You’d think Sinclair Broadcast Group would lay low for a while and reassess its options after an extremely damaging month. Instead, the conservative media giant will force news stations across the country to air a 90-second segment exploiting the murder of Iowa woman Mollie Tibbetts to echo President Donald Trump’s attacks on immigrants.
Tibbetts was reported missing last month after she went out for a jog on a country road in Brooklyn, IA. Last week, local law enforcement found Tibbetts’ body and charged Mexican national Cristhian Bahena Rivera, an undocumented immigrant, for her murder.
Mollie Tibbetts would have returned to the University of Iowa last week. At a campus vigil, her older brother Jake encouraged everyone in attendance to “make a new friend” in honor of his “goofy” and passionate sister. Tibbetts’ friends have shared memories of the psychology student smiling as she walked through campus. “She was an advocate for mental health and genuinely cared about how people thought,” one friend told the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
That’s not what the Sinclair segment is about, though.
The segment, which will now air on an estimated 100 or more local news stations nationwide, ignores Tibbetts’ family members’ specific wishes for people to not weaponize Mollie's death for anti-immigrant ends. Instead, the Sinclair clip leans on the common racist trope of white women’s sanctity as it adds another disgusting entry to the right-wing media canon of unabashed xenophobic exploitation.
In the clip, chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn mirrors Trump's rhetoric by referencing “families who have been permanently separated from their children,” a grotesque talking point drawing a comparison to the administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border. Epshteyn also references the deaths of Kate Steinle and Drew Rosenberg, which right-wing media have exploited to smear immigrants.
BORIS EPSHTEYN (HOST): Last week, our country collectively mourned the loss of 20-year-old University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts. According to investigators, Tibbetts was followed and murdered by an illegal immigrant while on a run near her Brooklyn, IA, home. Her killer illegally entered our country. He then worked at an Iowa farm for several years after giving them fake identification and breaking through the very system in place to prevent these tragedies from occurring.
Tibbetts’ murder has brought the debate over immigration reform to the forefront of the American consciousness once again. Republicans like Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley are advocating for stronger immigration laws. Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have focused mostly on scoring political points against our president. In a CNN interview last week, Warren pivoted from sharing her condolences to the Tibbetts family to attacking the administration’s zero-tolerance policy of border enforcement. According to Warren, we should be focusing on the people who, quote, “pose a real threat.”
Sen. Warren, Americans such as Mollie Tibbetts, Kate Steinle, and Drew Rosenberg dying at the hands of illegal immigrants is a very real threat. Here’s the bottom line: Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Mollie Tibbetts and to all of the families who have been permanently separated from their children due to horrific tragedy such as this. Abolishing ICE and opening our borders are unacceptable solutions to our flawed immigration system.
Among other offenses, Epshteyn left out a few crucial pieces of context here. Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than their peers born in the U.S. And as writer Jessica Valenti pointed out, “The deadliest demographic for American women isn't immigrants - it's husbands & boyfriends. But the truth about who kills women in this country isn't politically useful.” Women are harassed, abused, and killed every day, simply for daring to exist.
I have watched every one of the 287 “Bottom Line With Boris” clips available online. He displays untold levels of ignorance and political obtuseness, along with a lack of charisma I cannot accurately convey with words. He has defended Trump’s “both sides” rhetoric about literal murderous Nazis. He has minimized the Trump administration’s abhorrent family separation policy, suggesting media had overblown the issue. He has fearmongered about “chain migration” and devoted multiple segments to attacking protesting NFL players. He has attacked Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) repeatedly, in segments about topics that barely relate to her, for unexplained reasons.
Now there’s this.
The fact that this segment will air in homes across the country, unchallenged, decontextualized -- over dinner or breakfast, between the traffic and weather -- is Sinclair’s horrific legacy.