Media Matters' Kristian Ramos Outlines How "The Mainstream Media Legitimized" Anti-Immigrant Nativist Groups With White Nationalist Ties
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Throughout 2016, media outlets were complicit in mainstreaming the “nativist lobby,” made up of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and NumbersUSA, groups with ties to white supremacists whose mission is to drastically limit both legal and illegal immigration. Even though these groups have a record of producing shoddy research and pushing misinformation about immigrants, their agenda has now inspired many of President-elect Donald Trump’s immigration policies. Many mainstream media outlets contributed to the normalization of these nativist groups by repeatedly referencing them under the pretense of balance while failing to acknowledge their insidious anti-immigrant agenda or provide context about their nativist origins.
After President-elect Donald Trump pledged during his presidential run to rescind an executive action on immigration that protects from deportation thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors, cable news outlets routinely discussed the program as a political tool without explaining how it benefits Americans and the American economy.
The 2012 executive action known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, allows almost 800,000 people to study, work, and live their lives in the United States without fear of deportation. As a result of not being forced to live in the shadows, DACA recipients have generated more government revenue in the form of sales and property taxes, and created new jobs through increased consumer spending and boosted wages. The program has benefited the entire economy, but cable news coverage of DACA depicts the program as if it impacts only those who it protects from deportation.
Media Matters reviewed how evening news programs on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC covered DACA from August 31 -- when Trump announced he would put an end to the program -- to December 15. Of the 20 qualifying segments on DACA during that time period, its economic impact was mentioned only once. Even then, the discussion failed to provide many facts on the scope of the program’s benefits.
Meanwhile, new reports investigating the effect of rescinding DACA conclude that doing so would do more harm than good for all Americans, not just the thousands of undocumented immigrants protected by the program. On December 13, Univision reported on a study from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, which found that ending DACA would reduce contributions to Social Security and Medicare by $19.9 billion and $4.6 billion, respectively, over 10 years. On December 15, Telemundo reported that if approximately 3.4 million undocumented immigrant homeowners, many of whom are protected under DACA, lost protections from deportation, the resulting mass deportation “could hit the housing market, causing losses of up to $9.3 billion.” Additionally, a November 18 report by the Center for American Progress estimated that “ending DACA would wipe away at least $433.4 billion from the U.S. gross domestic product” over the next 10 years.
Cable news networks’ failure to connect the dots on how anti-immigration policies would negatively affect the economy is a disservice to voters whose decisions at the polls were guided by a desire for a strong economy.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts from Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC using the search terms "allcap(DACA) or dreamer or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" for programs airing between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. from August 31 through December 15. We reviewed the transcripts for segments discussing the economic impact of DACA. This included reports from correspondents and guest panels and excluded brief mentions of DACA that did not generate meaningful discussion between hosts or guests.
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Univision’s daily email brief cited the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), an anti-immigrant nativist group that often peddles in misinformation, continuing the leading Spanish-language media outlet’s pattern of promoting anti-immigrant groups and failing to label them as such.
The December 5 edition of Univision’s Daily Brief claimed, “New government data by the Center for Immigration Studies shows more than three million new documented and undocumented immigrants settled in the United States in 2014 and 2015 — a 39 percent increase over the prior two years.”
CIS is one of three anti-immigrant groups, all spearheaded by retired ophthalmologist John Tanton, that use the veneer of impartiality to inundate media outlets with false statistics and misinformation about immigrants. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated CIS -- along with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and NumbersUSA, both also founded by Tanton -- as anti-immigrant white nativist groups for their ties to racist extremists. CIS’ Jessica Vaughan, a right-wing media regular, has used her media platform to misinform about sanctuary cities and peddle lies about undocumented immigrants voting and being released to commit violent crimes.
Some media outlets, like The Daily Beast, have reported on this “shady network” of anti-immigrant groups that bolster right-wing media talking points and routinely creep into mainstream media, noting that their problematic studies are often characterized by a lack of context. Univision’s propensity to cite CIS and FAIR contributes to this dangerous media pattern and threatens the integrity of immigration information.
The Wall Street Journal opinion page provided a platform for serial misinformers -- citing discredited research -- to falsely suggest that a large number of noncitizens voted in the 2016 election. The evidence used by the authors, who have made careers out of pushing misleading claims to advocate for laws that would result in voter suppression, has been criticized by academics and flies in the face of data showing no evidence that noncitizens have voted in recent U.S. elections in any significant numbers.
In a November 30 op-ed, Hans von Spakovsky, a National Review contributor and a current senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and John Fund, a columnist for National Review, asserted that “there is a real chance that significant numbers of noncitizens and others are indeed voting illegally, perhaps enough to make up the margin in some elections.” The authors declare that “the honor system doesn’t work” and that “there are people—like those caught voting illegally—who are willing to exploit these weaknesses that damage election integrity.”
The evidence von Spakovsky and Fund cite to back up their claim is seriously misleading, is methodologically flawed, and has been debunked by experts. Von Spakovsky and Fund point to one “2012 study from the Pew Center on the States estimating that one out of every eight voter registrations is inaccurate, out-of-date or duplicate.” But as USA Today pointed out in a write-up of the study, “experts say there's no evidence that the [registration] errors lead to fraud on Election Day.” The article quoted David Becker, the director of Pew’s election initiatives, warning that “‘the perception of the possibility of fraud drives hyper-partisan policymaking.’”
The authors also cited a 2014 study that “used extensive survey data to estimate that 6.4% of the nation’s noncitizens voted in 2008 and that 2.2% voted in 2010.” That study was endlessly hyped by right-wing media, but Brian Schaffner, a political scientist who was “a member of the team that produces the datasets upon which that study was based,” wrote, “I can say unequivocally that this research is not only wrong, it is irresponsible social science and should never have been published in the first place. There is no evidence that non-citizens have voted in recent U.S. elections.” Another expert, Michael Tesler, pointed out that the study had “methodological challenges” that rendered its conclusions "tenuous at best.”
The authors additionally cited a Heritage Foundation report that they call “a list of more than 700 recent convictions for voter fraud” to dispute “academics who claim that voter fraud is vanishingly rare.” However, as FactCheck.org noted, the report found "less than a dozen individual cases of noncitizens convicted of registering or actually voting since 2000," and USA Today found that the report, which is “based largely on news clippings and news releases,” contains “only a handful of allegations of voter impersonation that voter ID could have prevented.”
In fact, a 2014 study conducted by Loyola University law professor Justin Levitt found only 31 credible allegations of in-person voter fraud among the more than 1 billion votes cast in "general, primary, special, and municipal elections from 2000 through 2014."
Von Spakovsky and Fund’s reliance on discredited research is no surprise, given their history of pushing misinformation about voting. Von Spakovsky, who has been featured on Fox News and on National Review for years, has demonstrated an unending willingness to distort the truth in the service of restrictive and discriminatory voter ID laws. Von Spakovsky, in particular, has repeatedly overstated the prevalence of in-person voter fraud and continues to push for voter ID laws that disproportionately affect minority communities and suppress legal voters. At National Review, he also characterized the modern civil rights movement as "indistinguishable" from "segregationists." Even former President Ronald Reagan’s attorney general Dick Thornburgh accused von Spakovsky of being “wrong on both the facts and the law.”
FAIR Is A Nativist Anti-Immigrant Hate Group, But Univision Won't Say So
Univision has continuously failed to provide proper context to its audience when interviewing members of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), by omitting the fact that the group is an anti-immigrant “hate group” with ties to the nativist movement and white nationalism.
During a November 29 segment about FAIR’s hard-line anti-immigrant policy proposals on Univision’s Noticiero Univisión, anchor Jorge Ramos and correspondent Janet Rodríguez both helped mainstream the group by labeling it a “conservative organization that opposes undocumented immigrants” and a “conservative anti-immigrant organization.” By simply labeling the group as “conservative,” Ramos and Rodríguez failed to properly identify the group’s nativist origins and extremism while interviewing FAIR spokesperson Jack Martin:
JORGE RAMOS (HOST): A well-known conservative organization that opposes undocumented immigrants is preparing a series of recommendations for the future Donald Trump presidency. Among the suggestions there is the elimination of the deferred action program and increasing deportations. Janet Rodríguez spoke with a leader of this organization.
JANET RODRÍGUEZ: If Donald Trump promised to be strict against undocumented immigrants, the organization proposing to advise him on this topic is even stricter. Today, the directors of FAIR, a conservative anti-immigrant organization, put forward a series of recommendations that they're making to the new administration.
JACK MARTIN: We think they will find these recommendations very favorable.
RODRÍGUEZ: For the first hundred days of the administration the organization is proposing that the president eliminate deferred action, withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities, restart workplace raids, and start building the wall.
MARTIN: Just being in the U.S. illegally should be enough for deportation.
RODRÍGUEZ: They say that during the first year the goal should be to limit reentry permits and Temporary Protected Status (TPS), eliminate the use of ankle monitors and conditional freedom, reviving the 287G program and the secure communities program. The plan is very similar to the one Kris Kobach, also an enemy of immigration reform, and who is looking to become the next secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He has presented the plan to the president-elect. But these are just recommendations, and the organization recognizes that perhaps the president-elect and the new Congress will never approve a plan as harsh as they'd like it to be.
This is not the first time Univision has provided FAIR with a platform to air its extremism without providing necessary context. On November 17, the network also featured Martin’s point of view devoid of context.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), FAIR earned the “hate group” label because of its history of “defending racism, encouraging xenophobia and nativism, and giving its all to efforts to keep America white.” FAIR also accepted funding from the Pioneer Fund, “a group founded to promote the genes of white colonials” which also “funds studies of race, intelligence and genetics.” SPLC also noted that FAIR has hired people who are also members of “white supremacist groups” to its top posts and specifically promoted “racist conspiracy theories about Latinos.” The group’s founder, John Tanton -- a current member of FAIR’s national board of advisers -- has “expressed his wish that America remain a majority-white population.”
In a July 22 report about the nativist influences on President-elect Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, The Daily Beast described FAIR’s work as an effort to “demonize immigrants" and explained that even conservative groups “loathe the Tanton network.” In addition the piece noted that before Trump, “these groups found themselves pushed to the margins of the conservative conversation of immigration.” Yet failures by the media to appropriately characterize groups like FAIR has allowed the group to pass as a mainstream conservative organization with a valid seat at the table in the immigration policy debate.
Spanish-language media has in the past failed to grasp the influence of white supremacy on anti-immigration sentiments. Regardless of whether the Trump administration implements FAIR’s policy proposals or not, providing hate groups with a platform could have an impact on rhetoric and negatively impact those affected by the immigration policies. As NPR’s Latino USA host pointed out in her coverage of virulent 2016 campaign rhetoric, “words are powerful; they can motivate people in good ways and bad.”
A New York Times article cited anti-immigrant groups Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and ignored their ties to nativists while reporting on sanctuary cities’ efforts to combat costly federal immigration proposals.
The November 27 Times report cited FAIR president Dan Stein and Center for Immigration Studies director of policy Jessica Vaughan. Both took the opportunity to advocate for President-elect Donald Trump’s proposal to cut federal funding to sanctuary cities unless they enforce immigration policy, a role that historically falls under the responsibility of the federal government. The article identified FAIR as a group that “opposes legalization for unauthorized immigrants” and said the Center for Immigration Studies “supports reduced immigration.”
FAIR, which has already influenced Trump’s immigration proposals, has ties to white supremacists and was labeled an anti-immigrant hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The founder of FAIR also helped launch the Center for Immigration Studies, which, like FAIR, uses the veneer of impartiality to inject lies about immigration into mainstream media. By including commentary from nativist groups while failing to properly identify them, the Times is recycling misinformation and robbing its audience of essential context. From the November 27 New York Times report:
Across the nation, officials in sanctuary cities are gearing up to oppose President-elect Donald J. Trump if he follows through on a campaign promise to deport millions of illegal immigrants. They are promising to maintain their policies of limiting local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration agents.
Supporters of tougher immigration policies, however, expect a swift response. Dan Stein, the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which opposes legalization for unauthorized immigrants, predicted “a very aggressive, no-holds-barred support for using the full power of the federal government to discourage this kind of interference.”
“These local politicians take it upon themselves to allow people who have been here for a long time to stay here and receive services,” Mr. Stein said. “The Trump administration is basically saying, ‘If you want to accommodate, don’t expect the rest of us to pay for your services.’”
Some believe Mr. Trump could go further than simply pulling federal funding, perhaps fighting such policies in court or even prosecuting city leaders.
“This is uncharted territory in some ways, to see if they’re just playing chicken, or see if they will relent,” said Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports reduced immigration.
Cities have “gotten away with this for a long time because the federal government has never attempted to crack down on them,” Ms. Vaughan said. [The New York Times, 11/27/16]
Kobach “Wrote The Book” On Muslim Registry And Was Behind Anti-Immigrant SB 1070
A reported architect behind President-elect Donald Trump’s extreme immigration proposals, radio host and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has received significant media attention following the announcement that he was joining Trump’s transition team. However, media outlets are failing to note his ties to hate groups and nativist organizations and his attacks on immigrants and LGBTQ people.
Attacking sanctuary cities is one of Fox News’ anti-immigrant battle cries, with many of the network’s talking points echoing the approach that anti-immigrant nativist organizations champion. These views have now percolated into President-elect Donald Trump’s policy plans, even though the talking points are unsubstantiated by reality.
Sanctuary cities are places where local authorities have enacted ordinances that limit local law enforcement from informing federal immigration authorities of the migratory status of undocumented immigrants. Demonizing the concept has been one of Fox News’ favorite pastimes. The networks’ hosts and anchors routinely misinform on the topic, from Bill O’Reilly saying sanctuary cities cause “anarchy,” Greg Jarrett saying officials in such cities are “breaking the law,” to Eric Bolling asserting that they “ignore federal law.”
Fox News discussions on the topic are likely to include the following set of misleading talking points, as illustrated by this segment on the November 15 edition of Happening Now: Local authorities are breaking federal law by enacting such ordinances; they should be charged; and federal funds should be withheld from such places as punishment.
Fox News’ talking points echo those of extreme anti-immigrant groups with nativist ties, like the Center of Immigrant Studies (CIS), which has praised congressional attempts to “withhold certain federal funds from sanctuary jurisdictions” and which gets invited to send its representatives on Fox to push their extreme views. Another such group is the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which has leaders with ties to white supremacists and which has pushed claims that sanctuary city policies “conflict with federal law.”
Trump has promised to “cancel all federal funding” to sanctuary cities within his first hundred days in office. And that promise is likely to be fulfilled given that his potential cabinet picks include anti-immigrant extremists like Kris Kobach, who has made a career out of pushing such legislation as Arizona's SB 1070 "papers-please" law (which encouraged ethnic profiling) and suing states for granting in-state tuition to undocumented students.
The facts on sanctuary cities are much different from what Fox dishonestly pushes. In reality, according to the Congressional Research Service, local legislation that makes a city or a state a “sanctuary city” does not break federal law. These ordinances are also constitutional “as long as sanctuary communities that choose not to ask about immigration status do not bar volunteer communications and follow other federal requirements,” according to legal experts. Additionally, law enforcement experts have noted that sanctuary cities can help deter crime, since they keep local law enforcement focused on local priorities rather than doing immigration enforcement, a role that historically falls under the responsibility of the federal government.
Even former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a current member of Trump’s transition team, admitted that Fox’s dishonest attacks on sanctuary cities are misguided by defending the similar policies he enacted in New York. Giuliani explained that sanctuary cities reduce crime by shifting the focus to actual immigrant criminals and away from undocumented crime victims who aid police, children whose parents may be undocumented, and undocumented people seeking emergency hospital treatment.
As Emory law professor and attorney Randy Kessler told CNN on the November 16 edition of Erin Burnett Outfront, “The local, state -- municipalities don’t have to do anything over and above enforcing their own laws, and if they are not interested in going to collect immigrants and deport them, then they’re not going to make it easy on Donald Trump or the federal investigators -- federal law enforcement who want to do that”:
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Cut Out The Punditry, Bring In The Experts
CNN’s immigration coverage could really use an upgrade if it is serious about informing audiences, especially those whose futures depend on the immigration policies President-elect Donald Trump’s administration ends up implementing. CNN could learn from Spanish-language networks Univision and Telemundo, whose segments on Trump’s immigration policies have featured experts on the issue and immigrants who are intimately knowledgeable about the topic, as opposed to panels featuring political pundits.
One of the issues that came out of Trump’s softball interview with CBS’s 60 minutes, was media speculation of a “softer” tone on immigration, since on CBS Trump seemed to diverge from his campaign promise of deporting all undocumented immigrants. To report on this apparent “softening” and its implications, the November 14 editions of Telemundo’s and Univision’s news shows featured immigration experts, like Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) executive director Angélica Salas and immigration attorney Ezequiel Hernández, as well as Lucia A Quiej, an undocumented immigrant who explained her fears regarding Trump’s uncertain plans. Univision also responsibly underlined that all discussions at the moment are only preliminary and that more will certainly be known after Trump’s inauguration takes place in January.
With the exception of an immigration attorney who wasn’t identified but appeared briefly on Early Start to talk to Brynn Gingras about anti-Trump protests, CNN’s coverage of the same topic on November 14 featured pundits and the network’s own political commentators, such as CNN’s Eugene Scott, Dana Bash, Errol Louis, Michael Smerconish, Maria Cardona, and Jeffrey Toobin. Other guests talking about the topic included The Daily Beast’s Patricia Murphy, Boston Globe’s Matt Viser, Trump supporter André Bauer, and The New York Times’ Alex Burns, none of whom provided a specialized opinion.
Trump ran a campaign based on extreme anti-immigrant promises. For a significant segment of this country’s population, information about this issue goes beyond political entertainment; it is a tool they need to plan out their futures. They’re waiting for information and listening to every news report on the issue that might determine their destinies. They’re better served by news networks giving their platform to experts who can add some value and produce informed discussions as opposed to well-meaning opinions.
Images by Sarah Wasko.
Latinos whose lives will be affected by what President-elect Donald Trump’s administration decides to do on the issue of immigration are getting two different messages depending on the language they speak and the news they watch. Conservatives addressing the issue are giving conflicting messages to different audiences, adding to the crippling uncertainty many immigrants are already experiencing. In the span of 12 hours, Telemundo’s Spanish-speaking viewers received a different narrative regarding Trump’s immigration plans than Fox News’ audience did.
On November 15, Trump’s transition team member Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is one of the major architects of Donald Trump’s extreme immigration proposals and has been described as an anti-immigrant zealot, appeared on Fox News’ Fox & Friends and declared regarding the future of undocumented immigrants that, “No person living here illegally gets a free pass.” This means any undocumented immigrant is vulnerable to deportation and contradicts reporting that Trump’s tone on immigration might be getting softer.
Just hours earlier, RNC Hispanic Media Communications Director Helen Aguirre Ferré reassured Telemundo’s Spanish-speaking audience that, “if you are undocumented, and you haven’t committed a penal crime, you have nothing to worry about” with regards to being deported. From the November 14 edition of Telemundo’s Noticiero Telemundo:
It is likely that Fox’s audience received the more accurate depiction of Trump’s immigration plan given Kobach’s prominent role in crafting Trump’s hardline immigration proposals and Aguirre Ferré’s record of attempting to sanitize the Trump campaign to Hispanic audiences. This media manipulation allows Trump to curry favor among the right-wing audience on Fox News while spreading a different message to the immigrant population who relies on Spanish-language media and whose uncertain future depends on Trump’s immigration policy.
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