Major newspapers and wire services continue to cite white nationalist-linked nativist organizations -- two of which have been declared hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) -- as authorities on immigration, often without mentioning their extremist beliefs or their outsize influence on the Trump administration.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and NumbersUSA are all anti-immigrant groups with deep ties to the late white nationalist and eugenicist John Tanton, who wanted to limit immigration in order to maintain the United States as a white-majority country. Tanton personally founded FAIR and CIS, which have since been classified as hate groups by the SPLC. Although NumbersUSA was not directly founded by Tanton, it originally operated as a part of his foundation, U.S. Inc., and the group's president and CEO, Roy Beck, was dubbed by Tanton his “heir apparent.” All three of these groups and their leaders were significant influences on the draconian and xenophobic immigration policy of the Trump administration.
Despite these well-documented ties to racist white nationalism, however, Media Matters found 203 articles published between January 1, 2019, and July 8, 2021, by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, or The Associated Press that cited FAIR, CIS, or NumbersUSA as supposed authorities on immigration policy. Worse, of those 203 articles that cited these organizations, only 15% provided sufficient context of their extremist ties or of their connections to the Trump administration or restrictionist immigration officials.
Reuters did not provide any of this context whatsoever in any articles that cited these Tanton-affiliated groups. The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times were the next least likely to provide context: 94% and 91%, respectively, of articles from each outlet did not provide information about the organizations’ extremist or influential nature. USA Today lacked this context in 90% of its articles, followed by The Associated Press (87%), The New York Times (78%), and The Washington Post (75%).
These numbers are appalling. These outlets’ habit of citing Tanton groups without necessary context was previously pointed out by a comprehensive survey performed by Define American and the MIT Center Civic Media in 2019, which looked at the frequency with which the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today cited CIS, FAIR, or NumbersUSA between 2014 and 2018. Media Matters’ study updated the Define American survey, adding Reuters, AP, and The Wall Street Journal to our search, and found 130 articles citing Tanton groups in 2019, 55 in 2020, and 18 so far in 2021. Only 20% of the 2019 articles, 9% of the 2020 articles, and 0% of the 2021 articles provided sufficient context about these groups’ extremism or influence.
While there appears to have been a decrease in articles mentioning these groups, these media outlets are conversely getting worse at properly contextualizing their white nationalist ties in the articles that do cite them. Media must provide proper background when they rely on these organizations -- it is flatly irresponsible to present them as respectable sources for the conservative perspective on immigration without mentioning their racist roots or hate group designations.
Tanton died in 2019, but his hateful legacy lives on in the current leaders of his organizations. NumbersUSA founder Beck once gave a speech at a meeting of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist group which has called Black people a “retrograde species of humanity.” CIS Director Mark Krikorian has a long history of racist rhetoric. For instance, Krikorian once said, “My guess is that Haiti’s so screwed up because it wasn’t colonized long enough.” He also accused former President Barack Obama of fomenting a “race war” and claimed it was impossible to distinguish between “dishwashers” and “terrorists.” FAIR President Dan Stein called the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which ended the racist quota system that limited immigration mostly to white Europeans, a “mistake.”
The Tanton groups’ extensive ties to the Trump administration are well-documented as well. In June 2020, Attorney General William Barr made former FAIR Director of Research Matthew O’Brien an immigration judge. CIS also has ties with former Trump administration official Stephen Miller, who frequently used the group’s studies “to spin a narrative where immigrants of color were not only dangerous, violent individuals but also posed an existential threat to America,” according to a former Breitbart editor.
This mainstreaming of extremist anti-immigrant sources is common on right-wing media platforms like Fox News. Fox has long collaborated in shifting the “conservative” viewpoint on immigration into racist and xenophobic territory, and it now freely indulges in overt white supremacist propaganda in addition to its anti-immigrant lies. Officials from FAIR, CIS, and NumbersUSA were frequent guests on the network during the Trump administration -- according to Media Matters' internal cable news database, FAIR, CIS, and NumbersUSA officials appeared on Fox News at least 84 times since August 1, 2017 -- and they continue to appear on Fox to push anti-immigrant narratives in the Biden administration.
But major newspapers and wire services should be holding themselves to a higher standard than outlets like Fox News. And if they insist on continuing to cite Tanton organizations because the Republican position on immigration aligns with the racism these groups promote, then journalists are obligated to inform their readers of that ugly fact. Otherwise, these outlets are doing nothing less than willingly participating in the extremist misinformation campaign of white nationalists.
Media Matters searched articles in the Factiva database from Associated Press Newswires, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Reuters News, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post for any of the terms “Federation for American Immigration Reform,” “FAIR,” “Center for Immigration Studies,” “CIS,” “NumbersUSA,” or “Numbers USA” from January 1, 2019, through July 8, 2021.
We counted any articles that cited or quoted FAIR, CIS, or NumbersUSA any number of times. We then reviewed each article for whether the paper included context about the groups’ ties to white supremacy or white nationalism, identified them as hate groups, or cited their connections to the Trump administration or immigration agencies.
We also searched our internal database of all original, weekday programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC (shows airing from 6 a.m. through midnight) for segments that included certain FAIR, CIS, and NumbersUSA officials as guests from August 1, 2017, through January 19, 2021. We included appearances by CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian, NumbersUSA President Roy Beck, FAIR Executive Director Bob Dane, CIS Director of Policy Studies Jessica Vaughan, CIS Senior National Security Fellow Todd Bensman, FAIR Media Director Ira Mehlman, FAIR President Dan Stein, NumbersUSA Director of Government Relations Rosemary Jenks, CIS Resident Fellow in Law and Policy Andrew Arthur, FAIR State and Local Engagement Director Shari Rendall, NumbersUSA Deputy Director Chris Chmielenski, FAIR Government Relations Director R.J. Hauman, then-FAIR Research Director Matt O’Brien, CIS Director of Research Steven Camarota, and CIS Director of Investigations Jon Feere.