Fox News not unanimous on the subject of Arizona crackdown, immigration reform
Whatever one thinks of it, Fox News is hugely influential as the nation’s top-rated cable news network. So its coverage of Arizona’s new get-tough immigration law deserves attention.
Fox News personalities– Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Shep Smith, Laura Ingraham– all have their particular stances on the subject of immigration. And that has shown over the last few days, when the immigration issue has received more coverage than any week in recent memory, thanks to Arizona’s new legislation.
The network is often characterized as a mouthpiece of the strident right. But the impression one gets watching Fox News is that whether by design or not, the network is not necessarily monolithic on the Arizona legislation and the linked subject of immigration reform on the federal level.
For the last few days, Arizona’s new Senate Bill 1070, which authorizes police to investigate individuals’ immigration status, has dominated newspaper front pages and cable news. Fox News has been no exception.
On Monday, I watched as Shep Smith, a daytime anchor, read off poll numbers from Rasmussen that said that while 70 percent of Arizonans support the new hardline legislation, over 50 percent also believe it will lead to racial profiling of Latinos. Smith shook his head, repeated the numbers apparently showing support for racial profiling and said, “sad.”
Later, anchor Neil Cavuto hosted Michelle Dellacroce of Mothers Against Illegal Aliens, who used the hateful term “anchor babies,” (a term nativists use to describe the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants). But Cavuto also grilled Dellacroce on whether the Arizona law would be subjected to scores of legal challenges that would cost the Arizona economy. “Let them sue,” Dellacroce responded.
Then, I watched Glenn Beck offer a complicated argument in favor of legal immigration and against illegal immigration.
He was speaking in favor of the Arizona law, and mounted a point-by-point challenge to Al Sharpton’s criticisms of it as racist policy. However, Beck did so making conciliatory statements about immigrants, even undocumented immigrants:
This is not to demonize those who are coming here illegally. I want to make this clear. I have a problem with illegal immigration. But the problem I have — the least problem I have is with the actual illegal immigrant. It’s with our government not enforcing our own laws and the businesses.
Beck was especially hard on the business owners and employers who hire and profit from undocumented immigrants, but are not prosecuted. “They’re not the ones being perp-walked,” Beck said.
And Laura Ingraham was anchoring on the O’Reilly Factor. Ingraham, in contrast to the show’s usual host Bill O’Reilly, is perhaps the Fox News figure who is most hard-line on immigration. In a segment on Arizona, she asked why immigrant protesters aren’t held to the same scrutiny as Tea Party protesters when their demonstrations and actions get unruly.
Finally, yesterday, Shep Smith was even more vocal about his criticisms of the Arizona law, calling it a “breathing while Latino law” and comparing it to a “driving while black law.” And also yesterday, Sarah Palin got in her two cents on Sean Hannity’s program, coming out in favor of the Arizona law, disputing that it was written in a manner that would allow racial profiling.
The law however, states that any “reasonable suspicion” is enough for a law officer to investigate the immigration status of an individual. Here’s the text of the law:
FOR ANY LAWFUL CONTACT MADE BY A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL OR AGENCY OF THIS STATE OR A COUNTY, CITY, TOWN OR OTHER POLITICAL SUBDIVISION OF THIS STATE WHERE REASONABLE SUSPICION EXISTS THAT THE PERSON IS AN ALIEN WHO IS UNLAWFULLY PRESENT IN THE UNITED STATES, A REASONABLE ATTEMPT SHALL BE MADE, WHEN PRACTICABLE, TO DETERMINE THE IMMIGRATION STATUS OF THE PERSON.
But then Palin also seemed to be speaking up in favor of a more rational, orderly and open immigration system that would make it easier for immigrants to work in the United States, and thus remove incentives that drive many to enter the country illegally. Or was she? It was hard to tease apart her argument:
I think that President Obama is playing to his base on this one. And I think that’s quite unfortunate because this isn’t fair to the legal immigrants. It’s not fair to illegal immigrants either, who do want to — many of them want to come here and find that pathway to citizenship. They [are] wanting to seek the right way to get over here.
I’ve written in the past on how Beck and Palin (and O’Reilly too) have made conciliatory noises and given small signals they would favor some form of comprehensive immigration reform that would make it easier for immigrants to enter the country legally.
Though Arizona’s crackdown may have fired up extremists on both sides of the issue, it also seems to have pushed the stable of Fox News opinion makers to be more public and thorough about their ideas on immigration. And in the end this transparency will be a good thing, as the public begins to parse who stands where, and the issue begins to be grappled with in earnest.
This post is cross-posted from New America Media, where it originally appeared.