Election in The Streets:

How The Broadcast Networks Promote Illegal Immigration

2. Advocates of opening a wider path to citizenship were almost twice as likely to speak in news stories as advocates of stricter immigration control.

Advocates for amnesty and guest-worker programs drew 504 soundbites in the study period, compared to just 257 for tighter border control. (Sixty-nine soundbites were neutral). Soundbites were classified by the position they emphasized, meaning that for example, President Bush ended up on both sides of the soundbite count, depending on if he was emphasizing the need for a guest worker program or the need for a stiffer border presence.

On the days of pro-illegal-alien rallies, their critics nearly disappeared from the screen. On the night of April 10, the soundbite count on the three evening newscasts and ABC’s Nightline was 43 to 2 in favor of the protesters. On the night of May 1 on the same four shows, the soundbite count was 62 to 8.

The soundbites were designed to persuade the audience that aliens were Americans. On NBC, "Jorge, a Phoenix plumber," in the country illegally for 11 years, proclaimed "I pay taxes, I pay bills. We’ve sent kids to school. I take all responsibilities of any American." On ABC, one demonstrator, a New York union leader, decried the House bill as "entirely un-American. And it’s a shame. It’s hypocritical." The man explained he was "proud" of his "undocumented" entry: "I found my opportunity... I was able to build a family and get a shot at the American dream."

Chart2When the debate shifted from the streets to the Capitol in May, coverage grew more balanced. In late March and April, the soundbite disparity was 294 to 132. In May, it was 210 to 125. One reason for the shift in soundbites was the shift in stories. President Bush’s decision to ask the National Guard to help in controlling the border in May led to network stories on immigration enforcement.

Incoming CBS anchor Katie Couric told The Washington Post she hopes to take her newscast outside the Beltway and "hear from real people." For example, "On immigration, she says, CBS might interview a restaurant owner about illegal immigrants or a recent emigre from Guatemala." In fact, immigration coverage during the study period was loaded with recent immigrants and employers outside the world of the Beltway elites. On May 1, CBS’s Kelly Cobiella reported from Dodge City, Kansas, focusing on meat-packing immigrant Clemente Torres, now a legal citizen, who marched in the boycott, and a local furniture-store owner who insisted his employees come to work.

It’s inside-the-Beltway politicians who were barely included until the congressional debate in May. Even then, the most prominent politicians in the aftermath of President Bush’s proposal to add National Guard troops in support of the Border Patrol were border-state governors.