Déjà Babeu: Tipping the scales of the immigration debate, Fox hosts Republican sheriff 18 separate times

If you've tuned in to the immigration coverage on “Fair and Balanced” Fox News over the past few months, chances are you've seen this face:

Babeu appearances

His name is Paul Babeu (pronounced bab-you) and he is the Sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona, a critic of the Obama administration, and an ardent supporter of the new Arizona immigration law.

Two Arizona border sheriffs who spoke out against that law said they have not recieved any invitations to appear on Fox News. By contrast, Fox has interviewed Sheriff Babeu live at least 18 times since mid-April:

On The Record, 07/09/10
Fox & Friends, 07/08/10
America's Newsroom 07/06/10
Your World, 07/02/10
America's Newsroom, 06/23/10
On The Record, 06/23/10
The O'Reilly Factor, 06/16/10
America Live, 06/15/10
America's Newsroom, 05/25/10
On The Record, 05/25/10
Geraldo at Large, 05/22/10
America Live, 05/14/10
Happening Now, 05/03/10
On the Record, 05/03/10
Fox & Friends Sunday, 05/02/10
America's Newsroom, 04/27/10
On the Record, 04/27/10
America's Newsroom, 04/22/10

You may have also seen Babeu in Senator John McCain's recent production, "Complete the danged fence." In the campaign ad, Babeu and McCain walk along the border in Nogales, Arizona, and Babeu endorses McCain's border security plan, telling him, “Senator, you're one of us.” Those unfamiliar with Arizona might gather from the ad that Babeu is the sheriff of the county where Nogales sits. But he's not. Nogales is in Santa Cruz County. Pinal County, Babeu's territory, is not on the border:

AZ county map

The Sheriff of Santa Cruz County is Tony Estrada. He told Media Matters that he has not been invited by Fox News to comment on the border and immigration situation in Arizona. One key difference between Estrada and Fox's favorite Sheriff Babeu? Where Babeu is an outspoken supporter of Arizona's new immigration law, Estrada strongly opposes the measure, which he says will put law enforcement in “a pretty precarious situation” and divert resources away from their central task of dealing with dangerous criminals.

In a declaration filed in support of the Justice Department's lawsuit against Arizona, Estrada stated that the law “undermines my ability to set law enforcement priorities for my agency,” adding:

My top priority is investigating, preventing and deterring the most violent and serious crimes. This new law requires me to expend substantial and already scarce resources on immigration matters at the expense of combating serious crime.

Ralph Ogden of Yuma County is another border sheriff who expressed concerns about the impact of the new law. He has reportedly stated, “I get concerned when you start questioning people (about their immigration status). Chances are that you're going to run across U.S. citizens that you're going to end up detaining at some point.” Ogden also had concerns about the burden that enforcement of the law will place on the county's resources and, according to the Phoenix New Times, said: “We don't have enough people to be doing what we're supposed to be doing anyway. But you have to prioritize. And if you start spending less time on property crimes and personal crimes, you don't want to do that.”

Sheriff Ogden's office also told Media Matters that he has not received an invitation to comment on Fox News.

During his Fox News appearances, Babeu has repeatedly decried the border-related crime and violence that he says is overwhelming the state. For instance, he told Fox News' Megyn Kelly on May 14:

BABEU: [H]ere the attorney general doesn't even read the darn law, and we have crime that's out of control here in our state, and we have had officers killed by criminal illegals. We have carjackings, home invasions, all of these things where even law enforcement leaders, like myself, are calling literally for troops to be deployed with Senator McCain's plan to the border to stop this.

Babeu further said on CNN that “we're seeing violence here that is still not seen throughout the rest of the world,” and he told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren on April 27 that the reason he supports the new law is that “crime literally is off the charts here in Arizona”:

VAN SUSTEREN: And why do you support this new state law?

BABEU: Well, crime literally is off the charts here in Arizona, that we have some of the highest crime statistics in America, and where officers being assaulted, officer-involved shootings, carjackings, home invasions. Literally in the absence of federal action, our state now taking action. And it's a welcomed action and step by us who serve in law enforcement.

However, data from the Arizona Department of Public Safety show that both the property and violent crime rates statewide have fallen substantially since 2002, with a notably steep drop occurring in 2009.

AZ crime rate chart

The Arizona Republic also reported that the crime rates in Nogales, Douglas, Yuma and other border towns have not increased over the past decade. Indeed, Estrada told Media Matters that despite the “hype,” he has not seen an escalation of border-related violence, and Pima County sheriff Clarence Dupnik has reportedly said that the recent uproar over crime on the border “is a media-created event ... I hear politicians on TV saying the border has gotten worse. Well, the fact of the matter is that the border has never been more secure.”

Sheriff Dupnik also opposed the new law, and has argued that it is “unnecessary” and “unconstitutional.” Like Phoenix police chief Jack Harris and Estrada -- who stated that we “already have laws” to deal with criminals -- Dupnik said, “Law enforcement did not ask for and does not need this new tool.” After being interviewed four times on Fox shortly after the law was passed in late April, Dupnik has not been asked to return to Fox News to comment on air, his office said.

According to the Republic, Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever, who supports the new law, also conceded that the crime rate in his county has been “flat” for the past decade. He said: “The interest just elevated. And we keep the pressure on because next week something else is going to happen, and the window of opportunity will close.”

Babeu tells a starkly different story about his county, asserting that violence committed by illegal aliens has reached “epidemic proportions.” Crime stats provided by the sheriff's office do indicate a significant increase in “pursuits” in Pinal county this year and in 2009, and there have been a couple of notably violent incidents this year.

But the data also show that the number of most property crimes, including burglary, larceny/theft and vehicle theft in the county have fallen significantly since 2007. The violent crimes listed have not increased since 2007 and the number of aggravated assaults actually dropped from 827 in 2007 to 683 in 2009. Babeu told the Arizona Daily Star that some of the violence and crime that they are facing is not captured in the crime data.

Anthony Placido, who has served in the Drug Enforcement Administration since the 1980's, stated in a May 5 Senate hearing that while drug-related violence on the other side of the border has been brutal, “The magnitude and duration of the violence in Mexico has also fostered a level of concern in the U.S. that is in our opinion disproportionate to the extent of violence that's actually occurred on American soil to date.”

There's no doubt that Pinal County and Arizona face serious problems related to smuggling. What is less clear is the extent to which the Arizona law is targeted toward these problems. In his Fox News appearances, Babeu jumps seamlessly from lamenting violence caused by smugglers in Arizona to defending the new law to criticizing the president on border security. But the facts don't seem to make these same leaps. Indeed, numerous law enforcement leaders, including the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police believe that the law “will negatively affect the ability of law enforcement agencies across the state to fulfill their many responsibilities in a timely manner.”

And contrary to Babeu's suggestion that violence committed by drug cartels proves that the federal government refuses to secure the border, a Customs and Border Patrol agent in the Tucson Sector said increased aggressiveness on the part of drug smugglers may reflect their frustration with the recent success that U.S. law enforcement has had in obstructing the criminal operations. In June, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stated that in 2009, DHS “seized 14 percent more illegal bulk cash, 29 percent more illegal weapons, and 15 percent more illegal drugs than the year before.”

Despite all the time Babeu has spent on Fox News, there's something that Fox viewers likely don't know: Babeu appears to have shifted his position on local immigration enforcement.

In 2006, the Arizona legislature passed, and Janet Napolitano vetoed, a measure nearly identical to the new immigration law. When asked about the proposal, Babeu, then-president of the Chandler police union, reportedly said it would strain public safety resources [Arizona Republic, 4/14/06]. And in 2007, Babeu expressed support for the stance taken by Arizona's police chiefs that local officers should not enforce federal immigration law, according to the Arizona Republic:

“As police officers, we understand our leadership's position because we are already overtaxed,” Babeu said, adding that no matter what elected officials decide, Chandler officers will enforce the law.

But this year, Babeu says of the new law, “We can't afford not to take action.”

Just a year ago, Babeu reportedly said he did not want to get into the “national political debate of whether we deport illegals (or) give them a path to citizenship.” Now, Babeu says, “We're not going to stand for amnesty or any of this immigration reform.”

Recent statements suggest that Babeu's political grievances extend beyond the border issues. For instance, during a June 15 appearance on Fox, Babeu ventured away from the topic of Arizona and immigration to take a shot at Obama, criticizing the president for not attending the memorial service for the victims of the Deepwater Horizon explosion. (Obama met individually with the families of the victims):

SHANNON BREAM: Would you like to see some of the president's outrage about the oil spill, which is justified, and some of the butt-kicking that he has talked about doing, applied there on the border as well?

BABEU: Well, even with that, if you say one thing and then you are out at a fundraiser in California and you don't go to the funeral of the people who died in the explosion. You know, it's one thing to say something slick on television or in a 10-second sound bite, but we need deeds, we need action, and it's shameful that we as the most powerful nation on the earth can win wars and liberate countries throughout our history and yet we can't even secure our own border and protect our own families. This is why crime in Arizona literally is among and has been the highest in the nation. We need help.

And during a July 9 appearance on The Alex Jones Show, Babeu said of the Obama administration: "[W]e're running down -- sprinting down the path to socialism. And it's extremely troubling." Babeu also said that Obama has shown a “diabolical” pattern of undermining the police, adding, “He's done it at Cambridge, when that sergeant arrested his black friend professor.”

Which brings us back to Fox. Not only did the network ignore Sheriffs Estrada and Ogden, who have doubts that the new law will help them fight crime, but also Fox News' hosts and purported journalists did not once mention crime statistics that are incongruent with Babeu's claims. Nor did they ask Babeu -- who accused Obama of using the immigration issue “as a political football” -- why his position on local enforcement of immigration law has shifted or if political considerations have influenced his own rhetoric.

According to the Arizona Daily Star, many suspect that Babeu, who began his political career at age 18, will seek higher office. It's clear that Babeu is willing and eager to seize the national spotlight as it passes over Arizona. And Fox News gets a reliable guest whose talking points happen to fit like a puzzle piece into the Republican agenda.

But viewers are left with a skewed, simplistic picture of the situation in Arizona and of law enforcement's position on the new law. Viewers get this, from the July 2 edition of Fox News' Your World: Instead of asking the border sheriffs themselves, Fox asks Babeu if he thinks those counties are secure. Babeu says they're not and that the border sheriffs would agree.

It's not the first claim Fox News hasn't fact-checked.

STUART VARNEY: Sheriff, I'm going to ask you a difficult question. It's a difficult question to ask a sheriff in the state of Arizona. You're three counties removed from the border. Do you think we have got a grip, that law enforcement has a firm grip on the two counties closer to the border?

BABEU: No. And you can ask their sheriffs as well. We only have 15 sheriffs in Arizona, and I proudly serve as the president of the Sheriff's Association. And I can tell you, you would not have law enforcement leaders standing up, saying, hey, we need help here. We cannot handle 1 million people coming into our state, and we don't even know who half these people are. And 17 percent of them have a criminal record already established in Arizona. So you don't have to be a detective to figure out what happens to our crime statistics when you add this many convicted criminals to Arizona.

VARNEY: So you approve of the Arizona immigration law, and what you really want is for that border to be taken care of by the federal authorities? Basically, that's where you're coming from.

BABEU: Absolutely.