Jeremy Beck's Picture

Updated:  

  by  Jeremy Beck

The mainstream news media is scrambling to explain why a "comprehensive" immigration bill that they virtually guaranteed would pass didn't. Many reporters and commentators echo the analysis of Molly Ball of the Atlantic who writes that the coalition of advocates for the Senate immigration bill is "no match for the illogic of today’s Washington, where political imperatives, voter preferences, and even the desires of moneyed interests are powerless to move House Republicans off a default stance of 'no.' "

A better explanation is that the Senate bill contained elements that remain deeply unpopular with the American public. Popular opposition to the bill increased as the public became more educated, leaving the House leadership with little option but to reject the Senate's effort.

As early as last November, President Obama indicated that his approach to immigration was going to be less about new ideas than about reviving the same proposals that caused voters to shut down the Capitol Switchboard in opposition in 2007.

"And when I say comprehensive immigration reform," he said at his November 14 press conference, "it's very similar to the outlines of previous immigration reform."

If the ideas weren't going to change, then Obama was going to have to convince Congress that public attitudes had.

Misleading polls and incomplete analyses have been key to the strategy to pass the Senate bill.

The amnesty and expansion lobbies rallying behind Obama's rehashed version of the failed 2006-2007 proposals use polling that finds support for a "path to citizenship" as evidence that the opposition of 2007 has given way to support in 2013. But those polls do not accurately describe the Senate bill and avoid talk of doubling temporary and permanent foreign workers.

The media took the bait hook, line, and sinker. With few exceptions, immigration reporters ignore unpopular details of the legislation like granting work permits to illegal workers before prevention measures were in place to protect the U.S. workforce. Much of the reporting has been wrong.

Reuters and the Wall Street Journal had to issue corrections to stories that carelessly and erroneously reported that the Senate bill required prevention measures before illegal workers could gain legal status and work permits. At least they did issue corrections. When a frustrated reader brought a similar error to the attention of Julia Preston of the New York Times, Preston responded, "I understand that you would like more emphasis on your point that the bill does not require any hard new enforcement from the outset, before provisional legal status could be granted to illegal immigrants." Neither the correction nor the emphasis ever came. Instead of getting the story straight on the question of triggers, the media dropped the issue altogether.

The media pays even less attention to the immigration increases in the Senate bill. From the beginning, the Senate bill was going to include a massive expansion of foreign workers. The only question was "how massive?"

But as the months passed, the question became "is anyone going ask?" The Senate bill's authors weren't sharing their numbers. Few in the media prompted them to.

After the legislation was introduced groups like NumbersUSA and the Center for American Progress, along with the Congressional Budget Office, determined that the Senate bill would add somewhere between 28 million and 33 million permanent legal workers to the labor force over ten years. That would constitute the largest immigration increase in American history, but few in the media outside of Neil Munro of the Daily Caller reported the figures.

President Obama often cites the support among CEOs for the Senate bill. But when Byron York of The Examiner reported that many of the corporations lobbying for more foreign workers were laying off Americans, the story never gained traction with the mainstream media.

What has gained traction are polls designed to show support for the Senate bill by using language that does not describe the Senate bill. Some of the more egregious stories and claims have been exposed, but the reporting has not improved.

Alexander Bolton's story "Poll: Majority oppose more foreign workers under immigration reform" is the exception to the rule. Polls that ask about support for increasing immigration or putting legalization before enforcement are rare and routinely ignored.

With the established media remaining silent, citizens have had to turn to other sources to learn abou the unpopular "reforms" with the Senate bill. Senator Marco Rubio was a difference maker in the early goings. His greatest achievement as a member of the "Gang of Eight" was stalling the conservative talk show outrage. When Rubio promised his bill would be enforcement-first, many believed him and withheld their judgment. Months later, when Rubio was forced to admit that his bill had no hard triggers for legalization, the talk shows lit up, but. But by then, the established media narrative was that the lack of talk show outrage was a sign of the public's changing attitudes towards comprehensive immigration reform.

Aside from misleading the public, immigration reporters may be misleading themselves.

The Senate bill is, as Obama promised, very much like the failed 2007 legislation that voters rejected. Polls that bother to ask find a public as opposed to legalization-before-enforcement and increases in foreign workers as they were six years ago. Bur after months of ignoring the bill's faults while pushing polls only vaguely related to the legislation, many in the media are left scrambling to explain how the Senate bill died in the House without acknowledging that the opposition is stronger than their preferred polling led them to believe.

JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
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