REPORT: Conservative media consistently scapegoat undocumented immigrants, ACORN

››› ››› MORGAN WEILAND

In discussions of major news stories, conservatives in the media have repeatedly turned to two favorite bogeymen -- undocumented immigrants and ACORN -- in place of substantive analysis, even when those groups have little or nothing to do with the issue.

In coverage of major news stories, conservative media figures have repeatedly fallen back on two of their favorite bogeymen -- the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and undocumented immigrants -- frequently blaming national crises on one or both groups or accusing them of receiving undeserved benefits from the government. At best, these scapegoats are tenuously connected to the issues those figures are discussing; at worst, they are entirely unrelated. In some instances, the media linked their scapegoats to major news stories using misleading claims, and in others, they advanced outright falsehoods. Whatever the case may be, conservatives in the media consistently weave ACORN and undocumented immigrants into their coverage or commentary, instead of addressing the substantive policy issues or developing a cogent critique. Other media outlets follow the conservatives' lead, uncritically reporting their smears of ACORN and undocumented immigrants or reporting those smears as fact.

Media Matters for America has documented numerous instances in which conservative media outlets and figures have used ACORN and undocumented immigrants as scapegoats in reporting on major news stories recently, as well as other media outlets echoing their claims.

2008 financial crisis

Conservative media figures repeatedly invoked the specter of ACORN when discussing the causes of the financial crisis. For example, several in the media have claimed, suggested, or uncritically reported that ACORN contributed to the housing crisis by "bullying" banks into irresponsible lending to minorities. In many instances, media figures asserted that the group used the threat of the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) to intimidate banks into making risky loans. But as Media Matters documented, the media-promoted myth that the financial crisis was caused by banks lending irresponsibly to comply with the CRA has been widely discredited. According to housing experts, a large number of subprime loans were not made under the CRA, which applies only to depository institutions.

Media outlets and figures promoting the idea that ACORN contributed to the housing crisis include:

  • Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, during the April 3 edition of his nationally syndicated show
  • Conservative journalist Stanley Kurtz, in a September 29, 2008, New York Post op-ed and an October 7, 2008, National Review Online article
  • Then-chief White House correspondent Bret Baier, during an October 5, 2008, Fox News special, Saving Our Economy
  • The Washington Times' John McCaslin, in his October 14, 2008, "Inside the Beltway" column

In discussing the debate over the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (which created the Troubled Asset Relief Program), numerous media figures falsely claimed, suggested, or uncritically repeated Republicans' claims that Democrats were trying to steer money to ACORN through that legislation. In fact, neither the draft proposal nor the final version of the bill contained any language mentioning ACORN. Those making the false claim were misrepresenting a provision -- later removed -- that would have directed 20 percent of any profits realized on troubled assets purchased under the plan into two previously established funds: the Housing Trust Fund and the Capital Magnet Fund, which, under the law authorizing them, distribute funds through state block grants and through competitive application processes, respectively.

Examples of media figures falsely claiming or suggesting that Democrats sought to divert funding in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act to ACORN -- or of media uncritically repeating such claims -- include:

  • Host Lou Dobbs on the September 29, 2008, edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight
  • Politico's Daniel Libit, in a September 30, 2008, post to The Crypt
  • Host Steve Doocy during the October 1, 2008, edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends
  • Syndicated columnist Mona Charen, in an October 1, 2008, column
  • Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund, during the October 9, 2008, edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes
  • Baier, during the October 5, 2008, Fox News special Saving Our Economy
  • The Wall Street Journal, in an October 14, 2008, editorial

Conservative media figures have also claimed or suggested that excessive lending to undocumented immigrants is responsible for the financial crisis, citing no credible evidence to support that claim. In several instances, media figures have baselessly claimed that according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), 5 million mortgages taken out by undocumented immigrants are in default, or close to it. In fact, according to an October 9, 2008, Phoenix Business Journal article, HUD "says there is no basis to news reports that more than 5 million bad mortgages are held by illegal immigrants. A HUD spokesman said ... his agency has no data showing the number of illegal immigrants holding foreclosed or bad mortgages."

Nevertheless, conservative media figures continued to baselessly attribute the financial crisis in part to excessive lending to illegal immigrants, including:

  • San Diego radio host Roger Hedgcock and radio host Joe Madison, during the October 9, 2008, edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight
  • Phoenix radio station KFYI, in an article on its website
  • The Drudge Report in an October 9, 2008, link to the KFYI article
  • Limbaugh, during the October 10, 2008, broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show
  • Radio host Lee Rodgers, during the October, 10, 2008, broadcast of KSFO's The Lee Rodgers Show
  • Radio host Jim Quinn, during the October 10, 2008, broadcast of Clear Channel's The War Room with Quinn & Rose

Voter fraud

The media devoted great attention to charges of voter registration fraud throughout the coverage of the 2008 presidential primary and general election campaigns, repeatedly using those opportunities to smear ACORN and undocumented immigrants. Following reports that ACORN had submitted fraudulent voter registrations, some media figures falsely claimed that ACORN was accused of or involved in voter fraud that might alter the outcome of the 2008 election. Others repeatedly ignored relevant information in their coverage of allegations against the group, specifically: 1) that the statutes of most of the states in question require third parties registering prospective voters to submit all registration forms they receive; and 2) that actual instances of illegal votes being cast as a result of registration fraud are extremely rare.

Examples of media outlets falsely claiming that ACORN had been accused of committing voter fraud that would, in the words of a Washington Times editorial, "rig" the election, and examples of media ignoring or downplaying key facts concerning allegations against ACORN of voter registration fraud, include:

  • Numerous CNN segments aired from October 6, 2008, through October 15, 2008
  • The Wall Street Journal in an October 14, 2008, editorial
  • Host Megyn Kelly during the October 14, 2008, edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom
  • Syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor Dick Morris, during the October 15, 2008, edition of Fox & Friends

Additionally, conservative media figures advanced the myth that undocumented immigrants are attempting or are likely to attempt, en masse, to vote illegally. Among them were Fund -- who did so in his November 2, 2007, Wall Street Journal column and during the November 3, 2007, edition of Fox News' The Journal Editorial Report -- and Dobbs -- in numerous 2007 appearances on Lou Dobbs Tonight and CNN's Lou Dobbs This Week, as well as during the November 14, 2007, edition of CNN's The Situation Room. This myth gained traction in reports about former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's (D) plan to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver's license, which many in the media claimed would open the door to voter fraud by, they claimed, helping enable immigrants who are not here legally to register to vote.

2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

In their coverage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the conservative media latched on to the false Republican talking point that the bill would provide funding for ACORN. In fact, the act does not mention ACORN or otherwise single it out for funding; ACORN itself has said that it is ineligible for the funds and has no plans to apply for them. The false claim refers to a provision of the House version of the bill under discussion at that time that would have appropriated $4.19 billion "for neighborhood stabilization activities related to emergency assistance for the redevelopment of abandoned and foreclosed homes as authorized under division B, title III of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008." The provision would have required money to be distributed through competitive processes. It stated that "not less than $3,440,000,000 shall be allocated by a competition" to "States, units of general local government, and nonprofit entities or consortia of nonprofit entities." It also stated that "up to $750,000,000 shall be awarded by competition to nonprofit entities or consortia of nonprofit entities to provide community stabilization assistance." The version of the act as signed by President Obama includes $2 billion "[f]or the provision of emergency assistance for the redevelopment of abandoned and foreclosed homes, as authorized under division B, title III of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008." The provision further states that "funding under this paragraph shall be allocated by competitions for which eligible entities shall be States, units of general local government, and nonprofit entities or consortia of nonprofit entities, which may submit proposals in partnership with for profit entities."

Examples of media outlets and figures advancing or uncritically repeating the false claim that the economic recovery bill provided funding for ACORN include:

  • Sean Hannity, during the January 27 broadcast of his radio show
  • Stocks editor Elizabeth MacDonald, during the January 29 edition of Fox Business Network's Fox Business
  • Doocy, during the January 29 edition of Fox & Friends
  • The Washington Times, in a February 2 editorial
  • Fox News contributor Karl Rove, in his February 5 Wall Street Journal column
  • Morris, in a February 6 fundraising email
  • Radio host Bill Cunningham, during the February 11 edition of The Big Show with Bill Cunningham
  • Fox News chief political correspondent Carl Cameron, during the February 12 edition of Special Report
  • UPI, in a February 21 article

Similarly, the media falsely asserted or uncritically reported the false Republican claim that the legislation would provide tax credits to undocumented immigrants. The falsehood originated in a January 29 Associated Press article that cited a single anonymous Republican official, subsequently spreading to the Drudge Report and many other conservative media outlets -- despite the fact that a revised version of AP's article made clear that the bill limited eligibility for the Making Work Pay tax credit to individuals with Social Security numbers, thereby excluding undocumented immigrants. Indeed, the House version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act under discussion at that time specifically precluded from eligibility for the Making Work Pay tax credit "any individual unless the requirements of [the Earned Income Tax Credit] are met." Requirements to qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit include "a social security number issued to an individual by the Social Security Administration." The final version of the act as signed by Obama precluded from eligibility "any individual who does not include on the return of tax for the taxable year ... such individual's social security account number."

Examples of media outlets falsely asserting or uncritically reporting claims that the bill provides tax credits to undocumented immigrants include:

  • The AP, in a January 29 article
  • The Drudge Report, in a January 29 headline linking to the AP article
  • Cameron, during the January 29 edition of Special Report
  • Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham, during the January 29 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor
  • Dobbs, during the January 29 broadcast of his radio show
  • Limbaugh, during the January 29 broadcast of his radio show
  • Hannity, during the January 29 broadcast of his radio show
  • The Washington Times, in a February 2 editorial

2008-2009 Minnesota Senate recount

In covering the Minnesota Senate recount, many in the media repeated the Republican talking point that Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has "ties" to ACORN, in many instances using it to suggest that he would be biased toward Democratic challenger Al Franken over Republican incumbent Norm Coleman.

Examples of media outlets highlighting Ritchie's relationship with ACORN include:

  • Politico, in a November 11, 2008, article
  • Hannity, during the November 12, 2008, edition of Hannity & Colmes
  • Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes, during the November 12, 2008, edition of Special Report
  • Ingraham, during the November 13, 2008, edition of The O'Reilly Factor
  • Host Martha McCallum during the November 14, 2008, edition of Fox News' America's News HQ
  • Barnes, while co-hosting the November 15, 2008, edition of Fox News' The Beltway Boys
  • Fund, in his November 15, 2008, Wall Street Journal column
  • Washington Times editor Peter J. Parisi, in a December 9, 2008, opinion piece
  • Fund, during the January 10 edition of The Journal Editorial Report

2009 Hamilton appointment

Many in the media have advanced the misleading conservative claim that President Obama's nominee for the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, David Hamilton, has ties to ACORN. However, Hamilton's relationship with the group reportedly consists of "raising contributions door-to-door for the advocacy group ACORN for one month after college" in 1979. In the nomination questionnaire for his 1994 appointment to a judgeship on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, posted by the blog Right Wing Watch, Hamilton was asked to list every organization he has been associated with since graduating from college. Hamilton included "Summer 1979 -- fundraiser for Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania."

Examples of media figures uncritically repeating the misleading conservative claim that Hamilton has ties to ACORN include:

  • NBC deputy political director Mark Murray, in a March 17 post to the MSNBC.com blog First Read
  • The Chicago Tribune's David G. Savage, in a March 17 post to its blog The Swamp
  • USA Today's Mark Memmott, in a March 17 post to its blog The Oval
  • Wendy Long, in a March 17 post to the National Review Online blog bench memos
  • Fox News Supreme Court reporter Shannon Bream, during the March 18 edition of Special Report
  • Co-host Pat Robertson on the March 18 edition of the Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club

2010 U.S. Census

Reporting on the 2010 U.S. Census, many in the conservative media have focused on ACORN's reported role as a national partner with the Census Bureau in its effort to recruit more than 1 million temporary workers and baselessly suggested that the group will fraudulently influence the count in favor of Democrats or that the Obama administration is politicizing the process. Media figures have done this despite the fact that ACORN is reportedly only one of "more than 250" groups that are partnering with the Census Bureau to recruit workers.

Examples of media outlets focusing on ACORN's partnership with the Census Bureau include:

  • Kelly, during the March 19 edition of America's Newsroom

2009 SCHIP bill

In reporting on or discussing the 2009 expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), many in the media falsely asserted or uncritically repeated the misleading claim that the bill makes it easier for undocumented immigrants to access health benefits through the program, often by ignoring or misrepresenting the bill's citizenship verification requirements. In fact, the legislation includes a citizenship verification process in which states would use SCHIP applicants' names and Social Security numbers to verify that they are eligible. Additionally, the bill explicitly states in Section 605, "Nothing in this Act allows Federal payment for individuals who are not lawfully residing in the United States." The final version of the act as signed by Obama also includes a citizenship verification process by which states would use applicants' Social Security numbers to confirm their eligibility in the program, as well as explicitly states that "[n]othing in this Act allows Federal payment for individuals who are not legal residents."

Examples of media outlets and figures asserting or uncritically reporting Republican claims that the SCHIP bill could provide health benefits to undocumented immigrants include:

  • Dobbs, during the February 4 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight

2008 election coverage of Obama

During coverage of the 2008 presidential election, numerous media outlets reported that then-Democratic nominee Barack Obama represented ACORN in a 1995 lawsuit, but did not note that the Justice Department joined with ACORN as a plaintiff in the suit, which sought to force the state of Illinois to implement a federal voter registration law.

Media outlets that did so include:

  • The AP, in an October 10, 2008, article and an October 14, 2008, article
  • Politico, in an October 11, 2008, article
  • Investigative correspondent Drew Griffin during the October 14, 2008, edition of The Situation Room

From the November 3, 2007, edition of Fox News' The Journal Editorial Report (all transcripts retrieved from the Nexis database):

PAUL GIGOT (host): The gloves came off at this week's Democratic debate in Philadelphia. Front runner Hillary Clinton bobbed and weaved her way on questions from everything from driver's licenses for immigrants to release of record from her time in the White House.

Let's roll the debate on the illegal immigrant quip and answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM RUSSERT, DEBATE MODERATOR: Do you, the New York Senator, Hillary Clinton, support the New York governor's plan to give illegal immigrants a driver's license? You told the New Hampshire paper it made sense. Do you support his plan?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, Tim, this is where everybody plays gotcha. It makes a lot of sense. What is the governor supposed to do? He is dealing with a serious problem. We have failed and George W. Bush has failed. Do you think this is the best thing for any governor to do? No. But do I understand the sense of real desperation trying to get a handle on this? Remember, in New York we want to know who is in New York. We want people out of the shadows. He made an honest effort to do it. We should have passed immigration reform.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: John, is she for it or against it? Do you have any idea?

FUND: She is actually for it. She didn't want to say it. She voted in the Senate not to stop illegal immigrants from getting drivers licenses. She issued a statement saying she supported the general concept though not a specific plan.

The real problem is this is deeply unpopular with American people, 72 percent of new Yorkers, a blue state, don't like it. One reason it is unpopular, and it comes from Democratic county clinics and stay legislators, it is encouragement to voter fraud. You get a drivers license you are required to have a voter registration form handed to you at the same time. If you fill it out, you're automatically registered to vote and can vote.

From the November 12, 2008, edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

HANNITY: But we have a problem with the Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, do we not? He's a liberal partisan secretary of state. When you look through his record, he has ties to this controversial group we discussed a lot, ACORN. He attended the 2008 Democratic Convention. How much faith and hope and confidence do you have in Ritchie considering his radical relationships and partisanship, even connected to moveon.org?

From the November 12, 2008, edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

BRIT HUME (host): Who were those 32 Minnesotans? They were those whose ballots were discovered well after the election in the backseat of an election official's car. Oops.

And Norm Coleman, the incumbent senator out there, went to court to try to keep those votes from being counted. He lost because the judge didn't say it was a good thing. She said that she didn't have any jurisdictions to block it.

So in the meantime, the Coleman lead, which was 700 and some votes, has dwindled to just a handful. What is going on, Fred?

BARNES: Look, every Republican I have talked to thinks they're going to steal it in Minnesota. It's the Democrats who are going to be doing this.

The secretary of state is the guy who is in charge who has connections to ACORN. We know all about that.

And, look, that Franken guy, he wouldn't be saying that if those 32 votes, it was plus 11 for Franken. He picked up 11 votes in that. If it had been Coleman who picked them up, he would be, oh, that's terrible. You can't count these votes!

From the November 13, 2008, edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

BILL O'REILLY (host): Joining us now, once again to analyze this, Laura Ingraham.

You know, now we are into the Twilight Zone. Just like Barney Frank you play the clip and then the guy comes on and says, no I didn't say what you just heard. But this guy is the Secretary of State, he's in charge of overseeing this thing and now we've been investigating it. Do you realize that since Election Day, Coleman - they didn't find one vote for Coleman. He lost 47 or 67 votes. The other guy, Franken, they're finding votes all over the place. In the trunks of cars, up in the tree. I mean, everybody's watching this, do you think they can get away with it?

INGRAHAM: This is vote counting by David Copperfield. This is like a David Blaine illusionist finding votes everywhere. Look, this is my rule of thumb, Bill. Any time a republican in a race like this is only winning by, let's say a thousand votes or less, then you can bet that republican is going to end up losing that seat. It just always seems to work out this way that the election officials in the state where there is, you know, some type of dispute always get into this kind of gray area and we find now that these votes, these 504 votes came from three precincts, just three precincts out of the whole state.

That's staggering and as John Lott pointed out, Bill, in a great column he wrote in today's "New York Post" the numbers of votes they found, found for Franken since election day outpace the number they found for Obama by 2.5. Ok? 2.9 times as many votes were found for all democratic officials statewide. Something doesn't add up there. It's very strange.

O'REILLY: Everything doesn't add up. Not something. Everything doesn't add up. You are not finding any votes for the republican guy?

INGRAHAM: No. Of course not.

O'REILLY: You're taking votes away from the guy? Then all of a sudden as you pointed out -- three. And what are there are a thousand precincts? More than a thousand. Three, all right heavily democratic they are kicking votes in like this. But here's the deal. If Franken gets in, that puts the democrats over the 60 magic number. That means it's every American. Because this is a far left loon we're looking at right here. Not Bill Clinton, Al Franken. He is a loon, OK? So if he gets in, every American, every single person in this country is going to be impacted. I don't know what you do here.

If the fix is in. You just heard the secretary of state, the fix is in. What does Coleman do? Does he take it to the federal level? What does he do?

INGRAHAM: I think he has to use every legal means at protesting what's going on right now. I mean, Franken went to court today to try to, quote, get more information from those people whose ballots were rejected. He wants to find out more information about those voters to, perhaps use in the recount. That could completely alter the landscape of the votes that were already counted. So Bill, this whole thing stinks to high heaven. I think Norm Coleman made a mistake in October when he said I'm not going to run any more negative ads. I'm swearing off all negative ads because Franken just kept hammering him and hammering him and hammering him and now we are at this point where, I think, the people of Minnesota they are frustrated because they are thinking how does this look good to the rest of the nation?

O'REILLY: Well, it doesn't- I mean this is another catastrophe in the voting realm. But as I said it has that wide implication for everybody.

INGRAHAM: Sure does.

O'REILLY: Because if he gets in then the democrats can do whatever they want. There is no blocking anything they do. So we're going to follow it. We feel the way you do. That there is something very, very wrong here. Go ahead.

INGRAHAM: Can I say one other thing? There is a connection to the secretary of state with ACORN and with moveon.org. Which it also calls in my mind those two connections call him into question of impartiality.

O'REILLY: Well, we just have to hope that Governor [Tim] Pawlenty [R] who I think is an honest man is going to do something about it and not let this thing get out of control.

From the November 14, 2008, edition of Fox News' America's News HQ:

MacCALLUM: OK, so now to another Senate rate that did not end on Election Day. There are three of them out there. The one in Minnesota between Al Franken and Norm Coleman. Minnesota's Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has pledged to officiate in the recount in a manner that is, quote, "accurate and transparent." But his partisan past and ties to ACORN and a group linked to voter fraud are raising some big concerns about some of his critics. Secretary Ritchie joins us now by phone. Secretary Ritchie, good to have you with us tonight.

From the November 15, 2008, edition of Fox News' The Beltway Boys:

JEFF BIRNBAUM (guest co-host): Down, Minnesota. The Senate race between incumbent Norm Coleman and funnyman Al Franken couldn't be closer enough to trigger an automatic recount. But that hasn't kept either side from questioning the legitimacy of the outcome. This is really no good for anybody, basically, this extended problem.

There are already new accusations or renewed accusations about Norm Coleman perhaps getting too close to a former fund-raiser of his. Calls for investigations into whether money was channeled from the fund-raiser's company to Norm Coleman and his wife, charges that are denied by the Colemans. But nonetheless this is getting very nasty and a lot is at stake in the outcome. If Coleman wins, it could really be a problem for him even if he does win.

BARNES: I'm not worried. I don't think those lawsuits are going to amount to much. But it's clear now which of the parties, whether the Coleman campaign or the Franken campaign, thinks the process is working on their side. We've seen, under some questionable circumstances, Franken gaining. 32 ballots from the trunk of somebody's car that had been sitting there for a few days. I find that a bit suspicious. And some other things too where he gains. There's all these more Franken votes in certain districts but no votes for other offices that weren't affected.

But what drives the party crazy is the guy in charge of the recount. That's Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who's an ally of ACORN. I don't need to describe them. Republicans just regard it as someone who wouldn't do anything to get a Democrat elected, and that's Franken. Every Republican I know thinks they're going to discover more ballots. And they'll favor Franken.

From the January 10 edition of The Journal Editorial Report:

GIGOT: Well, Mark Ritchie is a partisan figure, John. Kim says there wasn't a partisan motive. On the canvassing board, some of the people, no question, were partisan, but what about Ritchie?

FUND: Well, Ritchie was supported by ACORN, which is the infamous voter registration group that got into all kinds of legal trouble in the last election. He's part of something call the Secretary of State's Project, which is a George Soros-funded effort to elect liberal Democrats to be secretary of state, to try to have somebody there who will help out in these kind of close elections. I don't think there's clear evidence of Ritchie bias here, but there's clear evidence that Ritchie intended and wanted Franken to win.

GIGOT: Yes, but I have never seen a recount, John, where all of the decisions turned out to help a single candidate, Al Franken. I mean, all of them. And that is passing strange.

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