Media Matters: Racial profiling? No problem, say conservative media

This was a big week for fearmongering about illegal immigration.

If you've been living under a rock, you may have missed the news that Arizona passed a controversial new immigration law -- considered to be the toughest in the nation (and the most draconian) -- requiring law enforcement to investigate the immigration status of anyone they come in contact with through the normal course of their duties if they reasonably suspect them of being in the country illegally. This led legal and law enforcement experts to raise concerns that the law will lead to racial profiling, and it prompted former Republican Rep. Joe Scarborough to call the law "un-American."

This week we saw the right-wing media scramble to defend the law, grasping for every possible angle. For example:

  • Fox News' Sean Hannity and Sarah Palin dismissed the possibility that the law will lead to racial profiling, calling the claim “shameful.”
  • Fox News' Steven Crowder, Greg Gutfeld, Michael Malkin, Brit Hume, and radio host Mike Gallagher embraced and defended the law, including the potential for racial profiling. Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume, for example, said that “people may have to endure some inconvenience.”
  • Meanwhile, Fox & Friends' Gretchen Carlson and Steve Doocy, National Review's Rich Lowry, and CNN's Jack Cafferty all pretended that the Arizona law is very similar to federal immigration law, and therefore uncontroversial.
  • Carlson did her part by dismissing all the critics of the law as the "left" -- presumably including such known lefties as Joe Scarborough, Charles Krauthammer, and Andrew Napolitano.
  • With no place left to go but down, The Washington Times, The Drudge Report, Glenn Beck, Brian Kilmeade, and Pat Buchanan defended the bill by making incendiary and racially charged rhetoric and imagery.
  • And, naturally, Lowry and the Washington Examiner blamed Obama.

Apparently unable to defend what the Arizona law actually said, some conservatives simply pretended it said something else. Specifically, they claimed that the term “lawful contact” in the legislation meant that law enforcement could only investigate the immigration status of people already suspected of committing an unrelated offense. Media Matters contacted an Arizona House Republican research analyst to debunk the claim. The analyst clarified that “lawful contact” included crime victims, witnesses, “or just people who are lawfully interacting with the police officer.” Other experts said the same thing. The Arizona legislature subsequently voted to change the law's language, replacing the phrase “lawful contact” with “lawful stop, detention or arrest.”

The ongoing disaster at Fox News continues unabated

In other news, the ongoing disaster at Fox seems to be continuing with all due speed. President Roger Ailes weakly tried to defend his network by touting its “fair and balanced” reports and claiming he's not “in politics.” He said this despite the more-than-ample evidence of Fox's advocacy against health care reform and its heavy promotion of the tea parties.

Star employee Sarah Palin apparently wasn't quite as proud of Fox this week, lumping the network in with her dreaded “lamestream media.” She tried to keep her disappointment undercover, saying only that “one of the media outlets” was “killing” her by running a caption “that said Arizona law will make it illegal to be an illegal immigrant.” As Media Matters pointed out, Palin may well have been watching Fox & Friends.

Meanwhile, Glenn Beck has lost one-third of his viewers since January, and his viewership is down 7 percent since last year at this time. Things may not be looking great for Beck, who turned to defending his habitual falsehoods by claiming that Rupert Murdoch is too rich to let Beck lie on air. Murdoch clearly has no problem with Beck peddling some of the finest conspiracy theories on the market today.

Conservatives absurdly claim BP oil spill is “Obama's Katrina”

Thousands of barrels of oil are still spewing into the Gulf of Mexico every day following an explosion on BP's offshore drilling platform on April 20. After an initial silence -- as The New York Times' Mike Soraghan put it, " 'Drill, baby, drill' is now, 'Hush, baby, hush" -- the conservative media decided that the spill is "Obama's Katrina." Such claims are contradicted by the administration's actual response to the spill, the role BP reportedly played in leading the government to believe the spill was less severe than it really was, and the fact that Hurricane Katrina led to the deaths of more than 1,500 people.

Then again, the media seem to think just about anything is “Obama's Katrina.”

Speaking of Katrina, conservative media figures previously advocated for drilling by falsely claiming that “not one drop of oil was spilled” as a result of the 2005 hurricane. In fact, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused nearly 17,700 barrels to spill into the ocean that year, a danger highlighted by the BP disaster.

Financial regulation misinformation

This was also a big week for the financial reform bill, which finally went to the floor for debate after not one, not two, but three failed attempts to break the Republican-led blockade.

The fourth vote was not a charm for Fox News' Neil Cavuto, who seemed less than eager to cover the bill. Cavuto spent more time obsessing over Sen. Carl Levin's use of a “word that rhymes with 'pretty' ” during a congressional hearing on Goldman Sachs' corporate behavior than he did covering financial reform -- even though Levin was simply repeating a Goldman exec's characterization of a subprime mortgage-linked security the company was selling. He even created a montage of Levin using the word, which he replayed more than once. Cavuto's coverage was anything but pretty.

Conservative media also readily adopted Sen. Mitch McConnell's falsehood that the bill contains a $50 billion fund to bail out failed banks, but by liquidating failed banks, the fund would do the exact opposite; indeed, Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman called McConnell's claim “possibly the most dishonest argument ever made in the history of politics.” But it did not dissuade conservative media figures from repeating the claim ad nauseum, including: Fox News contributor Dick Morris, Phillip Swagel of the American Enterprise Institute, and Fox News host Gregg Jarrett; additionally, a “FOXfact[s]” graphic displayed during an edition of Fox News' Happening Now also advanced the bailout fund falsehood.

Fox's Dick Morris problem

Finally, this week, Media Matters released three reports detailing Fox News' Dick Morris problem. The reports outlined Morris' ethically dubious behavior, unabashed GOP advocacy, hypocricy, and outright fabrication of smears of progressives. The reports also exposed the fact that Morris and right-wing website Newsmax have repeatedly used anti-Obama fearmongering -- and Morris' connection to Fox News -- to shill for strange financial products and schemes.

In a statement to Media Matters, Alex Jones, director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, ripped Newsmax and Morris, saying: “Dick Morris and ethics are two words that do not belong in the same sentence. I don't think he is a man of any integrity.”

This weekly wrap-up was compiled by Christine Schwen, a researcher at Media Matters for America.