FLASHBACK: Lib Reporters Championed ’06 Illegal Immigrant Protests

News & Politics

Eighteen years ago this week, the liberal networks donated their airwaves to the cause of protesters seeking to kill a bill which would have increased the federal government’s ability to enforce immigration laws. The May 1, 2006 protests were part of a wave of activism that spring sponsored by left-wing groups aimed at derailing GOP efforts to curb illegal immigration — even as polls at the time showed four out of five Americans (81%) thought illegal immigration was “out of control.”

[For perspective: in 2006, there were a total of 1,089,096 encounters with illegal immigrants at all U.S. borders, according to government statistics. Under Joe Biden, those numbers were nearly three times higher last year (2023): a whopping 3,201,144 encounters. So what was regarded as “out of control” 18 years ago would today seem like great progress.]

We’ll never know if today’s situation would be significantly better if Congress had succeeded in passing new enforcement mechanisms in 2006. Back then, the networks helped immigration activists thwart these conservative proposals, with fawning and emotionally-charged coverage of these political marches — “people draping themselves in the American dream,” as one over-the-top morning host anchor enthused.

That spring, network correspondents invariably expressed admiration for the large size of the protests — as if a few hundred thousands of participants rendered the cause genuinely popular in a nation of 300 million. “[The immigration issue] erupted this weekend in mass demonstrations that matched the biggest of the civil rights movement or the Vietnam War,” CBS weekend anchor Mika Brzezinski enthused on March 26.

“Over the past several days, a protest movement has been born, erupting with a startling air of spontaneity in mass demonstrations,” ABC’s Terry Moran cheered the next day on Nightline. “You could hear the anger about the proposal before Congress that would criminalize illegal or undocumented immigrants and make it a felony to help them in any way.”

Three weeks later, another round of protests earned more free airtime. “Across the country today, hundreds of thousands of people came out in support of millions of undocumented workers,” ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas touted on the April 10 World News Tonight.

The tone was unquestionably sympathetic. “They are not American citizens yet, but they want to be. And from every corner of America, immigrants took to the streets today to ask for new immigration laws,” CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer applauded that same night. “Not since the protests of the Vietnam era has there been anything quite like it.”

Newspapers conveyed the same spin. “A Banner Day on the Mall,” declared the Washington Post the next morning, while USA Today heralded: “Historic rallies voice a ‘dream.”

On CBS’s The Early Show, co-host Harry Smith was giddy. “These demonstrations in all these cities across the country, hundreds of thousands of people, American flags unfurled, people draping themselves in the American dream….People literally all over the country walking away from their jobs to stand in the street and say, ‘I count for something,’” he beamed.

The biggest event came on May 1, and the networks supplied blanket coverage of the heavily-promoted event. “From coast to coast, from North to South, they wanted us to know what America would be like without them, and so millions of immigrants missed work, skipped school and marched in the streets,” CBS’s Schieffer explained on the Evening News.

Over on World News Tonight, ABC’s Vargas called it “an economic show of force by America’s illegal immigrants….They wanted to show America just how much the country and the economy depend on undocumented workers.”

“In Philadelphia today, huge crowds converged on the Liberty Bell. In Milwaukee, a massive march on the shores of Lake Michigan,” Terry Moran exulted on ABC’s Nightline. “Hundreds of thousands of workers, their families and supporters, took over the city streets today in a massive demonstration of sheer numerical power. It was breathtaking….”

The next morning on NBC’s Today, co-host Katie Couric chirped that the events were “shades of the early days of the civil rights movement.” Reporter Kevin Tibbles kept up the theme: “These people vow to continue their push for immigration reform, so those who critics call ‘illegals’ can continue to call America home.”

If there was any confusion about the political motivations at play, CBS carved out some airtime for a soon-to-be-famous Democratic Senator who had attached himself to the cause. “Unlike last month’s wave of demonstrations, politicians didn’t simply take notice. Today, many showed up,” correspondent Byron Pitts saluted on the May 1 Evening News.

Viewers then saw Pitts with then-Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who wagged his finger at Americans who thought immigration laws should be enforced. “We’ve been engaging in hypocrisy in this country. We don’t mind these folks mowing our lawns, or looking after our children, or serving us at restaurants, as long as they don’t actually ask for any rights in return.”

The MRC’s Tim Graham studied the broadcast network coverage that spring, documenting the gross imbalance. “Advocates of opening a wider path to citizenship were almost twice as likely to speak in news stories as advocates for stricter immigration control,” he discovered. Out of 830 soundbites, Graham found 504 (61%) advocated amnesty, vs. 257 (31%) who wanted tighter border controls. (The rest were neutral.)

Graham also found the networks essentially ignored topics that might harm the cause. Out of 309 stories (from March 25 through May 31, 2006), only six “mentioned studies that illegal aliens cost more to governments than they provide in tax dollars.” Similarly, only six stories mentioned crimes committed by illegal immigrants, and “no story in the study period mentioned the problem of Latino criminal gangs” infiltrating the United States.

Fast forward to 2024, and today’s utterly unrestrained immigration — and the Biden administration’s obvious tolerance of it — is the top reason voters oppose the President’s re-election this year. It would be ironic if today’s pro-immigration Democrats are booted as a delayed reaction to the liberal media’s assistance in short-circuiting attempts at tougher enforcement a generation ago.

For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.                        
 

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