The anti-immigrant reporting of Fox News Channel (FNC) comes as no surprise, considering that its viewership is similar to the base of the Republican Party-older white conservatives. The growing Latino share of the population, however, spurred the creation of the website Fox News Latino (FNL) to try to capture this audience.
Fox News president Roger Ailes (New Republic, 2/11/13), who oversees both outlets, describes the Latino demographic as both a “tremendous business opportunity” and a potentially capturable segment of the electorate: “The fact is, we have a lot-Republicans have a lot more opportunity for them.” Though he corrected himself-changing “we” to “Republicans”-for the long-time Republican operative Ailes, the political interests of the network and the party are interchangeable.
There have been various instances where both FNC and FNL covered the same story with different headlines catering to different audiences. For example, the liberal Media Matters (8/8/14) compared the two outlets’ use of different headlines to describe an unauthorized immigrant student receiving a scholarship for his immigration activism: The FNL headline (8/6/14) read: “In Rare Move, University Grants $22k Scholarship to Undocumented Student.”FNC went with the blunt slur of “Money for Illegals.”
But the differences between FNC and FNL go beyond headlines. Coverage of the child refugee crisis, where thousands of unaccompanied minors attempted to cross the southern border from Central American countries, provides a good case study.
Like other corporate media outlets, FNC largely avoided meaningful context by downplaying the violent conditions of the three Central American countries-Guate-mala, El Salvador and Honduras-that provided the bulk of the refugees (Extra!, 9/14). FNC consistently blamed the Obama administration’s supposedly lax immigration policies-particularly the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program-for encouraging young refugees to come.
Citing an El Paso Intelligence Center report (7/7/14; Breitbart Texas,7/14/14), FNC‘s Megyn Kelly (Kelly File, 7/16/14) asserted that children were crossing the border only because they “believe they will get asylum, thanks to policy statements by President Obama, and are not, as was claimed, fleeing any increased violence back at home.” Violence as the primary motive for these children leaving their countries was merely, as Bill O’Reilly (O’Reilly Factor, 7/16/14) put it, a “myth that the far left is putting out.” Reducing the emphasis on violence in those countries made it easier for FNC pundits and Republican lawmakers to call for the children’s swift deportation.
Over at FNL, meanwhile, a Q&A-style article (7/20/14), neutrally headlined “A Primer on the Border Crisis-Its Causes, Politics and the Bickering Among Lawmakers,” attempted to answer why there was a sudden influx of immigrant children. Its answer:
Crime, gang violence, poverty across Central America, a desire to reunite with parents or other relatives. White House officials also say smugglers have persuaded families to pay them to bring children to the US by lying to them about their fate in this country.
The FNL report was not exactly a mirror image of the FNC‘s, being more “fair and balanced.” Although FNL acknowledged harsh conditions in those countries were central factors, Republican criticisms of Obama’s DACA program, and suggestions that ending it might solve the problem, were also mentioned.
On Fox News Channel, the “immigrant child” would more likely be IDed as “illegal alien kid.”
A starker contrast could be found two months later. FNL (9/11/14) ran an exclusive and rather affecting report about five children fleeing gang violence in El Salvador. A gang had threatened to kill the children after they witnessed the gang shoot their 21-year-old neighbor. Their hometown was described as having a “far higher murder rate than the national average.” Their mother-who fled an abusive husband in El Salvador to live in the United States-had paid smugglers “tens of thousands of dollars” for their safe passage. Clearly, violence was a central theme to this particular story-as it was for the broader refugee crisis.
One would be hard-pressed to find such empathetic coverage on FNC. Unfortunately, the FNL piece was published in early September, when media coverage of the refugee crisis had largely subsided.
FNC, by that point, had shifted its attention to the purported negative impacts immigrant children would have on US public schools. Brenda Buttner, host of the FNC business program Bulls & Bears (8/9/14), prefaced a discussion on the surge of immigrant children: “Forget the Ebola scare. Is it really the back-to-school scare?” She briefly mentioned that some children were quarantined with chickenpox, but the panel discussion that followed focused on how much of a financial burden these children would become to local public school districts. While most states require children to be vaccinated against chickenpox anyway, telling viewers that their children are threatened by disease-carrying immigrants (who want to benefit from free public schools) is a great way to capitalize on xenophobic fears.
FNC emphasized the word “illegal” to describe immigrant children now in school. In two articles (8/30/14, 9/2/14) covering the “crisis in the classroom,” children were referred to as “illegal” a total of 11 times, with references to “illegal immigrant children,” “illegal minors” and “illegal alien kids” in the headlines, in quotes from Republican lawmakers and in the reporters’ own words.
When FNL (10/14/14) did its own reporting on the situation, the word “illegal” was never used to characterize the children. Instead, they opted to use alternative-and less pejorative-phrasing, such as “newly arrived migrants” and “unaccompanied minors.”
The tone of the coverage was also more sympathetic and lacking in fear-mongering. Instead of fixating on the supposed damage these children will do to US public schools, the story focused on the difficulties these children personally face in overcoming gaps in education and receiving social services. The story even mentions how violence in their home countries prevented traveling to school, which adds credence to the claim that violence is central to families’ decisions to migrate. Most of these details were absent in conservative FNCcoverage. And, once again, the story appeared on FNL only after FNC had already reported on it.
When comparing the content of the two outlets, Associated Press reports uploaded to the channels’ websites were not included. In 2013,AP (4/2/13) announced it would drop the use of “illegal immigrant” in its stories (FAIR Blog, 4/4/13), having concluded that “illegal” should only be used to describe actions, not people. (AP still accepts “illegal immigration.”)
Unsurprisingly, FNC (4/3/13) was critical of this change, given that the phrase is central to its immigration coverage. The headline for its report stressed that the changes were “under scrutiny,” although the report also quoted two supporters of the change: AP itself and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The three sources who defended the use of “illegal” were former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the conservative Media Research Center, and the Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee.
ALIPAC described AP‘s changes as “totalitarian steps to make ‘illegal immigrants’ disappear with a stroke of a pen,” and announced it would now refer to immigrants as “illegal invaders.” Such ultra right-wing vitriol was sure to rev up the anti-immigrant audience that FNC caters to.
The FNL version (4/2/13) used a more straightforward and neutral headline: “‘Illegal Immigrant’ Dropped From Associated Press Stylebook.” Journalist José Antonio Vargas, the Applied Research Center and AP (again) were mentioned as supporting the changes. For opposition, the right-wing Federation for American Immigration Reform and ALIPAC were represented, but ALIPAC’s vitriolic comments on the “totalitarian” changes and its determination to use “illegal invaders” were not mentioned, presumably so as not to alienate the Latino audience.
As long as violence and poverty exist in Latin America, they will likely be the central drivers for migration. It is politically convenient forFNC to whitewash the pervasive violence and harsh economic conditions of Central America-and ignore the contributions US policies have made to these conditions (FAIR Blog, 7/14/14).
The refugee crisis and the school problems that followed were stories framed as “illegals” coming to take advantage of the United States’ offerings. The repetition of this tired trope paves the way for the further antagonization of all immigrant communities. But most importantly to FNC, misrepresenting the Latino immigrant experience engages their white Republican viewership.
Meanwhile, by focusing on Latino issues without the xenophobic spin-and
occasionally providing insightful reporting that digs deep into the plight of immigrant Latinos-FNL is able to expose a broad Latino audience to conservative ideas that might lead them into the Republican fold. During the election season, FNL featured reports that focused on individual candidates and elected officials and their relationship to the Latino community. In 10 days shortly before the midterm elections (October 21-30), a total of seven Republicans had positive stories dedicated to them, including Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Jeb Bush’s son George P. Bush, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and two congressional candidates.
Five Democrats had stories dedicated to them, with three receiving positive coverage: Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Rep. Luis Gutierrez and a mayoral candidate in Rhode Island. The other two, who received more negative coverage, were Rep. Joe Garcia, who is fighting allegations of corruption, andHillary Clinton, who received flak from immigration activists-as if Republicans aren’t also criticized by immigration activists. For good measure, a Pew study (10/29/14) of “waning” Latino support for Democrats was also featured.
By fear-mongering about Latino immigrants, FNC is able to pander to xenophobic white conservatives who make up the base of the Republican Party, while FNL, with feel-good coverage of Latino conservatives, can make a bid to expand the party by bringing in Latinos. It’s a powerful strategy-so long as the two target audiences don’t compare notes.