Nexstar Media Group, the largest local television news company in the United States, recently released a piece on immigration that included an interview with Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) senior fellow Todd Bensman, who fearmongered that “an open border” policy would allow migrants to “get into the United States and stay forever.” The Nexstar segment cited Bensman as an expert on immigration with no reference to his history of spreading misinformation or the fact that the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies CIS as a hate group.
As of July 2020, Nexstar Media Group owned 196 stations. Like its slightly smaller rival, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Nexstar produces content that can be played on multiple stations across the country. Unlike Sinclair, however, Nexstar's syndicated content is usually less openly conservative. Yet on February 16, one syndicated Nexstar piece aired an interview with a representative of CIS with no reference to the organization’s extremist views.
CIS was established by white nationalist and eugenicist John Tanton, who also founded multiple other extremist anti-immigrant organizations including the Federation for American Immigration Reform and NumbersUSA. CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian has spent years attacking immigrants, both documented and undocumented. Notably, he was a proponent of the family separation policy under the Trump administration.
Tanton-founded groups have been frequently cited by mainstream and local media alike throughout the end of the Trump administration and first days of the Biden administration. Nexstar is the latest in a long list of news outlets, including The Associated Press, that have used CIS as a source without acknowledging the group’s white nationalist ties or its years of extremism.
The recent segment by Nexstar Washington correspondent Anna Wiernicki is largely about how the implementation of President Joe Biden’s new immigration policy will work and specifically how the Department of Homeland Security is going to begin to let asylum-seekers into the United States, officially ending the Trump administration’s policy that forced people to stay in Mexico. But the piece also included this soundbite from Bensman:
Wiernicki’s segment did not mention that Bensman specifically has a history of pushing the conspiracy theory that the terrorist group ISIS was infiltrating the United States through the southern border. Instead, the interview treated Bensman as an expert on immigration policy who can provide a legitimate opposing view to the Biden administration’s plan.
According to a Kinetiq database search, this piece aired across the nation at least 24 times between February 16-17, including on stations in Texas, Colorado, Michigan, California, and Florida. This also included Nexstar station KRON in San Francisco, a market with the potential to reach over 2.3 million households.
CIS and other Tanton-affiliated groups have been pushing bigoted anti-immigration claims and conspiracy theories for decades -- and yet one of the largest broadcast news companies in the country is still citing them in reports on immigration policy as if they are providing good-faith expertise. Nexstar Media Group has a responsibility to avoid spreading misinformation to potentially millions of Americans through this type of sloppy reporting.