On June 26, 2000, presidential candidate George W. Bush shared his view of immigrants and Latino-Americans in a speech before the 71st National Conference of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). "Latinos come to the U.S. to seek the same dreams that have inspired millions of others: they want a better life for their children," Bush said, calling immigration "not a problem to be solved," but "the sign of a successful nation."
With campaign strategist Karl Rove "acting as his guide," Bush went on to champion "compassionate conservatism" throughout his first presidential campaign, with an unprecedented -- for the GOP -- Hispanic outreach effort as its centerpiece. To this day, no Republican candidate has come close to winning as much of the Hispanic vote as Bush did in 2000 -- (34 percent) and 2004 (44 percent).
Ten years on, George's brother Jeb has tried to strike a similarly compassionate tone on immigration in his own quest for the White House. In April, 2014 -- more than a year before he declared his candidacy -- Jeb Bush told Fox News' Shannon Bream that many immigrants who enter the United States illegally often do so as "an act of love" for their families.
In the span of a few election cycles, "compassionate conservatism" on immigration has evolved from a winning Republican campaign strategy to a major liability for GOP presidential candidates. That shift is due in large part to the growing influence of conservative media in the debate over immigration.
Though George W. Bush won two terms as a "compassionate conservative," he never succeeded in passing immigration reform in Congress. That failure was due in part to the mobilization of right-wing media, which coalesced in the wake of his 2004 re-election. "You could say that talk radio killed President Bush's attempts at immigration reform," Frank Sharry of America's Voice told The Washington Post in 2013. "They started to lurch to the right, they wanted to give Bush a bloody nose, the conservative media mobilized."
Conservative media's opposition to immigration reform, led by talk radio, has only intensified since the defeat of the Senate immigration bill Bush supported in 2007: Rush Limbaugh recently claimed that the "colonization" or "invasion" of "illegal aliens" creates a "destructive" subculture in the U.S.; Laura Ingraham said that Congress's "Hispanic Caucus" should be renamed the "Open Borders Caucus" and claimed that migrant children were spreading diseases to "public school kids across the country;" and Texas radio host Michael Berry claimed that killings by "illegal aliens" are "not a rare occurrence."
At the same time, right-wing radio hosts have worked tirelessly to pull Republican politicians to the right on immigration, often by inciting anti-Hispanic sentiment among listeners. Rush Limbaugh has told the GOP to ignore the "non-factor" Hispanic vote. Laura Ingraham told her listeners that former Colorado U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner needed to move closer to the views of the extreme right on immigration, like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Chuck Grassley.
Perhaps the most extreme example of right-wing talk radio's hostility toward immigration came in August of 2015. Iowa Caucus GOP kingmaker and radio host Jan Mickelson, who has hosted several 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls on his show, proposed on-air that the state of Iowa enslave undocumented immigrants, saying, "Put up a sign that says at the end of 60 days, if you are not here with our permission, can't prove your legal status, you become property of the state. And then we start to extort or exploit or indenture your labor." Mickelson has previously said that he assumes that someone is not "here legally" if they have a Hispanic-sounding name and a history of involvement with the police.
Fox News has also become a major driver of right-wing fearmongering on immigration. The network's personalities regularly disparage immigrants as criminals and murderers and use derogatory and racist terms like "illegals" and "anchor babies" to describe undocumented immigrants. They also attack Hispanic civil rights groups and indiscriminately show stock video footage of immigrants crossing the border during on-air discussions about immigration. Fox News personalities have peddled the harmful and false stereotype that Hispanics immigrants are all criminals. As Sean Hannity once told his millions of radio listeners: "You want to talk about crime? Well what do you think -- who's coming from Latin America and Mexico? Are they rich, successful Mexicans, Nicaraguans, El Salvador residents? No! Why would they leave if they're so successful?"
Unsurprisingly, Fox's immigration coverage has been heavily influenced by the views of extreme anti-immigrant groups like FAIR, NumbersUSA, and Center for Immigration Studies - groups that Bush's former commerce secretary, Carlos Gutierrez, named as part of the right-wing coalition that derailed immigration reform in 2007.
Conservative media's disparaging treatment of Latinos and immigration is especially problematic given the lack of positive depictions of Latinos in mainstream media. According to a study by Columbia University, news "stories about Latinos constitute less than 1% of news media coverage, and the majority of these stories feature Latinos as lawbreakers."
The National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) and Latino Decisions found that media stereotypes in news media about Latinos fuel negative and "hostile" attitudes, making it even harder to have reasonable or compassionate conversations about immigration reform. It's no surprise, then, that talk radio and Fox News audiences also exhibit "significantly more anti-immigrant and anti-Latino affect relative to other media consumer groups."
Conservative media's harmful coverage of immigration isn't purely motivated by animus towards Latinos; it's also a product of a media economy that incentivizes media outlets to make their coverage as sensational as possible, even if that means scaring audiences with unrealistic depictions of Latino criminality. Political media often thrives by making policy disputes as high-stakes as possible. In the case of immigration, that means emphasizing the "threat" posed by immigrants to the predominantly white, older Americans who consume conservative media. As Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) has pointed out, "it's a financially driven enterprise and market share matters":
"While it's conservative in its orientation, it's a financially driven enterprise and market share matters. And playing to the prejudice of their audiences or reinforcing them - as opposed to engaging in enlightened and intellectual debate - is pretty widespread." The best example, he said, is immigration reform: "Here's an area we have to deal with, we've got to come to an accommodation. But the opposition, especially of talk radio, makes that almost impossible. Who in the conservative media is arguing for some kind of comprehensive immigration reform? Almost nobody."
"Today's conservative media now shapes the agenda of the party, pushing it to the far right," writes Jackie Colmes, author of a Harvard study which examined conservative media's impact on conservative politicians. According to Colmes, the GOP's rhetoric and policy positions on immigration have largely followed conservative media's lead, despite the party's own advice about developing better relationships with Hispanics.
The shrinking divide between conservative media and GOP policy on immigration helps explain why presidential candidate Donald Trump has soared in Republican voter polls by telling wildly false and exaggerated horror stories about Mexican immigrants. Trump is essentially mirroring the fear-based, fact-free approach to immigration popularized by conservative media outlets like Fox News. "[Roger] Ailes knows that Fox made Trump, politically, and that the two are made for each other," wrote Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky. And as former Reagan administration official Bruce Bartlett told Mother Jones, "Trump is sort of the most obvious example in which Fox is exercising outside influence on the Republican electoral process. I think without Fox, he would not be running, let alone a serious candidate." Various Fox News personalities have applauded Trump's immigrant smears -- echoing years of the network's own anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Largely because of the influence of anti-immigration, right-wing media, GOP politicians are losing the space they once had to call for a more compassionate tone on immigration and towards Latinos. It's a symptom of a political landscape that's blurred the divide between profit-driven conservative infotainment -- which often plays up racist and xenophobic stereotypes about Latinos -- and mainstream Republican politics.
Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham endorsed the anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) on her radio show, following months of her campaign to kill the bipartisan effort for comprehensive immigration reform.
During a commercial break between segments on The Laura Ingraham Show on June 20, a recording played of Ingraham endorsing FAIR, claiming that immigration reform was "a declaration of war on American workers and taxpayers" and that FAIR fought "for true reform that puts the future of America first":
INGRAHAM: I want you to know there's an organization fighting to restore integrity to our immigration system and to make sure that your voice is heard. I'm talking about the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR. FAIR works for strong border security and enforcement to stop illegal immigration, and FAIR leads the fight to make sure that we don't just keep importing more and more foreign labor to replace American workers, who want and need jobs. Right now, special interests are giving us phony promises of enforcement, while they're working hard to make sure millions get amnesty. They don't care about the rule of law or the American worker, that's not their priority. Listen, amnesty is not immigration reform. It's a declaration of war on American workers and taxpayers. But you can help FAIR fight for true reform that puts the future of America first. Go to FAIRus.org. Let's retake control of the immigration debate. Get involved and make a difference at FAIRus.org.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has designated FAIR as an anti-immigrant hate group, writing "FAIR leaders have ties to white supremacist groups and eugenicists and have made many racist statements. Its advertisements have been rejected because of racist content." FAIR has promoted people who made violent threats against immigrants, has known ties to the nativist leader John Tanton, and has received money from white supremacist groups. The group's founder and president Dan Stein also published an error-ridden piece for Politico in April urging Republicans to "walk away" from a deal on comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
Ingraham's on-air endorsement of FAIR follows months of her campaigning against the bipartisan effort to reform immigration policy. In March, while guest-hosting for host Bill O'Reilly on his Fox News show, Ingraham let FAIR spokesman Bob Dane deny that the anti-immigrant organization is a hate group while demonizing the Southern Poverty Law Center. She has hosted a nativist group director on her radio show to push debunked immigration myths, argued that a "two-tiered" class system for undocumented immigrants "sits better" with her than comprehensive reform, claimed that immigration reform will "destroy American sovereignty," and has promoted smears against Latinos. Ingraham has also promised to campaign against congressional Republicans who support comprehensive immigration reform.
The timing must have seemed too good to be true. And in the end, it was.
On Tuesday, the same day the Federation for American Immigration Reform kicked off its annual "Feet to the Fire" media and lobbying event on Capitol Hill, the "Gang of Eight" released its bipartisan immigration reform package. The bill's arrival is the biggest event in immigration politics in half a decade, and FAIR's organized presence could only be seen as a fortuitous start to its plan to kill any bill containing a path to citizenship. But the landing of the legislation wasn't quite the national story FAIR expected, and neither was FAIR's event. On Wednesday, guns overshadowed immigration when the Senate voted down another high-profile bipartisan bill. Celebrating this front-page defeat was the National Rifle Association, whose outsized role in the gun debate FAIR imagines for itself in the immigration debate.
The comparison is flattering to FAIR, but like the group's ideas about immigration, it enjoys an ever-thinner margin of overlap with political reality. The NRA may be a punch line in much of the country, out of step with national opinion and internal membership polls, but the gun group still draws ritual genuflections from Republican presidential hopefuls, and its press conferences enjoy close media scrutiny. FAIR is more of a shadowy outlier.
Despite FAIR president Dan Stein's 2013 convention-program claim that "we could not be more relevant," the group is less relevant than ever. After three decades of advocating single-mindedly punitive immigration policies often dripping with racial bile, few elected officials above county sheriff risk public association with the scandal-plagued outfit, which the Southern Poverty Law Center designated a hate-group in 2007. Sen. Marco Rubio, possibly the biggest GOP star contending for 2016, reportedly plans to conduct radio interviews at the event, but he and FAIR stand so far apart on the issue of immigration that Politico has described his appearance at the event as walking "into the lion's den."
As the political ground shifts following November's election, the conservative media has begun to move with it, shifting away from the Nativism that flows naturally from Stein's view that the 1965 Immigration Act -- which ended the racial quotas of the 1920s -- was "a form of revengism" against "Anglo-Saxon dominance." Many of the most influential national right-wing talkers have "evolved" on immigration issues in the months since Barack Obama's reelection. So have powerful voices on Fox News, which appears to be moderating its style-guide on immigration lexicon in hopes of both reeducating the base and winning Latino viewers and voters. The new signals on the right doesn't mean Bill O'Reilly and his prime-time colleagues at Fox will ever be seen marching behind a La Raza banner, but they have stepped away from "no amnesty" absolutism. This shift hasn't escaped the notice of Rush Limbaugh, who has suggested he may be the last media lion standing on FAIR's side of the line.
That day hasn't come yet. FAIR-style rhetoric is still popular on talk radio and with some hosts on Fox. The result is conservative-media schizophrenia. The buzzwords of the new Republican Realism are often just one commercial break from the sounds of Tucker Carlson slandering immigrants as welfare-addicted gang members who harm American workers, Neil Cavuto casting undocumented immigrants as part of an "illegal invasion," and Brian Kilmeade joking about undocumented students using "night vision video" footage of themselves to win scholarships.
This post-2012 split was audible on radio row at the Park Phoenix, which FAIR sees as America's best and last line of defense against a path to citizenship.
Following the Supreme Court ruling striking down most of Arizona's controversial immigration bill, Fox News gave a platform to the heads of two anti-immigrant groups to comment on the decision.
On June 25, Fox News Latino's politics section published a piece by Dan Stein in which the frequent Fox guest and president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) declared the ruling a "victory" for Arizona and criticized the Obama administration's use of prosecutorial discretion to postpone deportation proceedings of certain undocumented workers in order to prioritize the removal of others.
On the same day, FoxNews.com published an opinion piece by Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA. Beck heralded the ruling as an opportunity for other states to "follow Arizona's lead" in enforcing immigration laws "in the way that Congress intended, even if the president insists on violating those laws."
Fox's decision to give Stein and Beck a platform to comment on the Arizona immigration ruling comes in spite of the fact that both of their groups are virulently anti-immigrant.
Indeed, FAIR is an anti-immigrant organization considered a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Not only does it have a history of using extreme, violent, and offensive language aimed at undocumented immigrants, but it has extremist ties as well.
Beck's NumbersUSA is an anti-immigration group with white nationalist ties. It also has ties to the anti-immigration network of John Tanton, "the anti-immigration crusader" who "spent decades at the heart of the white nationalist movement."
The SPLC has referred to Beck as Tanton's "heir apparent." Beck has also been an editor of Tanton's journal, The Social Contract, which, according to the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR), "has repeatedly served as a platform for white nationalists."
From the May 12 edition of Sirius XM's Media Matters Radio:
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The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) -- a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group that works closely with controversial anti-immigrant activist and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach -- has announced its list of radio personalities that are expected to attend its Hold Their Feet to the Fire 2012 media event. Here are some of the controversial comments that many of them have made.
Said Obama Wants Amnesty To Get "Undocumented Democrats To The Polls In 2012." In July 2011, Hedgecock wrote at Human Events: "Large majorities of Americans in repeated polls want border security first, jobs for Americans first and "path to citizenship" last. Obama wants amnesty first to get the undocumented Democrats to the polls in 2012, has bullied Republican employers with workplace raids to get their support for amnesty, and will never secure the border any more than his immediate predecessor did." [Human Events, 7/1/11]
Said Voter Rolls Are "Stuffed With Illegal Aliens, Felons And Dead People." In June 2011, Hedgecock wrote at Human Events:
The voter rolls of this country are stuffed with illegal aliens, felons and dead people, who not only vote, they vote overwhelmingly Democrat.
Does the illegal alien actually vote? Apparently not. Another box on the registration form requests a permanent mail-in ballot be sent to the "voter." The mailing address is different from the "voter's" residence address, meaning that the the illegal alien "voter" never receives a ballot and never votes. The mail-in ballots are sent to another location and someone else votes and mails back the ballot for the new "voter." Random checks of these mailing addresses show the same addresses over and over. This is election fraud on an organized level. It's going on now in every state. Any attempt to stop this corruption would cause Obama to go to court to defend the right of illegals to register to vote. [Human Events, 6/10/11]
Said That Without "Illegal Alien Votes" Democrats Can't Be Reelected. In January 2012, Hedgecock wrote at Human Events:
Mindless propaganda twisting easily accessible scientific studies is a testament to the desperation of the Obama re-elect campaign and it's media acolytes. Without illegal alien votes (as Harry Reid proved in his 2010 campaign), unpopular Democrats cannot be re-elected. If it takes a phony campaign to "save the black bear" to insure that illegals continue to stream into the country, then so be it. Nobody really reads those studies anyway, do they? [Human Events, 1/6/12]
Lars Larson Referred To "Illegal Aliens, Or As We Call Them, Undocumented Democrats." In December 2011, Larson said on Fox News:
Allison let me help connect the dots for my liberal friend Leslie. Illegal aliens, or as we call them, undocumented Democrats, are stealing the jobs of American citizens. With 15 million people out of work, only a million of those 12 million illegals in the country work farm jobs. The rest of them are working jobs that Americans are willing to do right now. [Fox News, America Live, 12/13/11, via Media Matters]
Lars Larson Claimed That Undocumented Immigrants Commit "A Larger Proportionate Share" Of Crimes. In June 2011, Larson said on Fox News:
Illegal aliens, like it or not, are populated by the millions in our country. They come here, they take jobs, they send billions of dollars out of the country, and, unfortunately, they're involved in more than their share, a larger proportionate share, of criminal activity. States should be looking out for their own citizens by saying we're gonna identify these illegals, and then alert the federal authorities so they can be deported. [Fox News, America Live, 5/31/11, via Media Matters]
During Thursday's Republican presidential debate hosted by Fox News and Google, moderators looked to anti-immigrant group the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) to ask the first question on immigration. Nearly 20,000 questions were reportedly submitted on a variety of topics, but for immigration, Fox chose one by FAIR spokeswoman Kristen Williamson. From the debate:
WILLIAMSON: Struggling U.S. workers continue to compete with millions of illegal aliens. Do you support legislation to require all employers to use E-Verify in order to insure that the people that they hire are actually legally authorized to work in the U.S., and will you impose penalties against employers who continue to hire illegal workers?
FAIR is an anti-immigrant organization considered a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center. It not only has a history of using extreme, violent, and offensive language directed at undocumented immigrants, but it has extremist ties as well.
The second and last question about immigration submitted by a viewer that Fox chose asked: "Are you going to exert an effort to stop the abuse of U.S. citizens by illegals?"
It's hardly surprising Fox would choose a question on immigration from an extremist group in light of the negative tone it has set in framing the immigration debate. Moreover, considering Fox has a history of advocating for the error-prone and potentially racist E-Verify program, it's also not shocking that the network chose a question that advanced the common anti-immigrant sentiment that undocumented immigrants "compete" with "struggling U.S. workers" -- a sentiment that is simply misplaced.
This week, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is holding a rally hosting a various extreme anti-immigrant radio hosts. Yet FAIR promotes themselves as a mainstream organization, touting their ability to "shed light on this complex subject on their website." Below the jump are some of the extreme, violent, offensive and false comments that FAIR's rally guests have made.
Just in case there was any doubt about whether The Daily Caller should ever be taken seriously, this paragraph from Caller political reporter Caroline May should put the matter to rest:
Even more politically liberal commentators have noted the liberal bias of NPR. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting notes that in 2004, when there was a debate over the launch of Air America, the sentiment of many pundits was, "wait, don't we already have a liberal station: NPR?"
Now, here's what the 2004 FAIR report actually said:
News of the April launch of Air America, a new liberal talk radio network, revived the old complaint, with several conservative pundits declaring that such a thing already existed. "I have three letters for you, NPR . . . . I mean, there is liberal radio," remarked conservative pundit Andrew Sullivan on NBC's Chris Matthews Show (4/4/04). A few days earlier (4/1/04), conservative columnist Cal Thomas told Nightline, "The liberals have many outlets," naming NPR prominently among them. [Emphasis added]
See the difference? FAIR said "several conservative pundits" declared that NPR is a liberal talk radio network. The Daily Caller portrayed that as FAIR noting that liberal pundits had made that claim.
And in the process, the Caller completely ignored this portion of the FAIR report:
Despite the commonness of such claims, little evidence has ever been presented for a left bias at NPR, and FAIR's latest study gives it no support. Looking at partisan sources—including government officials, party officials, campaign workers and consultants—Republicans outnumbered Democrats by more than 3 to 2 (61 percent to 38 percent). A majority of Republican sources when the GOP controls the White House and Congress may not be surprising, but Republicans held a similar though slightly smaller edge (57 percent to 42 percent) in 1993, when Clinton was president and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. And a lively race for the Democratic presidential nomination was beginning to heat up at the time of the 2003 study.
FAIR's four-month study of NPR in 1993 found 10 think tanks that were cited twice or more. In a new four-month study (5/03–8/03), the list of think tanks cited two or more times has grown to 17, accounting for 133 appearances.
FAIR classified each think tank by ideological orientation as either centrist, right of center or left of center. Representatives of think tanks to the right of center outnumbered those to the left of center by more than four to one: 62 appearances to 15. Centrist think tanks provided sources for 56 appearances.
So the Daily Caller took a FAIR study that debunked the claims of conservatives that NPR is biased towards liberals, ignored the debunking, and pointed to the study as evidence that liberals say NPR is biased towards liberals.