MSNBC’s May 26 special on immigration reform, “A Nation Divided,” was replete with unbalanced interviews with liberal activists and one-sided segments featuring only liberal positions on the controversial issue.
MSNBC anchor Contessa Brewer pitched softballs to Democrats Michael Nowakowski, vice mayor of Phoenix, and Raul Castro, former Arizona governor, without brining on guests to counter their liberal perspectives.
“The other thing that this really does is it puts businesses in the enforcement business, and responsible for making sure that their employees are here legally,” Brewer told Nowakowski. “The consequences for which could mean business owners lose their livelihoods.”
In the same interview, Brewer set up Nowakowski to bemoan the supposedly high cost of enforcing Arizona’s new immigration law, which empowers state authorities to inquire into a person’s legal status if there is reasonable suspicion that a person is in the country illegally.
“Like many states and cities across the nation, this municipality is strapped for cash,” Brewer declared. “So when you are faced with enforcement of this (law), prosecuting of this–and there is prosecution that’s put on the local authorities because of the businesses involved, what are you looking at?”
At the end of the interview, Brewer said Arizona Governor Janet Brewer, a Republican, declined multiple requests to appear on the show, but she did not mention making any effort to reach out to others who could have contrasted Nowakowski’s liberal views.
In her interview with Castro, Brewer failed to pressure the former governor to substantiate his claims that the new immigration law was “ill-conceived” and has “impaired relations” between the United States and Mexico. Instead, she asked him whether federal inaction on immigration reform compelled Arizona to take its own measures–a question Castro quickly dismissed.
When the interview concluded, Brewer reported that Castro was once nearly arrested while painting the fence outside his ranch. Castro claimed the border patrol would have never stopped to question him if he had been a blond haired, blue eyed, Caucasian. Despite making the implication that law enforcement officers engage in racial profiling, Brewer failed to bring on a guest who disagreed with Castro.
Brewer also interviewed an illegal immigrant who did not think he should be forced to return to Mexico, but did not produce a guest to make the alternative argument that the government should enforce the law and deport illegal immigrants.
With the phrase “Living in Limbo” displayed at the bottom of the screen, Brewer asked the illegal immigrant, “What do you think your life would look like if this Arizona law goes into effect and you were suddenly deported?”
In another segment, Telemundo’s Maria Celeste reported on a “heart-wrenching” story of two siblings whose mother was deported for overstaying her visa. With the phrase “Families Torn Apart” displayed prominently on the screen, the segment discussed the plight of the children in depth and only mentioned the illegal status of the mother in passing.
At one point before cutting to a commercial break, MSNBC displayed the following statistic: “The average undocumented immigrant pays 80,000 more in taxes than they use in government services.” The source of this statistic is the National Council of La Raza, a non-profit organization that advances liberal causes. But MSNBC failed to mention the organization’s liberal proclivities, passing the statistic off as a scientific finding from an impartial source.
Telemundo’s Jose Diaz-Balart, who co-hosted the one hour program, was markedly more balanced than Brewer. In an interview with Barry McCaffrey, a retired army general, Diaz-Balart questioned whether the 1,200 National Guard troops President Barack Obama committed to sending to the US-Mexico border would be enough to stem the tide of illegal immigration.
In another balanced segment, Diaz-Balart questioned Arizona Speaker of the House Kirk Adams, a Republican who supports the new state immigration law, and Ana Maria Polo, a judge and host of Case Closed on Telemundo who opposes the new law, with equal veracity.
A transcript of the relevant portions of the program can be found below:
MSNBC News Live
BREWER: All right, Jose. Thank you. You know, Arizona has a big fight on its hands here. Lawyers have filed at least four lawsuits against the state and its governor over the new immigration bill. Governor Jan Brewer, in fact, has just hired a private attorney to defend her rather than using the state's attorney general. Opponents are concerned officers will racially profile those suspected of being here illegally. But police have to have probable cause. So Phoenix police officers will get a six-minute refresher course in probable cause and reasonable suspicion. Tensions are running so high, the mayor Phil Gordon, who’s opposed to the new law, is now receiving police protection 24/7 because of death threats. Michael Nowakowski is vice mayor of phoenix. Talk to me a little bit about the situation you're facing where public officials taking a stand on public policy are getting death threats?
MICHAEL NOWAKOWSKI, vice mayor of Phoenix: You know, Contessa, it's really sad that you can't even voice your opinion anymore because you get death threats. I feel bad for the mayor and my other colleagues. We receive emails, we receive threats. It's really sad.
BREWER: Let's talk about the practical impact that's facing Phoenix now. Like many states and cities across the nation, this municipality is strapped for cash. When you are faced with enforcement of this, prosecuting of this, and there is prosecution that's put on the local authorities because of the businesses involved, what are you looking at?
NOWAKOWSKI: What we're looking at is over the next three to five years, $90 million that we're going to lose as the city of Phoenix. And that's not even including all the lawsuits. We believe we're going to get millions and millions of dollars in lawsuits. We just went through a $240 million budget cut. And we were able to overcome that by bringing people together and having a conversation. What's going on here is that people aren't having that conversation. We're not talking about what's good for the city of Phoenix, what's good for the state of Arizona. And this is going to cost us tons of money. The 287 g takes a seven-week course to just learn about federal law and immigration law. We're talking about a one hour to two-hour video that people are going to get trained on immigration law. It's not going to cut it.
BREWER: The other thing this really does is it puts businesses in the enforcement business. And responsible for making sure that their employees are here legally. The consequences for which could mean business owners lose their livelihoods.
NOWAKOWSKI: Absolutely. Even worse than that, you pick up one of your daughters -- let's say you're married and you have a daughter. You pick up one of your daughter's friends. They happen to be undocumented. You get pulled over for a simple traffic violation. You could get in trouble. You could get thrown in jail. Fines. Cars will be taken away from you. Are you going to start asking your friends' daughters are you here illegally? If you’re not here illegally? It's crazy.
BREWER: Michael, thank you very much. It's surprising there aren't more conversations happening around the business side of this. The fact that there is a real responsibility now and consequences on these businesses if they're not enforcing this law. By the way, we have repeatedly requested an interview with Governor Jan Brewer. And those requests were turned down.
My big question today, what should be our priority? Securing the border or immigration reform for illegal immigrants already here? A big chasm over those priorities. You can share your thoughts with me on Twitter, on Facebook and on e-mail. And we'll get through those at the end of the show. Jose...
BREWER: Jose, I went to Nogales, Arizona, yesterday, which is really the backyard of the immigration issue. And up on top of a hill overlooking the fence and the border check point, I met with a 94-year-old former governor. He’ll be 94 in a couple weeks. His name is Raul Castro. He moved here legally with his family as a young child then went to college, became Arizona's only Mexican-American governor. I asked him to weigh in on Arizona's new immigration law.
You're a lawyer and a former judge. What do you make of this law?
RAUL CASTRO, former Arizona governor: I think it's ill conceived. It's a law that's really impaired the relations between two countries, Mexico and the United States. Neighbors. We have good neighbors and bad neighbors. And I believe the US and Mexico have been good neighbors for many years. And this is an impairment.
BREWER: The governor of the state of Arizona, Jan Brewer, says something has to be done. The problem of the illegal immigration for Arizona is too big a burden. The federal government has not done its job in enforcing its laws, so Arizona was forced to take action. Do you buy that argument?
CASTRO: No, I don't. Number one, I will admit, what’s missing and lacking is a little diplomacy. I think that diplomacy has been lacking ,between Mexico and the United States. Both countries are get together. It's a twofold problem. It's a Mexican problem. It's an American problem. I think we have to get together and discuss and it and work it out. I worked in Mexico -- the State Department in the consular system. We had immigration problems. We discussed it, we talked about it. We were able to find a solution to it. This is missing.
BREWER: What could be done to solve the problem of illegal immigration by diplomacy that's not being done?
CASTRO: Well, I think, number one, Mexico should make an effort to prevent people from jumping over the fence, coming over the border. The constitution of Mexico provides that there must be free travel. In other words, you cannot keep people from traveling. But free travel does not mean to jump fences or dig tunnels. That means the Mexican government has a duty, aresponsibility to watch these borders, too.
BREWER: There's two big arguments that are people are using to tackle the problem of illegal immigration. One is that they're here working, taking jobs that Americans want.
CASTRO: I have never seen too many illegals take jobs that Americans had. I myself have been a farm worker. I worked as a farm worker in montana, Idaho, Oregon, whatever, working the bean fields. I couldn't get a job in the united states. As a schoolteacher with a college degree.
BREWER: You couldn't get a professional job?
CASTRO: A job of any kind or anything. I had to become a farm worker. Then I became a boxer. I used to box. Even today as I travel all over the United States, I find that at hotels and motels, who is doing the dirty work? The immigrants. The illegal immigrants coming in are doing that type of job. Why? Because the American people don't want to do that job.
BREWER: By the way, Governor Castro overcame those obstacles. He became, then, a superior court judge. He says during his time on the bench, his wife on a weekend sent him out to paint the fence and border patrol pulled up to his ranch, asked him for his papers. He said, ‘I don't have any papers.’ They said, ‘come on,’ they started to get out of their car, and go over and take him into custody. He said, ‘wait, wait, wait. Do you know who I am? Do you see the name on the outside of the ranch?’ They said are you Judge Castro? He said, ‘look, if I had been a blond haired, blue-eyed person outside painting my fence, border patrol would have never stopped.’
BREWER: Hello, everybody. I'm Contessa Brewer at ground zero for the debate over illegal immigration. And the target of Arizona's controversial new law, illegal immigrants themselves. And that would include a man I met yesterday. His name is Daniel. And he came to this country with his mother, who was running from a domestic violence situation, as a small child.
DANIEL, illegal immigrant: I came when I was 6 years old. I've never been back. I've had no reason to be back. My family is here. My life is here. And I just -- it sometimes feels I'm in this twilight zone that people tell me, ‘oh, you're Mexican. Go back to your country.’ I just can't get that in my head. Because this is my country. And this is my home. And I know nothing else. Imagine waking up one day and somebody telling you, ‘hey, go back to Russia. Go back to Germany.’ You have to idea, like, what those countries are or what it is to be there. I think it's out of this world.
BREWER: What do you think your life would look like if this Arizona law goes into effect and you were suddenly deported?
DANIEL: Well, after spending, you know, a few months at the horrible detention jail that we have here, I would probably be dropped off at the border with a lot of other families and youth that are just dropped out at the border -- dropped off at the border. And I would be finding or trying to find some money to call someone here in Arizona because I have no idea who to call in Mexico.
BREWER: You know, he's a college graduate. Completed a year of law school. Would love to be a US citizen legally. There's no path, Jose, for him to get there.
JOSE DIAZ-BALART, Telemundo anchor: That's right. There are millions of cases just like that.
--Alex Fitzsimmons is a News Analysis intern at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.