Election in The Streets:

How The Broadcast Networks Promote Illegal Immigration

4. While protests centered on underlining the vital role illegal aliens play in the American economy, the burdens of illegal immigration in added government costs or crime were barely covered.


While the networks poured out their air time to offer sympathetic stories of hard-working immigrant families, only six stories mentioned studies that illegal aliens cost more to taxpayers than they provide in tax dollars. Only six stories gave even a mention to the problem of the cost or threat of criminal aliens.

TextBox4This issue is strongly felt in poll results. On the August 10 Today, NBC’s Tim Russert explained his sense of public opinion: "In the generic sense, people say ‘We need strict enforcement. Build fences. Keep illegal immigrants out. We have to deal with this problem.’ When you humanize the problem and you have high school kids in the street marching, saying ‘I was born here, I’m an American citizen, don’t ship my Mom and Pop home,’ then it becomes a much different debate, and that’s what’s playing out in the streets and the halls of Congress." By focusing heavily on illegal aliens and their families, the networks were also hosting a "much different debate," not a debate about cost burdens or criminal aliens.

When CBS asked respondents in May if "illegal immigrants do more to strengthen the economy because they provide low-cost labor and they spend money, or do illegal immigrants do more to weaken the U.S. economy because they don’t pay all taxes, but use public services," only 22 percent said they strengthen the economy, and 70 percent felt they weaken the economy by draining public services.

A Fox poll in April read respondents a list of possible concerns over illegal immigration, and two led the list: 87 percent were concerned that aliens "overburden government programs and services" and 75 percent were concerned they "lead to an increase in crime."

ABC carried one mention of costs, and three of crime. CBS had three mentions of costs and two of crime, and NBC had only two mentions of cost and one of crime.

Costs. On the March 26 Sunday Morning, CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson noted: "While more than half the undocumented workers do pay federal taxes, it’s not enough to offset their much bigger drain on the federal budget for services like Medicaid, health care, and food stamps." An on-screen graph credited the Center for Immigration Studies. Attkisson mostly repeated that sentence two days later on The Early Show.

A handful of reports mentioned local cost burdens, not national ones. On the April 19 Nightline, ABC’s Chris Bury reported from Cochise County, Arizona that illegal aliens cost a small hospital there about $400,000 in health care just from May to December. NBC’s George Lewis passed along on May 17 that the mayor of Yuma, Arizona "says his city’s social services are burdened by illegal immigrants, that he wants Washington to crack down hard."

CBS, on the other hand, aired stories emphasizing the costs of deportation and decrying the "nasty" idea of keeping illegal aliens out of federal entitlement programs. On the April 18 Evening News, anchor Bob Schieffer introduced a story on how a new law signed by President Bush to keep illegal aliens out of the Medicaid program "could have a nasty side that is harmful to many U.S. citizens as well." Reporter Sharyn Alfonsi’s one-sided report used only liberal activists as she claimed the law "could hurt millions of honest Americans" who "don’t have the paperwork" of citizenship, "like the elderly and the mentally ill." On the April 19 Evening News, CBS reporter Byron Pitts underlined the cost of enforcing immigration laws: "Detaining and deporting aliens is an expensive business. Last year, it cost taxpayers $56 million in flights."

Crime. No story in the study period mentioned the problem of Latino criminal gangs, often heavy with illegal aliens, like the El Salvadoran gang Mara Salvatrucha 13, or MS-13, with an estimated 10,000 members. The biggest focus on crime came in stories on the town of Costa Mesa, California. Even when the subject featured more conservative spokesmen, the networks found controversy and threatening trends on the right, something they often underplayed or ignored on a day of celebrating protests. On the March 28 CBS Evening News, reporter Bill Whitaker reported the town voted to train police to perform the duties of federal immigration agents "to nab and deport criminals here illegally." The mayor of the town, Allan Mansoor, made friends with conservative Minuteman activists, described by Whitaker as "patriots to some, vigilantes to others." He concluded: "Costa Mesa is changing in ways both sides find threatening."

On that same night, NBC Nightly News reporter George Lewis also reported on Costa Mesa’s effort to "get rid of illegal immigrants who commit crimes." Lewis found "The mayor says that will make the city safer. His critics accuse him of grandstanding." The Minutemen were a "controversial citizens group." The mayor was given two soundbites, and his critics were given five.

On April 20, CBS anchor Bob Schieffer read this brief dispatch: "It turns out that immigration laws are also useful tools for getting sexual predators off the streets. Seen in this exclusive CBS News video, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in New York arrested 52 convicted child-sex offenders today from 14 countries. They’ll be deported for immigration violations." With exclusive video and a dramatic storyline, why couldn’t CBS manage more than a few seconds of anchorman air time on this?

Crime came up only once for ABC, only briefly mentioned by reporter Martha Raddatz as a GOP argument in favor of the wall in the San Diego area on the May 17 World News Tonight: "The senators say the 14-mile-long and 14-foot-high barrier has reduced crime and improved the economy in southern California," followed by Democrats doubting the effectiveness of more fencing.