Phil Bronstein has many names for Jose Antonio Vargas, the former Chronicle editorial assistant who came out as an illegal immigrant yesterday in the New York Times. Among them are "lawbreaker," "hustler," and finally "friend."
The Chron's editor-in-chief seemed more than a little torn about how to classify the former employee who fooled him nearly 10 years ago when he got a job with the Chron while studying at San Francisco State.
The headline on Bronstein's online column today seems to go for the jugular: "I was duped by Jose Vargas, illegal immigrant." Bronstein goes on to say, "Jose lied to me and everyone else he worked for, and that's not kosher,
especially in a profession where facts and, more elusively, the truth
are considered valuable commodities."
Bronstein took issue with the fact that Vargas had written about men on Mission Street who sell fake driver's licenses, when Vargas had used a fake address in Oregon to get his own.
But by the end of his piece, Bronstein's tone softens when talking about
how Vargas has put a face on the struggle faced by illegal immigrants:
"For me, it's the face of a friend."
This is getting complex.
Bronstein wrangles with his own unwitting complicity in Vargas' rise to
journalistic fame. When talking about recommending him for a position
at another Hearst publication, he writes: "I feel silly for it,
but not felonious." He continues: "Am I a dupe? A felon -- at least according to a
tough new Alabama law
that might find me guilty of 'harboring' Jose when he was in my office
the other day (I also bought him coffee)? Or have I unwittingly
supported a potentially powerful new movement in the push for
Relax, Phil: The feds are unlikely to come after you or the Chron anytime soon.
Bronstein should cut himself a little slack: Who would have really suspected? It's the same reason we chuckled at how Leonardo Di Caprio's con man character in the film Catch Me If You Can duped so many smart, high-class folks in the 1960s into thinking he was a pilot, doctor, and lawyer.
Today, it's fair to say most of us don't consider the possibility that the person sitting in the cubicle next to us may be illegal. As Bronstein points out: "The
most visible [illegal immigrants] are Latino day laborers. But the
Vargas confession may
also open those gnarly closet doors for high-achieving white collar