The latest figures from the U.S. government show that while monthly border encounters decreased somewhat in June, they are still nearly twice as high as they were when President Biden first took office in January of 2021. But despite overcrowded processing facilities and thousands of unauthorized daily crossings, ABC, CBS, and NBC’s flagship evening newscasts prefer to cover the crisis from the perspective of illegal immigrants.
MRC analysts examined all broadcast coverage of America’s immigration crisis that aired between October 1, 2022 and July 20, 2023. Since our previous update in October of 2022, the big three broadcast networks have aired just over 254 minutes of border crisis coverage on their evening newscasts. However, less than 15 percent of that airtime (14.6%) discussed the issues posed by the massive influx of uninvited illegal aliens. For example, only 1.9 percent was spent on the massive amount of illegal substances being smuggled into the country.
The broadcast networks were intensely interested in Title 42 — a COVID-era restriction lifted in May of this year — and in fact that topic alone comprised more than half of their border coverage. Almost every discussion of Title 42 emphasized how difficult the restriction had made life for would-be illegal immigrants lined up at the border.
Title 42 was also the driving force behind immigration stories dealing with other topics. Reports about the five other topics listed above were much more frequent during December and May, when Title 42 was first kept in place by the Supreme Court, and then lifted by the Biden administration, respectively.
As is often the case with ABC, CBS, and NBC, the newscasts continued to focus almost exclusively on the plight of illegal immigrants. Nearly every full-length report included sound bites from migrants desperate to enter the United States. Throughout all 254 minutes of border coverage, they never once used the terms “illegal immigration,” “illegal immigrant,” or “illegal alien.” They also failed to report on a single crime committed by an illegal alien who had entered the country during this period.
During a World News Tonight report which aired January 9, 2023, ABC correspondent Mireya Villarreal conducted a sympathetic interview with an illegal immigrant identified as Andres:
Andres left poverty and corruption in Venezuela. Aware of the new restrictions keeping him from requesting asylum, he decided to cross into the U.S. anyway, fearing he’d be robbed or kidnapped. He says right now that he is very fearful that he will be deported, but also he has faith that they are going to help him here in the United States.
On the May 13, 2023 edition of NBC Nightly News, fill-in anchor José Díaz-Balart pontificated:
Whatever you think of the crisis at the border, it’s important to understand the reason so many have made this journey. They’re both running from something — violence, oppressive regimes, poverty, famine — and towards something: the hope of a better future.
The political fight in Washington over America’s porous border was also a heavily discussed topic (14.8%). Almost without exception, discussions about political issues involving the border portrayed Republicans as ruthless border hawks with no capacity for empathy. Meanwhile, the networks were quick to play defense for the Biden administration.
Meanwhile, when the number of daily encounters decreased in the days after Title 42 was lifted, CBS Evening News fill-in host Major Garrett was quick to notice: “The surge of migrants the Biden Administration was braced for has not materialized.”
Sunday NBC Nightly News host Kate Snow made this same point on May 14: “First, a reality check on what is happening at the U.S. southern border. While thousands of migrants are still coming across each day, the number has dropped dramatically.”
Dramatically is a relative term. Total border crossings decreased by less than one percent that month, to a still-staggering 206,702 reported land encounters.
For the broadcast networks, it was never a question of how many should be let in, or whom. Rather, the answer was already assumed to be, “everyone,” and the only question was how best to achieve that goal while making the process as comfortable as possible for the illegal entrants.