Do The Media Think We're All Bigots?

Is talk radio running Bernie Sanders?

Big Media is blaming an angry coalition of activist conservatives, bigots and talk show hosts for defeating the controversial Senate immigration bill.

Charles Gibson on ABC's World News Tonight blamed “very, very strong opposition from Republicans” for the bill's defeat, even though Americans of all political stripes opposed McCain-Kennedy.  Even socialist Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) voted to block it. 

The Boston Globe faulted talk radio for the immigration flop, tying talk shows hosts to violent extremists. “On Tuesday the Senate breathed new life into the bill, voting to continue debating it. However, talk radio hosts and other activists flooded the airwaves - and the phone lines to senators' offices - with angry denunciations of the legislation. At least two senators said they received death threats…” 

The CBS Evening News also pinned the responsibility on talk radio: “And it was this upheaval in the part of [the] base that was stirred up by the talk show hosts that sunk it.” 

A USA Today editorial thundered: “Instead of compromising in the nation's interest, senators kowtowed to their loudest, and often most irrational, supporters. For conservatives, it was nativists who stoked fears that immigrants are tainting America.”

CBS's Katie Couric blamed the immigration bill's failure on a conservative “backlash.” “Conservative Georgia senators John Isakson and Saxby Chambliss helped to write the bill, then faced by angry protest in their district changed their minds.”

Couric may have taken her cue from The Washington Post, which ran a Page 1 story portraying immigration bill opponents as bigots.  The June 29 article by Nurith Aizenman quoted several residents of a small city in Georgia who criticized Mexican immigrants.  To complete the picture of racism, the story invoked symbols including Wal-Mart, deer-hunting dads, moms with “cheerful Southern drawls,” a monument to Confederate soldiers, and a mostly white-patronized restaurant, the Longstreet Café, with its television set on Fox News Channel.

The Post first introduced readers to Stephanie Usrey, a stay-at-home mom who reportedly is afraid to shop at the closest Wal-Mart branch because Hispanics give her the creeps.   

“That was the first time I looked around and said, 'Man, I didn't realize how many Mexicans there were here,'” Usrey, 39, recalled. “And they don't seem to feel any discomfort when they're, like, six inches from your face and talking to each other in their language, either. I just felt very encroached upon….It was like an instant feeling of 'I'm in the minority, and if we don't get control over this, pretty soon all of America will be outnumbered.'”

The Post continued, “That sense of alarm, echoed in communities across the nation, helped seal defeat for the Senate immigration bill Thursday.”

According to the Post, this “sense of alarm” of “people across Middle America seeing immigrants in their neighborhoods” finds special expression in Gainesville, Georgia, “where men take their sons deer hunting and moms call out to one another in the supermarket in cheerful Southern drawls.”  

The Post describes in detail the scene of an interview with two local business owners who complain that Hispanics throw toilet paper in the trash can instead of the toilet.  The two men were seated at a restaurant called the “Longstreet Café, the remnants of a fried chicken lunch on their plates. On one of the beige walls behind them hung a television monitor broadcasting the Fox News Channel.”  The Longstreet Café is “one of the few gathering spots left in Gainesville where nearly every face is white.”  

The locals may have been “griping” about Hispanic immigration for years, but the Post asserts that it took conservative talkers to turn the issue into a national debate.  “Most said they were unaware when Congress considered a similar legalization plan last year. But this time around, the television and talk-radio personalities many favor here -- Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Gainesville's own Martha Zoller -- have put the issue on the front burner.” 

Is the Washington Post helping readers understand the immigration issue, or displaying its own contempt for Middle America?

While many journalists persist in reporting that bigoted conservative activists and talk show hosts wrecked the immigration bill, evidence shows that widespread public distrust of the government's willingness to enforce the law translated into enormous pressure on lawmakers.  That's what forced a majority of the Senate to vote against the bill.

Rasmussen Reports conducted a series of polls showing that the American people opposed the bill, 50-22 percent in the last poll. Conservatives, liberals, independents, men, women, whites and non-whites were all united in opposition.  72 percent believe reducing illegal immigration is “very important,” but only 16 percent believed the immigration bill would do that. Only 26 percent supported the bill when the Senate debate first began in mid May, well before talk radio hosts could have stirred up any latent bigotry.   

Opposition to the bill was deep and came from diverse sources, not just talk radio or conservative activists.  By portraying conservatives and talk show hosts as the hate-filled culprits who sunk the bill, are the media peddling their own form of bigotry?   

David Niedrauer is an intern at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the MediaResearchCenter.