes you stupid.

And frankly, he says, he’s too busy for it, though this particular argument, in the Q&A format, sounds as if it’s coming from a human rather than down from a pulpit as evangelization, as his column might’ve. Keller will step down as executive editor in September to focus on his writing.

Up in the Air: In-flight entertainment may soon be digital-only with new technology in development “that transforms magazine and newspaper content into a digital format for integration” on planes.

It is “more environmentally friendly,” but the future might still be a ways off; enjoy the feel of the SkyMall between your fingertips while you have it.

Upwards: Richard Gringas, CEO of the long-struggling, who reportedly took the site off the market recently, has resigned to work for Google. With the site in some capacity since 1995, he’s not quite going down with that ship, should it ever really sink.