Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Conservative media consistently scapegoat undocumented immigrants, ACORN

SOURCE: Cynthia I.


Summary: In discussions of major news stories, conservatives in the media have repeatedly turned to two favorite bogeymen -- undocumented immigrants and ACORN -- in place of substantive analysis, even when those groups have little or nothing to do with the issue.

In coverage of major news stories, conservative media figures have repeatedly fallen back on two of their favorite bogeymen -- the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and undocumented immigrants -- frequently blaming national crises on one or both groups or accusing them of receiving undeserved benefits from the government. At best, these scapegoats are tenuously connected to the issues those figures are discussing; at worst, they are entirely unrelated. In some instances, the media linked their scapegoats to major news stories using misleading claims, and in others, they advanced outright falsehoods. Whatever the case may be, conservatives in the media consistently weave ACORN and undocumented immigrants into their coverage or commentary, instead of addressing the substantive policy issues or developing a cogent critique. Other media outlets follow the conservatives' lead, uncritically reporting their smears of ACORN and undocumented immigrants or reporting those smears as fact.

Media Matters for America has documented numerous instances in which conservative media outlets and figures have used ACORN and undocumented immigrants as scapegoats in reporting on major news stories recently, as well as other media outlets echoing their claims.

2008 financial crisis

Conservative media figures repeatedly invoked the specter of ACORN when discussing the causes of the financial crisis. For example, several in the media have claimed, suggested, or uncritically reported that ACORN contributed to the housing crisis by "bullying" banks into irresponsible lending to minorities. In many instances, media figures asserted that the group used the threat of the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) to intimidate banks into making risky loans. But as Media Matters documented, the media-promoted myth that the financial crisis was caused by banks lending irresponsibly to comply with the CRA has been widely discredited. According to housing experts, a large number of subprime loans were not made under the CRA, which applies only to depository institutions.

Media outlets and figures promoting the idea that ACORN contributed to the housing crisis include:

  • Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, during the April 3 edition of his nationally syndicated show
  • Conservative journalist Stanley Kurtz, in a September 29, 2008, New York Post op-ed and an October 7, 2008, National Review Online article
  • Then-chief White House correspondent Bret Baier, during an October 5, 2008, Fox News special, Saving Our Economy
  • The Washington Times' John McCaslin, in his October 14, 2008, "Inside the Beltway" column

In discussing the debate over the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (which created the Troubled Asset Relief Program), numerous media figures falsely claimed, suggested, or uncritically repeated Republicans' claims that Democrats were trying to steer money to ACORN through that legislation. In fact, neither the draft proposal nor the final version of the bill contained any language mentioning ACORN. Those making the false claim were misrepresenting a provision -- later removed -- that would have directed 20 percent of any profits realized on troubled assets purchased under the plan into two previously established funds: the Housing Trust Fund and the Capital Magnet Fund, which, under the law authorizing them, distribute funds through state block grants and through competitive application processes, respectively.

Examples of media figures falsely claiming or suggesting that Democrats sought to divert funding in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act to ACORN -- or of media uncritically repeating such claims -- include:

  • Host Lou Dobbs on the September 29, 2008, edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight
  • Politico's Daniel Libit, in a September 30, 2008, post to The Crypt
  • Host Steve Doocy during the October 1, 2008, edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends
  • Syndicated columnist Mona Charen, in an October 1, 2008, column
  • Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund, during the October 9, 2008, edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes
  • Baier, during the October 5, 2008, Fox News special Saving Our Economy
  • The Wall Street Journal, in an October 14, 2008, editorial

Conservative media figures have also claimed or suggested that excessive lending to undocumented immigrants is responsible for the financial crisis, citing no credible evidence to support that claim. In several instances, media figures have baselessly claimed that according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), 5 million mortgages taken out by undocumented immigrants are in default, or close to it. In fact, according to an October 9, 2008, Phoenix Business Journal article, HUD "says there is no basis to news reports that more than 5 million bad mortgages are held by illegal immigrants. A HUD spokesman said ... his agency has no data showing the number of illegal immigrants holding foreclosed or bad mortgages."

Nevertheless, conservative media figures continued to baselessly attribute the financial crisis in part to excessive lending to illegal immigrants, including:

  • San Diego radio host Roger Hedgcock and radio host Joe Madison, during the October 9, 2008, edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight
  • Phoenix radio station KFYI, in an article on its website
  • The Drudge Report in an October 9, 2008, link to the KFYI article
  • Limbaugh, during the October 10, 2008, broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show
  • Radio host Lee Rodgers, during the October, 10, 2008, broadcast of KSFO's The Lee Rodgers Show
  • Radio host Jim Quinn, during the October 10, 2008, broadcast of Clear Channel's The War Room with Quinn & Rose

Voter fraud

The media devoted great attention to charges of voter registration fraud throughout the coverage of the 2008 presidential primary and general election campaigns, repeatedly using those opportunities to smear ACORN and undocumented immigrants. Following reports that ACORN had submitted fraudulent voter registrations, some media figures falsely claimed that ACORN was accused of or involved in voter fraud that might alter the outcome of the 2008 election. Others repeatedly ignored relevant information in their coverage of allegations against the group, specifically: 1) that the statutes of most of the states in question require third parties registering prospective voters to submit all registration forms they receive; and 2) that actual instances of illegal votes being cast as a result of registration fraud are extremely rare.

Examples of media outlets falsely claiming that ACORN had been accused of committing voter fraud that would, in the words of a Washington Times editorial, "rig" the election, and examples of media ignoring or downplaying key facts concerning allegations against ACORN of voter registration fraud, include:

  • Numerous CNN segments aired from October 6, 2008, through October 15, 2008
  • The Wall Street Journal in an October 14, 2008, editorial
  • Host Megyn Kelly during the October 14, 2008, edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom
  • Syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor Dick Morris, during the October 15, 2008, edition of Fox & Friends

Additionally, conservative media figures advanced the myth that undocumented immigrants are attempting or are likely to attempt, en masse, to vote illegally. Among them were Fund -- who did so in his November 2, 2007, Wall Street Journal column and during the November 3, 2007, edition of Fox News' The Journal Editorial Report -- and Dobbs -- in numerous 2007 appearances on Lou Dobbs Tonight and CNN's Lou Dobbs This Week, as well as during the November 14, 2007, edition of CNN's The Situation Room. This myth gained traction in reports about former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's (D) plan to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver's license, which many in the media claimed would open the door to voter fraud by, they claimed, helping enable immigrants who are not here legally to register to vote.

2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act


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