ABC World News Uses Scary Footage to Push Hate Crimes Bill

Want to use a news story to influence a House vote on a hate crimes bill?

 On the eve of the vote, lead with a close-up of skinheads presenting a Nazi salute. Run some scary shots of the Ku Klux Klan. It's a visceral, one-two punch.  You don't need to mention any legislation; you just need to paint a picture of out-of-control hate in need of a government solution.

That's just the manipulative trick that ABC News' World News with Charles Gibson played during its May 2 broadcast. Portraying the country as awash in hate groups was the perfect set-up to the next day's vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, where liberals rammed through a “hate crimes” bill by a vote of 237-180, largely along party lines.  President Bush has vowed to veto the bill.

Reporter Jim Avila's “Closer Look” story focused on the rising number of “hate groups” in America, in particular the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups targeting Latino immigrants.  His main source of information?  The hard-left Southern Poverty Law Center, a major backer of hate crimes legislation.

The real issue, however, was the bill pending before Congress that would, in the name of fighting “hate crimes,” infringe on religious liberty and lay the foundation for silencing opposition to the homosexual agenda.  Conservatives and libertarians characterize the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HR 1592) as “thought crime” legislation.


ABC ran the hate crimes story without mentioning the pending legislation in Congress.  Had they done so they would have been challenged to present the viewpoint of conservatives who adamantly oppose the legislation. 

Dr. James Dobson, a leading social conservative and Founder and Chairman of Focus on the Family Action, sent a message to supporters urging them to contact their representatives to vote against the bill.  His message states in part:  


“A 'hate-crimes' bill – which Sen. Ted Kennedy has been attempting to pass for six years – is about to be voted on in the House of Representatives. It is supposedly designed to stop acts of violence and verbal abuse against people in a newly protected class, i.e. homosexuals, bisexuals, transsexuals and others.

“…the true intent of the legislation is not to punish what is already illegal. It is ultimately designed to muzzle people of faith who dare to express their moral and biblical concerns about homosexuality. This subterfuge became clear when Republicans attempted to add a simple amendment protecting the rights of people of faith. The amendment, put forward by Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), read: 'Nothing in this section limits the religious freedom of any person or group under the Constitution.'

“Guess what? Every Democrat voted against it, and the measure failed. What is at stake here is freedom of speech and the expression of conscience. Without a huge outcry from the public expressed to the House, Senate and White House, it will become law.”

By focusing merely on the brutality of extremists, which included the story of a Mexican-American teenager beaten by teen skinheads, and undercover footage of a Klansman who made pipe bombs for the purpose of blowing up a bus full of Latinos, ABC painted a very stark picture of bigotry and racism.

ABC's story makes for powerful propaganda, but substandard journalism.  Reporter Jim Avila cited only the Southern Poverty Law Center and the teen victim as sources for their claim that hate groups are multiplying.

Avila: “Mark Potok tracks the Klan, neo-Nazis and skinheads for the Southern Poverty Law Center. And says since the year 2000, the number of hate groups is up 40 percent. From 602 to 844 today.”

Potok: “The reality is that the immigration issue has been very good to hate groups in America.”

Avila: “Even the Klan, nearly wiped out in the '90s, is rising again, burning crosses on the lawns of Hispanics, targeting immigrants, legal and illegal.”

By not casting its hate crimes story in the larger context of what is happening on Capitol Hill, ABC is guilty of bias by omission.  By relying only on the propaganda of far-left organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, ABC is guilty of bias by commission.  If World News wants to take a “Closer Look” at something, it should look more closely and critically.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.