A Media Matters review of recent evening programming on the three major cable news channels found that Fox News is covering immigration significantly more than CNN and MSNBC, a disparity that has occurred before. But Fox’s coverage of immigration issues is overwhelmingly negative, and its dominance of the subject on cable news effectively allows it to shape the debate when immigration issues are a topic of national discussion.
From October 9 to October 13, the week after President Donald Trump "dropped a potential bomb into negotiations on the future" of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Fox News’ programming between 5 and 11 p.m. devoted a total of one hour, two minutes and 23 seconds to discussing immigration, compared to CNN’s six minutes and nine seconds of coverage and MSNBC’s five minutes and 47 seconds of coverage.
During this time, CNN and MSNBC primarily covered the issue in terms of legislative battles, discussing the attempts by some lawmakers to pass a bill to protect beneficiaries of DACA. Fox News discussed the DACA legislative process, but also spent significant airtime pushing anti-immigrant sentiments and myths.
These findings represent a trend, not an isolated event. Media Matters previously found that during the first two weeks of July, even when few immigration issues were making national headlines, Fox News outpaced CNN and MSNBC on immigration coverage even more starkly; during that time period, Fox News’ evening programs dedicated a total of 15 segments to immigration-related topics, totaling one hour, three minutes, and 31 seconds of coverage. CNN’s evening news programming included only one immigration-focused segment that was three minutes and six seconds long. MSNBC’s evening news programs dedicated two segments to immigration coverage, totaling three minutes and two seconds of reporting.
By outpacing other networks’ immigration coverage, Fox News can lay the groundwork for right-wing immigration myths to spread, as in the debate over so-called sanctuary cities. The sustained stream of misinformation about sanctuary cities from Fox -- and the relative absence of discussion about sanctuary cities on CNN and MSNBC -- may have contributed to the belief among 40 percent of Americans that sanctuary cities are “less safe” compared to non-sanctuary jurisdictions, even though data shows the exact opposite. Ousted Fox News host Bill O’Reilly even convinced Congress to consider Kate’s Law, anti-sanctuary-city legislation that he initiated, which passed in the House in June.
The discrepancy can be spotted beyond cable news and in media more broadly. A report by the nonprofit Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) on coverage of immigrant detention found that Breitbart and FoxNews.com far exceeded comparable outlets in the frequency with which they reported on immigrant detention and that those sites, as well as the conservative newspaper The Washington Times, routinely cast immigrants as criminals. The CIVIC report included the following data:
Graph and data courtesy of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC)
Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC programming between 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. from October 9 to October 13 and from July 3 to July 14 (excluding weekends) for the terms immigrant, immigration, illegal alien, illegals, border, border wall, sanctuary, or DACA. For every qualifying segment, Media Matters used iQ media to count the amount of time spent covering that specific immigration topic. We also coded for each immigration topic. We defined “significant discussion” as a host posing a question to a guest related to the topic and the guest answering the question. We also counted news reports.
Cristina López G. and Kyanna Spaulding contributed to this report.