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Opinion In his quest to demonize immigrants, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson misses a good story

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A group of immigrants settles in a small Pennsylvania borough. Locals complain, citing litter, bad driving and public defecation. A large community meeting is convened, and regional news sources pick up on the hubbub. Folks wonder aloud whether the immigrants are getting federal tax money.

How far behind can Fox News host Tucker Carlson be? This far:

Those “gypsies” are about 40 Romanians of the minority Roma ethnic group. They claim to have suffered discrimination in Bucharest and are seeking asylum in the United States. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted, these folks have been “processed” by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and are living under the Alternatives to Detention program. They alighted in the borough of California, Pa., a town of fewer than 7,000 just south of Pittsburgh.

And to hear Carlson tell it, these people have very active colons. “Next up,” said Carlson on his Monday program, “a small town in Pennsylvania trying to cope with streets covered — pardon us now, but it’s true — with human feces and headless chickens after immigration officials settle dozens of Roma — you may call them ‘gypsies’ — in their town. Is the federal government failing its own citizens, or do they need to just grow up and start appreciating diversity?”

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To hash through these allegations, Carlson welcomed George Eli, an American Roma and filmmaker who took on Roma cultural issues in “Searching for the Fourth Nail: An Insider’s Look at the Secret Life of an American Gypsy.” Addressing the issues in Pennsylvania, Eli said — hold on a moment: Eli claimed on air that he didn’t even know much about the situation at hand. “Tucker, American citizens have the right to [upset about] anybody coming into their towns and making havoc. I can’t comment on what exactly is happening in the town because I just learned of it through your producers. But I can say that the Roma people, the majority of them, are nonviolent. They are not violent people.”

Agreed, said Carlson. But what about the poop? “I have heard a lot of people mention, and I hate to say, public defecation,” said Carlson.

More: “There are a lot of news stories around — I’m serious. Going back a long time in the U.K. And here where groups of Roma settle in a new community and then defecate on playgrounds or sidewalks or on their front steps. That seems to me a hostile act. ”

The fecal focus continued after Eli protested that he was unfamiliar with this practice: “And we use bathrooms and I’ve been to Europe many times. And it’s kind of like, I can’t respond to something that I have never seen as a Roma person. I’ve never witnessed any of my family do such a thing.”

In any case, Eli countered Carlson’s concerns about “assimilation” by noting that there are a million Roma in North America “and you never hear any reports of that.” Oh, but Carlson was determined to compensate for this dearth of coverage. “Okay,” he told Eli. “But we can agree that when you come to Pennsylvania, you can’t go on the sidewalk or the playground. Right? I mean, why can’t — do you think that we are secure enough with our own mores that we can just say, ‘Hey, knock it off?’ ” said the host.

This isn’t Sean Hannity territory; Carlson wasn’t spinning some Seth Richesque fantasy line. Stories about the controversy have consistently mentioned various allegations of public pooping by the Roma immigrants in California. “Others said that they’ve seen Romanians killing chickens and children defecating in public,” notes the Post-Gazette. When the Erik Wemple Blog asked Fox News how Carlson concluded that the streets of California were “covered with human feces,” a network spokeswoman responded with a link to this story quoting a woman condemning the immigrants: “What I’ve seen is men and children — never usually the women — the men and the children dropping their pants in the middle of the street, defecating, pulling their pants up and going on their way.”

So that’s a good story to cite if you’re interested in exploring only the extremes.

However: Bud Cook, the Pennsylvania state representative for the area, told the Erik Wemple Blog that when it comes to public defecation, there has been a “single incident of that.” California Borough Manager Richard Martin told a local paper that he was aware of one such case. And Vito Dentino, a real estate broker who has rented accommodations to most of the Roma immigrants in town, provided more details on that famous breach of decency to the Erik Wemple Blog. “It was a 10-year-old kid who dropped his drawers” when he couldn’t make it to the facilities in time, says Dentino, who said he investigated the incident. A quick cleanup occurred before he arrived on the scene. “There was no sign of it or anything,” says Dentino. “That was the only one that I’ve heard of and believe me: I would have been aware of it.” Residents who oppose the immigrants, he says, are “more than happy to complain to me.”

At a recent community meeting in California, Dentino explained just how he came to work at the center of this civic dispute. A man approached him in May looking to rent a property. He said okay. The man said he had a cousin, and soon enough he was renting “29 or 30” apartments to the Roma. Over an extensive back-and-forth with Californians, Dentino described all the phone calls he made upon realizing that a whole bunch of immigrants who spoke little English and who had little familiarity local customs had arrived. He called the police chief; he called the superintendent of schools. “I called the university,” said Dentino, referring to California University of Pennsylvania. “I thought there was something the college could do. Maybe they have a place and could have them go there a couple times a week and take English lessons. I thought that was something we could help them with.”

“They’re doing the same thing in coming to this country that our grandparents did,” said Dentino.

His work didn’t end with those calls. As the Roma newcomers settled in, they generated complaints about sloppiness with trash. Dentino enforced: “I have actually gone up there with the zoning officer and complained about their surroundings and the way they throw trash in their own yard,” he told the community. “I said, ‘What about your neighbors? You’re the only people in this town that have trash lying in your yard. That’s not acceptable. Would you do that in Romania?’ And they said no. I said, ‘Then, don’t do it here.'” Not only that: Dentino also spotted a gas-station transgression. “They drive down Third Street, they see a red light, they cut through Kwik Fill … and I hollered at one of them guys for doing that: ‘You’re gonna get a ticket.'” He also learned that “a couple of guys” had urinated outdoors. “I got up there and confronted them about that.  I think they are adjusting fine,” said the 71-year-old Dentino.

According to the Post-Gazette, one of the immigrants, Ali George, said that California seemed like “a friendly, inexpensive place to live.” Another told the newspaper: “We left our country, not because we are poor. We left because of racism and we’re seeking political asylum.”

During the school year for California University, Dentino’s rental population swells with a much different crowd. “I have similar problems with students throwing bottles and cups around and I say the same thing to them,” says Dentino. “Many of the same people don’t like the college kids either. They get drunk in the middle of the night, they do this, they do that.”

So, yes, Tucker Carlson: It turns out that we are indeed “secure enough with our own mores that we can just say, ‘Hey, knock it off.'” That message is coming from community members — “Why are these people not being held to the same rules we are being held to?” asked one person at the meeting — and it’s also coming from Dentino, who tells us: “They are honest, they’re friendly, they’re not aggressive, not violent, not nasty — they’re not anything but friendly. They’re just different.” In other words, not how they’re portrayed in the media, whose reports Dentino says are “95 percent” false. “I feel like Trump,” he said in reference to the president’s complaints about “fake news.”

Of course, Dentino is staked in the immigrants; he’s renting to them. But that’s sort of the point here. People move in and begin to anger their neighbors. Someone with a vested interest in their success intervenes, instructing them on local laws, ordinances and general expectations. Ain’t that America?

As the table-setting host at an insanely profitable network, Carlson could head out to California with a crew and perhaps follow Dentino as he interacts with his controversial tenants. And interview the detractors, of whom there are plenty. “I’m not a racist; My sister married a black man. So it comes from certain authority when I tell you that the Romanians are ruining Cal,” reads the first lines of a comment on an online petition to “stop these people from coming here.” Rosemary Capanna, a Democratic mayoral candidate in California, opposes all that. “I am a second-generation American of Italian descent, so I relate very much to what these folks are experiencing. Yes, my family had to assimilate. Everyone’s family had to assimilate. It wasn’t done overnight,” she told the Erik Wemple Blog. 

All of which is to say that there’s a real story at hand. Carlson, however, would prefer to demonize the immigrants and interview a filmmaker who, by his own assertion, didn’t know about the issue until Carlson’s producers briefed him about it. Hey, it’s a proven formula.