Fox News interviewed Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin this week -- two of the most vocal conservative figures speaking out in opposition to immigration reform -- yet asked neither guest about immigration.
Conservative radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin have been leading the charge against the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate and currently pending in the House of Representatives. Levin has named the potential legislation a "disgusting disgrace" and "a crap sandwich." Limbaugh has habitually misrepresented the content of the bill, which he calls "amnesty," and claimed that because some Republicans support it, "the establishment of this party is authoring its demise." Both men have attacked Republican officials who support the bill and urged them to oppose it.
According to Limbaugh, he requested to talk about immigration and the Republican party when he phoned in to Fox & Friends on July 2, but the network rebuffed his request. Limbaugh later told his radio audience, "They asked me, 'what do you want to talk about?' ... First thing out of my mouth, 'I want to talk about immigration and the state of the Republican party,' [but Fox] wouldn't go there. I had to bring it up myself to whatever extent that I did." Limbaugh concluded, "And that, by the way, is quite telling to me."
Interestingly, the next day Levin called in to Your World with Neil Cavuto and also avoided the topic of immigration. Levin and host Cavuto spoke for nearly nine minutes, but discussed only the Affordable Care Act.
While it is unclear whether Levin, like Limbaugh, desired to talk about immigration reform during his interview, it is notable that both anti-immigration reform voices were silent while on Fox News.
Right-wing media have repeatedly distorted the Obama administration's record on border enforcement to claim that the border is not secure and that, in fact, the government has failed "to secure the states against invasion," as Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin has put it.
On Fox News' Hannity, Malkin claimed that "this current administration has done everything in its power to sabotage immigration law," and asked: "Why would you trust them one iota with the job that they will not do - that they refuse to do?" Host Sean Hannity added: "I want that border secure and I think we've got to get it done for our national security."
As the House prepares to debate the issue following the Senate passage of a bipartisan immigration reform bill that includes enhanced border measures, conservative media figures have used border security as a sticking point against which to derail reform.
But here are the facts on border enforcement.
A Wall Street Journal news article stoked fears that immigration reform would lead to an increase in unemployment, while ignoring the Congressional Budget Office's assessment that in the long-term there will be no effect on the employment rate.
A July 2 Journal article relied on man-on-the-street interviews and opinion polling to hype the fears of some Democratic voters that immigration reform could "squeeze the wages and jobs of native-born workers." Though the article cited a former chief economist at the Department of Labor who explained that immigration makes it easier for companies to hire U.S. workers, the article ignored a CBO report which found that immigration reform will have no long-term effect on unemployment and wages.
In fact, according to the CBO report, while enacting the immigration reform bill would cause a temporary increase of 0.1 percent in unemployment over the next five years because of the expanding workforce, there would be little effect in the long-term and "no effect on the unemployment rate after 2020." From the report:
In the long run, the actual unemployment rate in the economy tends to be close to its natural rate. The natural rate of unemployment of the additional immigrants would be comparable, on average, to that of the current population, CBO expects, so there would be little effect on the unemployment rate in the long run. Thus, in the long run, the number of employed people would increase by the same percentage as the growth in the labor force--by about 3½ percent in 2023 and by about 5 percent in 2033, CBO estimates.
Furthermore, the CBO found that average wages would increase by 2033, and that over the long term immigration reform would boost capital investment and raise productivity of labor and capital.
The Journal itself has previously acknowledged the economic benefits of immigration reform. Indeed a June 20 Journal editorial noted that the CBO report found the proposed legislation was "pro-growth" and would result in rising standards of living, higher wages, and increased productivity:
CBO also sensibly notes that newcomers to the U.S. tend to belong to either the least- or most-skilled groups of workers, so any harm for most average Americans is nonexistent. In fact they will benefit from rising standards of living and higher wages that faster growth makes possible.
New workers with lower skills or less education like farm hands or bar backs fill gaps in the U.S. labor market and will see their earnings rise over time. Let's also not forget that the Senate bill greatly increases H-1B visa quotas and green cards for tech and science grads, so the U.S. will see an influx of the engineers, Ph.D.s and entrepreneurs who generate the innovations that increase economic output faster. The CBO cites the large body of empirical literature on such "positive spillover effects" as a major reason productivity will rise.
MSNBC political reporter Benjy Sarlin has written a sharp deconstruction of the Republican Party's evolving attitude towards Latino voters. The shock of Mitt Romney's 2012 loss and the resulting calls for Latino outreach from conservatives have given way to old habits: namely, consolidating the white vote and keep hoping that's enough to propel the GOP to electoral victory. Fox News' Sean Hannity, who memorably claimed the day after the election that he'd "evolved" on immigration reform, now rejects reform and the idea that Republicans need Latinos to win.
This shift in attitudes comes just a few months after the Republican National Committee (RNC) unveiled its surprisingly harsh 2012 post-mortem, which endorsed comprehensive immigration reform as a way to expand the party's appeal. "If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them, and show our sincerity," the report counseled. As I wrote at the time, the RNC's ambition for party rebranding, whatever its merits, faced a daunting obstacle: Rush Limbaugh and the coterie of lesser radio hosts who form the rigid spine of the conservative media apparatus. And by all indications, Limbaugh is prevailing.
Even as Hannity and other conservatives (temporarily) fell prey to post-election demography panic, Limbaugh never budged. "I don't know that there's any stopping this," Limbaugh said of immigration reform shortly after Obama's reinauguration. "It's up to me and Fox News, and I don't think Fox News is that invested in this." Funnily enough, Limbaugh was on Fox News just this morning to talk politics, and afterward he disclosed on the radio that he "told the people at Fox that I wanted to talk about" immigration and the GOP, "and they wouldn't do it. They were not interested in bringing this subject up."
The schism among conservatives on how to approach immigration reform and Latino voters in general isn't going away, but the biggest guns are and always have been on the side of the status quo: do nothing policy-wise and continue stoking fears over "illegal immigration" to try and drive sufficient numbers of resentful white voters to the polls. It's worked for Republicans in the past and a big reason behind its success has been the enthusiastic efforts of Rush Limbaugh and right-wing radio. As Sarlin notes, the anti-immigration groups working to kill the reform legislation have the ears of talk radio hosts and are successfully promulgating the message that the Republican Party does not need Latino voters.
It's precisely the sort of closed off, self-reinforcing ideological loop the RNC warned against in its report: "We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue." But so long as anti-immigrant demagoguery keeps people tuning in to the AM radio dial, any attempt at Republican "rebranding" won't stand much of a chance.
From the July 2 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Right-wing media have invented several conspiracy theories to attack the Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill, including claiming that the legislation provides free cars and cell phones for undocumented immigrants, and that it is a secret plot to create a permanent one-party system reminiscent of Marxist Russian premier Vladimir Lenin.
From the June 28 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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From the June 27 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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The Drudge Report highlighted the Senate passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill by reviving the falsehood that the legislation amounts to amnesty for undocumented immigrants. Drudge announced the news with the headline, "Amnesty Clears Senate":
Right-wing media have repeatedly invoked the amnesty falsehood to attack the bill, when in fact the Senate proposal requires immigrants who are in the country illegally to meet a number of requirements before they can apply for citizenship. Some of those conditions include passing criminal and security background checks, paying significant fines, and going through a waiting period that stretches to as far as 13 years.
Experts have further explained that the path to earned citizenship as outlined in the Senate bill cannot be equated with amnesty. As Cato Institute immigration policy analyst Alex Nowrasteh noted of the Senate bill: "If it was amnesty they would be legalized immediately with no punishment, no process. They would just be forgiven and handed a green card."
Right-wing media are rejecting the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of the Senate immigration reform proposal, claiming that the CBO's conclusion that the proposal reduces the deficit is "false" because immigrants' reliance on Social Security as citizens would eventually outweigh their contributions. In fact, the myth that the legalization of undocumented immigrants would negatively impact Social Security has repeatedly been discredited by the Social Security Administration.
The Washington Examiner relied on a dishonest chart from a nativist organization to push the myth that undocumented immigrants who are convicted of certain crimes in the United States would receive a reprieve from repercussions under immigration reform legislation.
The Washington Examiner used a chart from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) -- a Southern Poverty Law Center-labeled nativist hate group -- which details the criminal repercussions for those seeking legal status, as well as for U.S. citizens and legal immigrants. According to the chart, undocumented immigrants who commit certain crimes would face less dire consequences than U.S. citizens and legal immigrants who commit the same offense:
Furthermore, the following chart published June 21 by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a nonprofit organization that opposes liberalization of immigration law, compares the consequences for an array of crimes and discovered that while illegal immigrants might be exonerated and legalized, U.S. citizens and legal immigrants face years of incarceration or temporary expulsion from the country.
Both FAIR and the Examiner are misleading about the repercussions of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. The chart makes it seem as if there are no criminal repercussions for undocumented immigrants who commit these crimes under the Senate's immigration reform legislation, but undocumented immigrants who are arrested for a crime must go through the criminal justice system just like U.S. citizens, and if convicted, can serve jail time or pay fines.
Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham has said that she will look into challenging Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) because of his support for comprehensive immigration reform, furthering her campaign of demanding that Republicans oppose the Senate immigration bill.
During her June 25 radio show, Ingraham cited Graham's policies on Syria and immigration reform to tell residents of South Carolina:
INGRAHAM: I don't care who you find -- oh, I do care who you find. We need a smart, savvy, Reagan conservative to run against Lindsey Graham in the 2014 election. He needs to be defeated, primaried, and we need to win that seat with a Reagan conservative who will not do this kind of nonsense. He needs to be punished, the liberal Republicans need to be punished, and they need to be thrown out of office at the first opportunity. I'll say that until I'm blue in the face.
Following a commercial break, Ingraham said she'd look into running against Graham herself, telling her audience "people think I'm joking, I'm actually not joking."
Ingraham's statements follow a history of threatening to challenge Republican senators and representatives if they support the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform bill. On May 22, Ingraham said that she is "thinking of moving to Arizona," saying she "will primary challenge Senator Jeff Flake myself if that's what this requires." And on June 7, she said that if comprehensive immigration reform passes in the House of Representatives, "I am going to make it my personal mission to support primaries for every Republican who supports it."
She has also repeatedly criticized Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) who is part of the so-called Gang of 8 that crafted the Senate's immigration bill. On April 17, she said the bill will be "the end of Marco Rubio's political career," and on May 15 she told Rubio to "walk away" from the immigration bill "before it's too late." Most recently on June 21, Ingraham finally declared that Rubio's presidential chances are "over" because of his support for immigration reform.
Ingraham's campaign against immigration reform doesn't just rest on threatening to unseat Republicans, however. She has also repeatedly smeared Latinos and read ads for the anti-immigration hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform on her radio show.
Right-wing media are dishonestly arguing that senators have not had enough time to read the approximately 1,200-page immigration reform bill the weekend before a scheduled vote on it. In fact, the majority of the bill has been online since May, a fact even Karl Rove acknowledged on Fox News to push back against conservative criticism.
The bulk of the bill's 1,200 pages are available online and have been since May 21. On June 21, the Senate added enforcement provisions submitted by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) to the main text of the bill, which total 119 pages.
Those opposed to the legislation, such as The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol jumped on the Corker-Hoeven addition to make the misleading claim that the Senate only had the weekend to review the entire bill before voting on it. As highlighted by Breitbart.com, the Washington Post's Bob Woodward also implied that the Senate was rushing to pass immigration reform, saying on the June 23 edition of Fox News Sunday: "It's proven time and time again, when you pass complicated legislation and no one has really read the bill, the outcome is absurd." Other conservative outlets, like Red State, picked up the misleading narrative, with The Drudge Report showing a picture of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) drinking from a water bottle with the headline, "Senate to vote on bill before reading it":
From the June 24 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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Right-wing media have adopted Betsy McCaughey's unfounded conspiracy theory that immigration reform, like health care reform, is a secret plot to create a permanent one-party system, reminiscent of Marxist Russian premier Vladimir Lenin. Like her health care fearmongering, McCaughey has no evidence to support her charges.
Betsy McCaughey, the former lieutenant governor of New York, has a long history of pushing conspiracy theories about health care reform, including that the bill's outreach provisions are designed to create a "beholden" Democratic majority. In an interview with The Daily Caller's Ginni Thomas, McCaughey revived the same baseless attacks on the Senate immigration proposal, claiming that "you can count on" third party outreach groups to register immigrants as Democrats. Later in the interview, McCaughey claimed President Obama was using the bill to "elevat[e] community organizations to a fifth branch of government without any of the rules that limit what the other branches can do." McCaughey went on to claim the tactics were similar to those used by Lenin.
McCaughey's baseless conspiracy theory was picked up by Andrea Tantaros, co-host of Fox News' The Five, who cited McCaughey to call the bill a "Christmas tree of carve-outs for lobbyists," claiming, "she says that it funnels money to groups like La Raza, community organizing groups, takes the authority away from the DHS and lets them handle the amnesty process":
Of course, the text of the bill limits the scope of activities for which organizations can use federal funding.