Discussing immigration reform legislation that had been under consideration in the U.S. Senate, "Gunny" Bob Newman on his June 26 Newsradio 850 KOA show made unsubstantiated claims and issued falsehoods about immigration and "amnesty." Most notably, he asserted that "between 18 and 28 percent" of prisoners in the United States are "illegals"; in fact, federal statistics indicate that the total noncitizen inmate figure in mid-2005 was 6.4 percent of the overall state and federal prison population, and the noncitizen prison population rose just slightly by mid-2006.
Asking whether "conservative news talk radio hosts such as myself [have] become too powerful and too influential, especially on this amnesty issue," host "Gunny" Bob Newman on his June 26 Newsradio 850 KOA broadcast made the unsubstantiated claim that "illegals" comprise "somewhere between 18 and 28 percent of [the population in] our jails and prisons." In fact, as Colorado Media Matters has noted, data from the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) suggest that the percentage of prisoners at the federal and state levels who are aliens is far lower than Newman claimed. According to BJS reports, about 6.4 percent of all state and federal inmates at midyear 2005 were "noncitizens" -- not just illegal immigrants -- and the total number of those prisoners rose by just 337 through midyear 2006.
Newman further asserted, "Conservative talk radio, and this program in particular, has led the charge against amnesty and those who support it." He later referenced U.S. Sen. Trent Lott's (R-MS) comment, reported by the Associated Press, that "[t]alk radio is running America. We have to deal with that problem." But in saying that Lott "wants to silence us," Newman did not note that Lott's comments stemmed from concern over the accuracy of talk radio hosts' statements about immigration and the Senate measure. As the AP article further reported, "Some hosts, [Lott] added, do not know what is in the lengthy bill." The legislation, Senate Bill 1639, on June 28 failed to advance to a vote.
NEWMAN: Conservative talk radio, and this program in particular, has led the charge against amnesty and those who support it. Now the Republicans and Democratic politicians in favor of amnesty are targeting me and my colleagues for fighting them. They want me, Rush [Limbaugh], [Sean] Hannity, [Laura] Ingraham and other popular true conservatives silenced via legislation that attacks the First Amendment. But would such legislation be successful? The Supreme Court just shot down part of the McCain-Feingold anti-free speech law. Have conservative news talk radio hosts such as myself become too powerful and too influential, especially on this amnesty issue? Trent Lott says we have, and he says he wants to silence us, because as he puts us, we run the country. Does conservative talk radio run the country on this amnesty issue? Or are we a voice of the majority of people on the issue? According to all the polls, we are.
While it is true that a Rasmussen Reports poll released June 25 indicated 50 percent of Americans opposed the Senate legislation, other polls have indicated majority support for key aspects of the failed bill, including a "path to citizenship" and even "amnesty" for illegal immigrants. For example, a June 13 Los Angeles Times article about a Times/Bloomberg poll released June 12 reported, "A strong majority of Americans -- including nearly two-thirds of Republicans -- favor allowing illegal immigrants to become citizens if they pay fines, learn English and meet other requirements." The article further reported, "That is a striking show of support for a primary element of an immigration overhaul bill that has stalled in the Senate amid conservative opposition. Only 23% of adults surveyed opposed allowing undocumented immigrants to gain legal status."
Similarly, The Pew Research Center found in a poll released June 7 that 54 percent of Americans surveyed favored providing illegal immigrants with "amnesty" if "they pass background checks, pay fines and have jobs," as Colorado Media Matters has noted.
Later in his broadcast, while arguing with a caller about what he called the "fact that illegals cause so many problems," Newman asked the caller to explain how "somewhere between 18 and 28 percent of our jails and prisons -- of course, depending on what state you're in -- are illegals." Newman later stated, "Three to 5 percent of our population, not the jail population, is illegal according to most of the studies that I have seen. Now, on the jail populations, I have read everywhere from 18 to 28 percent are illegals."
But according to the June 2007 BJS report, "State and Federal prisons held 91,426 noncitizens on June 30, 2006, an increase of 337 prisoners (or 0.4%) over 12 months" earlier. Further, as Colorado Media Matters has noted, BJS statistics show a steady decline in noncitizen prison populations in state and federal jails during the last four years. BJS reports for the years ending June 30 showed that in 2005, 6.4 percent of all state and federal inmates were legal and illegal noncitizens, down from 6.5 percent in 2004, 6.6 percent in 2003, and 6.9 percent in 2002.
Furthermore, as The New York Times pointed out in a May 30 article about immigration critic Lou Dobbs' claim that "one-third of the inmates in the federal prison system are illegal immigrants":
That's wrong, too. According to the Justice Department, 6 percent of prisoners in this country are noncitizens (compared with 7 percent of the population). For a variety of reasons, the crime rate is actually lower among immigrants than natives.
As Colorado Media Matters has documented, Newman frequently has used falsehoods and other misinformation on his program to support his arguments against immigration reform legislation. For example:
- After making the unsubstantiated claim that The National Council of La Raza is a "hard-core racist, separatist group" that had been "involved" in drafting the immigration reform measure, Newman asserted on his May 18 broadcast that the bill "is going to kill people." He further asserted that "treating the illegal aliens with dignity and with respect and with kindness and with generosity" was much more important to President Bush and the Senate leadership than "Americans not being run over by illegal aliens driving drunk" or "3-year-old girls not being molested and raped by illegal aliens, elderly people in their homes at night not being shot to death by illegal aliens who ... broke into their home."
- On his May 23 broadcast, Newman distorted the immigration bill's college tuition provision, known as "the DREAM Act," while expressing opposition to the bill. In addition to misleadingly calling the provision "Ted Kennedy's DREAM Act," Newman dubiously claimed that it would "grant illegal aliens the right to pay only ... in-state tuition fees." However, Newman omitted the fact that the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act merely would repeal a 1996 federal provision that bars states from providing in-state tuition to those "not lawfully present in the United States" unless the state also offers in-state tuition to all U.S. citizens or nationals regardless of residence.
- On his June 6 show, Newman falsely accused U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) of "vot[ing] in favor of felons receiving amnesty." Newman apparently was referring to Salazar's June 6 vote against a proposal (Senate Amendment 1184) by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) to bar felonious illegal immigrants from eligibility for the Senate's proposed "Z visa," which would have allowed illegal immigrants to work in the United States before beginning naturalization procedures. However, Newman ignored the fact that Salazar had voted earlier that day in favor of Senate Amendment 1333, which would have barred illegal immigrants who are sex offenders, felony drunk drivers, domestic abusers, firearms-related criminals, or associated with criminal gangs from entering the United States.
From the June 26 broadcast of Newsradio 850 KOA's The "Gunny" Bob Show:
NEWMAN: Why are you trying to get away from the fact that illegals cause so many problems and they re --
CALLER: I --
NEWMAN -- although they were -- depending on who you ask, but the generally accepted figure is 3 to 5 percent of our population is illegal. Now of course, that's just generally accepted. Who's right on that, I don't know. But when you look at our jail populations, how do you explain the, it being so disparate?
CALLER: Well, I think it's a dysfunctional people. I mean, but that's not the fact that they're illegal or not. There's dysfunctional people in the U.S. Probably far worse in some cases.
NEWMAN: But no, no, no. You're, you're dodging the question.
CALLER: No, I'm not.
NEWMAN: How do you -- how do you explain that if, if 3 to 5 percent, somewhere in there, of our population is illegal, and some, and depending on, you know, what, what figure you read, somewhere between 18 and 28 percent of our jails and prisons -- of course, depending on what state you're in -- are illegals. How do you explain that?
CALLER: What about the other 95 percent?
NEWMAN: No, no, no I want you to explain --
CALLER: No, what I'm saying --
NEWMAN: -- what I just asked.
CALLER: You're saying a small percentage of a hundred percent. And I, I -- I'd rather not deal with that, because that's --
NEWMAN: Because you're uncomfortable with it.
CALLER: No, no, no, because it's 5 percent. If it was 95 percent of our jails were full of illegals, I'd be happy to have that question.
NEWMAN: No, you, you -- you do not listening. Three to 5 percent of our population, not the jail population, is illegal according to most of the studies that I have seen. Now, on the jail populations, I have read everywhere from 18 to 28 percent are illegals.