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Cable News: Reporting the Facts or Betraying the Public Trust?

America's Voice | Released on 05/20/2008

New Report Shows Dobbs, Beck and O’Reilly Use Bully Pulpits To Peddle Intolerance and Misinformation About Immigration

Today, Media Matters released a new report entitled “Fear and Loathing in Prime Time: Immigration Myths and Cable News” that documents the extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric on certain cable TV programs. The report focuses on three commentators and their sponsoring networks-Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck of CNN, and Bill O’Reilly of Fox News-and concludes that their shows “overflow not just with vitriol, but also with a series of myths that feed viewers’ resentment and fears, seemingly geared toward creating anti-immigrant hysteria.”

The Media Matters report highlights the ways-some subtle and some not so subtle-in which these shows disseminate misinformation, perpetuate myths, and peddle hatred all under the auspices of “news” and under the protective cover of cable news executives who run CNN and Fox News.

“The time is long overdue to call cable corporate chieftains on the carpet for betraying the public trust,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice. “We cannot allow these ‘news’ show commentators to continue to feed the flames of fear and intolerance that breed anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States. As a nation, we must stand up and demand accountability. Dobbs, O’Reilly, and Beck should not be allowed to masquerade as providers of news when they are simply purveyors of intolerance. We need to expose the myths about immigration that these commentators espouse on a daily basis, and fight back with the truth.”

According to the report, some of the most common myths perpetuated by Dobbs, O’Reilly, and Beck during 2007 include the supposed connection between immigration and crime — mentioned a combined 189 times on these three shows – and the free ride that immigrants are purportedly getting through social services – mentioned a combined 92 times. According to Dobbs, O’Reilly, and Beck:

  • “Just about a third of the prison population in this country is estimated to be illegal aliens.” — Lou Dobbs Tonight, October 5, 2006
  • “Number one, the illegal aliens shouldn’t be here. And number two, the culture from which they come is a lot more violent than the USA.” — The O’Reilly Factor, January 15, 2007
  • “Every undocumented worker is an illegal immigrant, a criminal and a drain on our dwindling resources.” — Glenn Beck, September 4, 2007

This despite the fact that study after study finds these “facts” are really fiction. For example:

  • A 2005 study conducted by researchers from Harvard University and the University of Michigan revealed that immigrants committed fewer crimes than native-born citizens, and that a higher rate of immigrant residents in a given neighborhood actually correlated with lower, not higher, crime statistics.
  • According to a December 2007 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, “Over the past two decades, most efforts to estimate the fiscal impact of immigration in the United States have concluded that, in aggregate and over the long term, tax revenues of all types generated by immigrants — both legal and unauthorized — exceed the cost of the services they use.”

In addition to spreading false information about immigrants and their impact on our country, Dobbs, O’Reilly, and Beck often feature members of anti-immigrant groups on their shows and treat them as “experts” in immigration policy. For example, Lou Dobbs has quoted or interviewed the co-founders of the Minuteman Project a total of 42 times, a group that sends its members, bearing arms, to the border to look for people entering from Mexico.

“Corporate executives who support this three ring circus should know better,” added Sharry. “A good, lively debate on immigration is one thing. Shoddy reporting and bully tactics to prop up ratings at the expense of the truth is another. Cable news channels need to be held accountable for giving Dobbs, Beck, and O’Reilly a bully pulpit from which to peddle intolerance, fear, and misinformation under the guise of ‘news’.”

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