The Department of Homeland Security announced a change in immigration policy on Friday that will potentially exempt certain undocumented immigrants from deportation and afford them the ability to work here legally. The change will largely affect some 800,000 immigrants who first entered the country as children provided they meet certain requirements of education or military service. While the change was greeted with a fair amount of criticism, mostly directed at President Obama, Fox News used the opportunity to dehumanize undocumented immigrants.
A Media Matters review of Fox News' June 15* coverage of the policy change found that the network repeatedly used the racial slurs "illegals" and "illegal aliens" in their reports or discussions on the change. We also found one instance of a Fox News host using the word "aliens" while commenting on the issue.
Just this week while discussing the decision by a Colorado college to offer eligible undocumented students a special reduced rate, Neil Cavuto, Fox News' senior vice president for business news who also hosts his own shows, used the word, saying the college "was giving a special discount to illegals."
Fox News personalities have defended the word to the consternation of Geraldo Rivera, a Fox News host who also works for the Fox News Latino website. Fox host Mike Huckabee defended the use of the slur by stating recently: "If you call someone undocumented, you're essentially saying they're illegal; it's the same word." Fox News' Tucker Carlson and Bill O'Reilly have also recently defended it.
Aside from its unstated but intended negative reaction, I have a lawyer's reason for wanting media outlets like my own to ban or at least modify the phrase. Absent a finding by a judicial or administrative body, it assumes a legal conclusion, that a person has no right to be in the United States.
How is it that accused murderers, robbers and child molesters are called "alleged" perpetrators, but immigrants are not accorded the same courtesy of accuracy, indeed, the same presumption of innocence?
"Illegal alien" is a cheap shot. The oft-used plural of the adjective "illegal" as in "illegals" isn't even recognized as an English noun by Microsoft Word.
It is stigma piled on stigma, and the potential consequences to a person so described following a judicial finding can be devastating. Anyone who suggests that deportation isn't punishment is being disingenuous.
In an interview with Media Matters, he elaborated, saying he has made his opposition to such phrases "very, very clear" to Fox employees "from top to bottom." He also stated: "I think the combination of those two pejoratives, 'illegal' and 'aliens,' is really a way to demean people, to separate people."
The New York Times and the Associated Press have both dropped the use of the word "illegals" from their style guides, and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists has encouraged news organizations to use "undocumented" instead of "illegal."
But on Friday, in one of its very first reports on Homeland Security's immigration policy change, Molly Henneberg, a Fox "straight news" correspondent, used the word "illegals" no less than five times in a three-minute span:
During that America's Newsroom broadcast, the word was used a total of 10 times in one hour, according to our research. Fox personalities then used the word on America Live, Your World with Neil Cavuto, the Fox Report with Shepard Smith, and The O'Reilly Factor.
Throughout the day, Fox News also included the word in on-air text:
The O'Reilly Factor:
The O'Reilly Factor:
*This post has been updated for clarity.