On Tuesday, in the first of three appearances on Fox in two days, Fox News' Fox & Friends hosted Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu to promote his probable run for Congress. The Pinal County sheriff, a fervent supporter of Arizona's controversial immigration law, announced Monday that he has formed an exploratory committee for a potential run in Arizona's newly formed 4th Congressional District. It's fitting that Fox would be the national news network to promote Babeu's run, seeing as he is the network's favorite Arizona sheriff.
Indeed, a new study by Media Matters finds that Fox hosted Babeu at least 30 times within a 14-month span, including 18 times between April 22, 2010, and July 9, 2010. And it wasn't only Babeu, an anti-immigrant activist with questionable ties who has been spreading fears that the Southern border is "out of control." Our study found that of the guests chosen to discuss immigration issues, more than 60 percent took anti-immigrant positions or held anti-immigrant views. Anti-immigrant guests outnumbered those with a pro-immigrant point of view by a whopping 3-to-1 margin, according to our data.
Babeu, who has risen to prominence thanks to Fox News, his hard-line stance against illegal immigration, and his zealous opposition to the Obama administration, reportedly stated on Monday:
"Arizona is ground zero in the fight against drug and human smuggling. ... Rather than secure our border and enforce the law, what did we see from our Federal government? Signs in my county warning Americans to stay away, because the cartels were in control; a lawsuit against the people of Arizona; a declaration that the border is more secure than ever. Meanwhile, 400,000 people unlawfully enter our state every year, tens of thousands with criminal records, some from nations that sponsor terrorism."
On Fox & Friends, Babeu claimed that "I know a little bit more about border security and what it takes to secure that border than Janet Napolitano." Responding to criticism from the Arizona Democratic Party, which stated that "[i]t looks like Paul Babeu hopes to spend even less time as sheriff and even more time on TV than he already does," Babeu said:
BABEU: Well, I don't think they like Fox News. But we love Fox News. We're going to continue to watch and be great fans of yours out here in Arizona. We're standing up for not just the rule of law but for America. And I'm an unabashed patriot. I believe in American exceptionalism, and it's about time we have leaders in America that say that -- that we're proud of our country, we're gonna put America first.
We've got soldiers all over the world, from Germany, Japan, 28,000 soldiers in Korea, protecting, guarding, defending their border. Why don't we protect and guard and defend our border for once?
Steve Doocy replied: "No kidding." This is, of course, the oft-repeated Fox myth that the Obama administration hasn't increased border security.
Fox seems to love Babeu as ardently as Babeu loves Fox. This month alone, Babeu has been on Fox at least once every week -- four times on Fox News and four on Fox Business.
In an appearance last week on Fox Business, on Eric Bolling's Follow the Money, Babeu accused Attorney General Eric Holder of lying about Operation Fast and Furious, a failed ATF initiative currently under review by the Justice Department's Inspector General and by the Oversight Committee.
Babeu was on Fox twice on Tuesday, on Fox & Friends, and again on Bolling's Fox Business show, and once on Wednesday, on Fox News' America Live. During his appearance on Fox Business, Bolling gushed: "So you're looking at an exploratory committee. Listen, I'll be your committee. You're right for the job. I say go for it." Bolling continued: "I listened to that interview this morning on Fox & Friends and you had some really cogent ideas for the economy."
Bolling then invited Babeu to repeat his campaign ideas on air while images from his campaign website flashed on screen. Predictably, footage of what appeared to be border crossers clambering over fences and being arrested by border patrol was also shown.
On Wednesday's America Live, Fox was kind enough to air an excerpt from Babeu's video announcing his exploratory committee. In the video, Babeu says: "Everyone needs to get up on their feet and fight for our republic." During his America Live interview, Babeu again slammed the Obama administration because it supposedly "doesn't want" to enforce immigration law. He went on to repeat the right-wing talking point that with new deportation orders, Obama "has undermined the rule of law."
Babeu also reiterated his love for Fox, saying, "I am" a "fan" of Fox News.
Fox has given Babeu its own stamp of approval, crowning him "America's Sheriff."
If you'll recall, Babeu is the same sheriff who appeared on a "pro-white" radio station, then tried to disavow the station's ideology. The radio station later countered that it "made specifically clear" to Babeu "the nature of our paleoconservative radio program." Babeu has also appeared on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' radio show.
Babeu also spoke and was honored at the Federation for American Immigration Reform's (FAIR) Hold Their Feet to the Fire gathering earlier this year. FAIR is, of course, the noted anti-immigrant "hate group," which is part of John Tanton's controversial network. A few weeks ago, he was invited to speak again by FAIR, this time at its national advisory board meeting. During the talk, Babeu ridiculed the Obama administration's claim that "the border is more secure than ever," which, as it happens, is the truth.
But Babeu has repeatedly spread fears about the Southern border, saying it is "out of control" [LOOKS LIKE ARPAIO SAID THIS] and suggesting there is "quite a direct link" between "the unsecured border with Mexico" and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Several Arizona mayors were so fed up with Babeu that they wrote a letter admonishing him for his claims. They wrote:
As Mayors of border communities from Arizona, we would appreciate it if you would not cultivate a culture of fear in our state and start being accurate about border security. While your misstatements about efforts to keep communities along the U.S.-Mexico border may keep national media coming to Arizona, your consistent inaccuracies also hurt cities and towns like ours by causing those who live and travel to the border to fear for their safety when in our communities.
We know and understand that there is more work to do. We have seen significant progress being made every day. We trust that the federal government will continue to strengthen the ways it protects our citizens from the violence we see in Mexico.
What our communities do need, is for Sheriffs like you to focus on building strong relationships and partnerships with local, state and federal governments and law enforcement agencies to help the efforts on strengthening security on our border.
We say as one voice, "Creating panic where only vigilance is warranted helps nobody."
But those claims, "frequently" built on "slippery figures based on extrapolations of descriptions by federal agencies," have only seemed to help his cause. In a May 2010 article, the Arizona Daily Star described Babeu as "a politician turned sheriff" and reported that Babeu's goal has always been higher office. From the Daily Star:
Babeu considers himself qualified to speak on border issues due to his position as sheriff in a smuggling corridor and his leadership in the Arizona Army National Guard during Operation Jump Start, which sent National Guard troops to the Southwest border in support of the Border Patrol.
In 2006-2007, Babeu spent 17 months as commander of Task Force Yuma supervising 700 soldiers, and the unit was credited with major reductions in illegal crossings.
Babeu knows, he said, "how to secure this border here. I've seen it work. I've been a part of helping make it work."
He advised [Sen. John] McCain and [Sen. Jon] Kyl on their 10-step border security plan and took some credit for McCain's hardened border stance.
"I've worked to convince him (McCain) that this is the way to go. To his great credit, he has seen that and shown great leadership," Babeu said last week.
But to some, including longtime Arizona law enforcement officials, Babeu is a pretender. Many officers question how 3 1/2 years spent patrolling Chandler's streets, plus a border deployment, qualify him as a national expert on border security, said Bill Richardson, a retired Mesa police officer who also worked for 10 years on a Drug Enforcement Administration task force in Pima, Pinal and other counties.
"It would be like a college freshman pre-med student who's had one anatomy class telling a veteran pathologist how to do an autopsy," said Richardson, who has followed Babeu closely since 2008.
Smuggling has long occurred in western Pinal County, but Babeu's claims of soaring violence have more to do with his own political aspirations than reality, Richardson said.
"What he's very skillfully doing, much like (Joe) Arpaio and (State Sen. Russell) Pearce, is he's creating fear or fanning the flames of fear, that the undocumented are the root cause of crime in Arizona," Richardson said. "In fact, they are not."
Figures from the Pinal County Sheriff's Office show major crimes in the county have either decreased or remained steady over the past three years. However, Babeu and Lt. Tamatha Villar said the information for this year is preliminary and does not provide a complete picture of crimes -- such as bodies found in suspicious circumstances -- likely linked to the border.
"I'm not making these things up," Babeu said. "There is more than enough stuff that's going on here, and the threat is real."
However Babeu's performance is judged, many people think his time as sheriff will be short because he will run for higher office. Ever the politician, Babeu said, "My goal is to serve an entire four-year term here and run for re-election in 2012. I love being the sheriff."