The errors in National Public Radio's coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-3 decision to uphold Arizona's E-Verify law were so blatant and verifiable that the segment would have made a good candidate for one of NPR's famous April Fools Day reports. But the falsehoods that listeners heard in the "All Things Considered" segment are no joke. There has been no correction in the story online, which would indicate no one within the organization caught the errors.
I don't believe that "All Things Considered" intentionally lied to listeners. Supporters of unchecked illegal immigration spend millions of dollars every year on media mis-education campaigns. That's their right. But that's no excuse for professional reporters to fail to test the accuracy of their sources or to engage in inadvertent advocacy.
The first major error occurred before the host and legal affairs correspondent even got to the Supreme Court's decision. NPR's correspondent started things off by inaccurately describing a different Arizona bill (SB 1070) as requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone "they think on the street is illegally in the country." That's nonsense. Only after a “lawful stop, detention or arrest” does that law impose any obligation on the officer. This fundamental misunderstanding about SB 1070 from the legal affairs correspondent does not bode well for NPR's coverage of that case should it reach the Supreme Court.
The correspondent briefly recovered long enough to describe the mandatory E-Verify component of Arizona's employer sanctions law, but then inexplicably said, "Now, E-verify is a sort of a pilot computer-data-check system that Congress specifically made voluntary because about one out of five workers is erroneously reported as illegal because of mistaken name spellings, similar names, things like that." Wow. I still can't believe no one at NPR caught this. First, Congress did not make E-Verify voluntary because of an error rate. E-Verify was originally made voluntary because it was a pilot program. It has remained mostly voluntary against the wishes of American voters because the cheap labor lobby had been incredibly successful at keeping it that way until several states stepped up to the plate. But this is a small mistake compared to the "one out of five" whopper.
NPR's correspondent's approximation of an error rate for E-Verify isn't even close to the truth. The percentage of authorized workers run through E-Verify who receive tentative non-confirmations is 0.3 percent (three-tenths of one percent), and has been for at least two and a half years. An independent research firm studied data from June to September of 2008 and the Deputy Press Secretary of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services summed up the findings like this: "Quite simply, the error rate is less than 0.3 percent." Chief Justice Roberts referred to the correct statistic writing for the majority:
Statistics from Fiscal Year 2010, however, indicate that of the 15,640,167 E-Verify cases submitted, 98.3% were automatically confirmed as work authorized, 0.3% were confirmed as work authorized after contesting and resolving an initial nonconfirmation—an avenue available to all workers—and 1.43% were not found work authorized.
NPR did not have to read the Court's decision to get their facts straight. All they had to do was go to the USCIS website, where the most recent statistics are presented in a colorful pie chart. I don't know which source led NPR so astray, but somewhere, someone is getting high fives for pulling one over on the news team of "All Things Considered."
The damage continued. The correspondent closed the segment with a fear-mongering hypothetical, courtesy of a representative of the Chamber of Commerce: "Sheriff Joe runs amok, starts raiding the small businesses in a mall. You're down the street. You're not going to hire someone with an accent or who looks Hispanic. And then if you don't, then you get slammed on the other side by civil suits for discrimination."
This scare tactic didn't convince the Court, which noted that the Chamber of Commerce presented a false choice for employers. In the real world, Arizona employers don't have to fear sanctions if they just follow the law:
Employers enjoy safe harbors from liability when they use the I–9 system and E-Verify—as Arizona law requires them to do. The most rational path for employers is to obey the law—both the law barring the employment of unauthorized aliens and the law prohibiting discrimination—and there is no reason to suppose that Arizona employers will choose not to do so.
Reporters often talk about the heated rhetoric surrounding the immigration discussion. NPR and "All Things Considered" had an opportunity to throw some cold hard facts into the fire. Instead, they fanned the flames with falsehoods.
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Update: All Things Considered made a similar error just six months ago. They corrected themselves on December 14, 2010. In their correction, they explain that they got their faulty information from Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. Breyer himself never recanted and referenced the same false opinion writing the minority opinion for the Court. Why "All Things Considered" reverted back to the statistic they themselves admitted was wrong is anyone's guess. [I'm grateful to the NumbersUSA member who brought this to my attention.]
Updated: Mon, Oct 2nd 2017 @ 4:11pm EDT