Election in The Streets:
Table of Contents:
- Executive Summary
- 1. While they celebrated "massive" immigration protests with "huge" crowds, the broadcast networks largely avoided scientific polling data that showed that the protesters were in an overwhelming minority.
- 2. Advocates of opening a wider path to citizenship were almost twice as likely to speak in news stories as advocates of stricter immigration control.
- 3. While conservative labels were common, liberal labels were rarely or never used.
- 4. While protests centered on underlining the vital role illegal aliens play in the American economy, the burdens of illegal immigration in added government costs or crime were barely covered.
- 5. The networks have not dropped the word "illegal" in favor of "undocumented" immigrants, although some reporters struggled to adopt clumsy liberal-preferred terminology.
3. While conservative labels were common, liberal labels were rarely or never used.
One classic example of how national media outlets skew political news coverage is how the epic political battles of our time are presented as the conservatives versus the nonpartisans. The fight over illegal immigration was no different. In the study period, reporters referred to "conservatives" or "conservative" groups 89 times, most intensely during legislative debate in May, when President Bush was presented as having to "appease" his "conservative" base. NBC’s Matt Lauer even referred on Today to Bush’s base as the "far right." By contrast, the "liberal" label was used only three times — all of them by ABC. CBS and NBC never used the word.
ABC used 25 conservative labels to 3 liberal labels. CBS carried 19 conservative labels and zero liberal tags. The disparity was greatest at NBC, a label-happy 45 to 0.
The word was sometimes used in rapid-fire repetition. On the May 14 World News Tonight, ABC White House correspondent Martha Raddatz asserted the President is "under tremendous pressure from his conservative base. He wants to reach out to that conservative base and say, look, we’re really beefing up border security." Two sentences later, she repeats: "He hopes if he beefs up security on the border, he will appease his conservative base."
On the May 15 Today, Tim Russert insisted President Bush "is losing conservative support. How does he get it back? He tries to tackle an issue like immigration, talking like a conservative in terms of shoring up the borders, and like a compassionate conservative in terms of the 11 million [illegal aliens] who are still in the country."
The House bill drew other adjectives indicating a strong ideology in the early weeks of the study period, offering a vibe of mean-spirited neighbors that would "roll up the welcome mat." The House gave America a "harsh anti-immigration bill" a "heavy-handed approach," a "hard-nosed"proposal, a "harsh clamp-down," a "harsh-edged call to arms," a set of "hard-ball measures," offering President Bush a "hard line."
The "liberal" label was much less forthcoming. When large national groups like the National Council of LaRaza were interviewed, as on the March 28 Today, NBC substitute host Campbell Brown merely described them as "the largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States."
On the March 27 Good Morning America, ABC’s Charles Gibson came out of an interview with Sean Hannity agreeing that both predictable sides of the debate are split: "It’s no conservative [unanimity], no liberal. There is as wide a range of opinions as there are members of Congress."
On the April 9 Good Morning America, ABC’s Kate Snow quoted from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s statement that President Bush and GOP leaders failed "to stand up to the extreme right wing of their party," which she called "pretty tough words." ABC political analyst George Stephanopoulos replied that both sides of the aisle were nervous and getting "buyer’s remorse" about the Senate bill, both "conservative Republicans" and "liberal Democrats." On the May 2 Good Morning America, co-host Charles Gibson introduced his guest Lou Dobbs of CNN as "an outspoken critic of open borders and more liberal immigration policies." In none of these cases did ABC identify the protesters or their organizers as liberal or left-wing.
The L-word was avoided even as the same protest organizers that appeared in network news stories denounced the House bill on public radio as full of "horrendous and macabre clauses, fascist clauses." On the March 27 edition of Pacifica Radio’s "Democracy Now" program, broadcast on public radio stations and public-access TV channels nationwide, Javier Rodriguez, one of the principal protest organizers for the Los Angeles group called the March 25th Coalition Against HR 4437, explained they had a political strategy and a media strategy: "The political was to send the message of hope and, of course, to stand to stop the Sensenbrenner bill because of its horrendous and macabre clauses, fascist clauses." He was blunt: the goal was complete amnesty for every illegal alien: "The main demand is legalization for the 12 million undocumented."
Jesse Diaz, another leader of the March 25th Coalition, told Socialist Alternative.org he had the same radical agenda: "The principle of the immigrants rights movement has been, has always been for full amnesty. Full, immediate, unconditional, universal, immediate amnesty for everybody." He wanted no part of the congressional compromises with Bush: "I was asking myself ‘Why do they want this compromise guest worker program and all that bull [expletive]?’" He demanded a new party line: "I think that you really can’t have it both ways. You can’t be in the immigrant rights movement and take a moderate stance. It’s got to be a very progressive stance." But the networks wouldn’t even describe him as a liberal when they quoted him.
On May 1, NBC Nightly News quoted Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, but carried just her name on screen. NBC didn’t note her membership on the steering committee of International ANSWER, a hard-left protest-organizing group affiliated with the Trotskyite Workers’ World Party. Verheyden-Hilliard merely told NBC she was boycotting for a "very clear message." They didn’t capture her at a press conference berating immigration agents, as reported by KABC-TV: "At this moment, across the United States we have been witnessing violent, cruel, terrorizing raids on working people. Racist attacks, racist raids that we condemn unequivocally." Following the usual pattern of sanitizing protest coverage, protest leader press-conferences and podium speakers at the rallies were ignored, as well as the point that many podium speakers did not speak in English to the assembled crowds.
The networks were so lax in describing protest organizers they didn’t seem to notice when they were former diplomats for foreign governments. A March 24 ABC story on a Georgia protest by Steve Osunsami quoted Teodoro Maus, listing him on screen as a "community leader." They didn’t tell viewers Maus was Mexico’s consul general in Atlanta from 1998 to 2001.