SPECIAL REPORT: Fear and Loathing in Prime Time

Media Matters Action Network released “Fear and Loathing in Prime Time: Immigration Myths and Cable News,” a report documenting the rhetoric surrounding illegal immigration on some of the most influential cable news shows. The report focuses on Lou Dobbs, Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck, showing that these shows overflow not just with vitriol, but also with a series of myths geared toward creating an anti-immigrant hysteria.
The key findings of this report are as follows:
Illegal Immigration and Crime: Although numerous studies have found that immigrants in general commit fewer crimes than native-born citizens, these programs are positively obsessed with the topic. During 2007, the alleged connection between illegal immigration and crime was discussed on 94 episodes of Lou Dobbs Tonight, 66 episodes of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, and 29 episodes of CNN Headline News’ Glenn Beck.

Illegal Immigration and Social Services: Undocumented immigrants are barred from receiving most federally provided social services and pay a variety of taxes, including sales, property (in the form of rent), and payroll taxes. Yet during 2007, the allegation that undocumented immigrants drain social services and/or don’t pay taxes was discussed on 71 episodes of Lou Dobbs Tonight, 13 episodes of Glenn Beck, and eight episodes of The O’Reilly Factor.

Myths and Urban Legends: Dobbs and Beck have perpetuated two related myths, that there are plans to construct a “NAFTA Superhighway” running from Mexico to Canada and that there are plans to join Mexico, Canada, and the United States in a “North American Union.” Dobbs has discussed the fictional North American Union on 52 separate programs during the past two years. All three programs, Lou Dobbs Tonight, Glenn Beck, and The O’Reilly Factor, have presented as fact the “reconquista” myth, which states that there is a movement afoot for Mexico to take over the American Southwest.

Unsubstantiated Allegations: On Lou Dobbs Tonight, viewers were told about a mythical explosion of leprosy cases due to illegal immigration and a mythical epidemic of voter fraud due to illegal immigration.

Dobbs Out Front: Of the three hosts examined in detail, Dobbs is the most obsessed with the topic; indeed, fully 70 percent of the 2007 episodes of Lou Dobbs Tonight contained a discussion of illegal immigration.
For the full report, click here.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund