Election in The Streets:
Table of Contents:
- Executive Summary
- 1. While they celebrated "massive" immigration protests with "huge" crowds, the broadcast networks largely avoided scientific polling data that showed that the protesters were in an overwhelming minority.
- 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.
- 3. While conservative labels were common, liberal labels were rarely or never used.
- 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.
- 5. The networks have not dropped the word "illegal" in favor of "undocumented" immigrants, although some reporters struggled to adopt clumsy liberal-preferred terminology.
1. While they celebrated "massive" immigration protests with "huge" crowds, the broadcast networks largely avoided scientific polling data that showed that the protesters were in an overwhelming minority.
Anchors and reporters emphasized and underlined the awakening of a "sleeping giant" of protest with 192 numerical descriptions of the size of protests across the nation or in individual cities. There were 140 superlative adjectives on attendance ("huge," "massive," "extraordinary"). Eighteen of those superlatives suggested the rallies were historic.
For instance, on the March 26 CBS Evening News, anchor Mika Brzezinski touted "mass demonstrations that matched the biggest of the civil rights movement or Vietnam War." On April 10, ABC World News Tonight anchor Elizabeth Vargas opened simply: "We begin with an unprecedented show of support for America’s illegal immigrants." CBS anchor Bob Schieffer argued: "Not since the protests of the Vietnam era has there been anything quite like it." On the May 1 Nightline, ABC host Terry Moran promised: "We have live reports from the epicenter of the protests. From the small towns, where the protesters made history." NBC repeatedly touted what they estimated were the largest rallies in history in individual towns, from Los Angeles to Dallas to Denver.
The networks didn’t even wait for the marches to take place before predicting the creation of history. ABC’s Kate Snow previewed the May 1 walkout with this opening on Good Morning America: "This is the number one radio show here in the morning here in NewYork City. It’s called ‘El Vacilon de Manana,’ and it is one of the forces behind what could be the largest immigrant walkout ever." On numerous occasions, anchors and reporters told viewers that enormous crowds were "expected" as the protests approached.
These claims to history or demands from the streets have not been channeled for the massive annual "March for Life" against abortion, which is routinely ignored by the networks. On the evening newscasts of January 23, 2006, aired hours after the pro-life protest concluded, CBS said nothing. NBC aired a three-sentence anchor brief. Only ABC had a story on abortion, which briefly used the protests as a news hook for a broader story on pro-life strategies to overturn Roe vs. Wade. There were no rave reviews of "huge" marches across America.
Certainly, the pro-illegal immigration rallies were large and provided visuals of waves of protesting humanity. But the networks aggressively pressed the case that these protests presented a demand that should be heeded in Washington. On May 2, CBS Early Show co-host Hannah Storm protested to the Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist: "Monday, over one million immigrants skipped work and skipped school and marched in streets across America. What is it going to take, Senator, for Congress to come together and institute some meaningful immigration reform?"
For one example of the flood of positive adjectives that accompanied the illegal-alien protests, consider Terry Moran’s salesmanship from Los Angeles on ABC’s Nightline May 1:
Today, this city saw a demonstration of epic proportions. A peaceful army of protesters, marching through the city streets. They’re just cleaning up after them behind me right now. It was a massive show of strength from Southern California’s immigrant community, angered by a proposed legislation in Congress that would make every illegal immigrant a felon. More on LA in a moment. But this was a national day of protest by immigrants and their supporters. About 400,000 people protested in Chicago, where marchers gathered in downtown park for one of the biggest events in the day. In Philadelphia today, huge crowds converged on the Liberty Bell. In Milwaukee, a massive march on the shores of Lake Michigan. And these are merely a few examples of the giant flex of immigrant muscle today....Hundreds of thousands of workers, their families and supporters, took over the city streets today in a massive demonstration of sheer numerical power. It was breathtaking. And across LA today, the impact of what was billed as the great American boycott was dramatic.
Allergic To Polls. In contrast to hundreds of words emphasizing the "wave" of "pro-immigrant" activism, the networks aired only 16 mentions of nationwide polls on immigration that might include the opinion of non-protesters: six on ABC, five on NBC, and five on CBS. That included scant acknowledgment of the networks’ own polls on immigration. The networks were not so reluctant to make routine mentions of the President’s "sagging"approval ratings, but on immigration, the polls were few.
Oddly, while Nightline was effusive about the protests, they were the most likely ABC program to offer viewers actual ABC News poll results. On April 10, host Terry Moran noted: "In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released today, 75 percent of Americans say the government is not doing enough to keep illegal aliens out of the country, but 63 percent favor a guest worker program that would allow illegal immigrants now working in the U.S. to apply for legal status and eventual citizenship."
On May 15, Moran reported: "The government’s inability to stem the tide of illegal immigration has enraged Mr. Bush’s conservative supporters. And it clearly troubles the general public. An ABC News poll tonight finds that 77 percent of the public feel the government is not doing enough to keep illegal immigrants from coming into the country. And 58 percent feel strongly about it."
On air, CBS twice mentioned its polls emphasizing support for a "guest worker" program after a long list of conditions. As part of the big April 10 protest coverage, CBS reporter Jim Axelrod announced: "According to a new CBS News poll, 74 percent of Americans favor allowing illegal immigrants to stay and work if they have been here at least five years, pay a fine and back taxes, speak English and don’t have a criminal record. But even if you wipe away all those conditions, more Americans still favor allowing illegals to apply for work permits than oppose the idea." (That number was 49 percent to 43 percent, with a three percent margin of error.) The next morning, the poll result was shortened. Co-host Julie Chen declared: "A new CBS News poll shows 74 percent of Americans favor legal status for immigrants who have been here for more than five years."
What Polls Were Missing? CBS did not cite its own poll findings that 87 percent (April 6-9) or 89 percent (May 4-8) of Americans said that the problem of illegal immigration was "very serious" or "somewhat serious." But CBS used the polls against President Bush. On March 30, Jim Axelrod noted Bush was facing "strong Republican opposition" and "attacks from his own party, who paint him as out of touch with Americans on immigration reform, since polls show most Americans think immigrants here illegally should be forced to go home."
NBC’s polling mentions in March were designed to highlight GOP fissures on immigration, a favorite NBC theme. On March 25, George Lewis singled out Republican numbers: "But according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 59 percent of Republicans disagree with a temporary worker program for illegal immigrants." But in fact, the poll results found 59 percent of all Americans disagreed with the temporary-worker program, not just Republicans. Two days later, David Gregory also singled out the GOP: "The public, polls show, considers illegal immigrants a major problem. But figuring out how to solve it has divided Congress and split the President’s base — the business community against grass-roots conservatives."
NBC never passed along that NBC’s pollsters asked their sample if they would be more likely or less likely to vote for a candidate "who favors tighter controls on illegal immigration," and 71 percent said more likely, and only 11 percent said less likely. But the tiny percentage who agreed with the liberal stance was not presented as a political problem for Democrats or left-wing protest organizers. In May, NBC twice acknowledged its own poll showed that people felt the one-day May 1 boycott against working and shopping would hurt rather than help the cause of illegal immigrants, by a margin of 57 to 17 percent. The other two networks didn’t notice.
Poll Showed Protests Didn’t Help. On the April 1 NBC Nightly News, reporter Kevin Corke touted a new Time poll showing 79 percent of Americans in favor of a guest worker program, but Time assured survey respondents that guest workers would be here "for a fixed period of time, so the government could keep track of them." The question as worded hardly suggested legalizing illegal aliens. Corke also noted 75 percent said illegals shouldn’t be eligible for government subsidies like food stamps.
None of the networks noticed this question in the Time poll: when asked if demonstrations by "immigrants and immigration rights advocates" would make them more likely to favor a guest worker program or more likely to favor laws that "make it a crime" to enter or work illegally, only 12 percent said demonstrations made them more likely to endorse the guest-worker program, compared to 35 percent who said it made them more likely to favor laws to "make it a crime" to enter or work here, and 49 percent who said protests "don’t have that much effect" on their opinion.