Tim Graham at MRC has just released an excellent study of mainstream media coverage of the pro-illegal alien demonstrations from March through May 2006. A few of the conclusions:
■ 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). On the days of pro-illegal-alien rallies, their critics nearly disappeared from the screen. For instance, 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. When the debate shifted to Capitol Hill in May, coverage grew more balanced.
■ While conservative labels were common, liberal labels were rarely or never used. In the study period, reporters referred to “conservatives” or “conservative” groups 89 times, most intensely during legislative debate in May, when President Bush was presented as having to “appease” his “conservative” base. NBC’s Matt Lauer even referred to Bush’s base as the “far right.” By contrast, the “liberal” label was used only three times – all of them by ABC. CBS and NBC never used the word, even as hard-left protest organizers described the House bill on public radio as full of “horrendous and macabre clauses, fascist clauses.”
■ 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 the sympathetic stories of hard-working immigrant families, only six out of 320 stories mentioned studies that illegal aliens cost more to governments than they provide in tax dollars. Only six stories gave a mention to the problem of the cost or threat of criminal aliens.
■ The networks have not dropped the word “illegal” in favor of “undocumented” immigrants, although some reporters struggled to adopt clumsy liberal-preferred terminology. Groups like the National Association of Hispanic Journalists have urged their colleagues to never use the word “illegal,” but the word was still more than five times more common than “undocumented.” In 320 stories, there were 381 uses of the word “illegal,” and 73 uses of “undocumented.” But some reporters struggled to please: NBC’s Kevin Tibbles actually referred to protests by “those who critics call illegals.”
The report concludes with recommendations for a more balanced picture in network news coverage of the immigration debate.
Hey, maybe someone could cover the Mexican flag melee in Maywood, Calif. Not. Holding. My. Breath.