Media Matters for America
July 16, 2010
by Jocelyn Fong
When a news outlet doesn't do their research, it's easy to get duped. And that's just what happened yesterday, when the Center for Immigration Studies got Fox News to repeatedly promote its "mini-documentary," "Hidden Cameras on the Arizona Border 2: Drugs, Guns, and 850 Illegal Aliens."
The video features footage from hidden cameras placed in the Tucson sector of Arizona, along trails frequently used by people who entered the country illegally. According to the video, the cameras captured "about 850 illegal aliens" in "60 days between February and March 2010." CIS says of its production: "At minimum, the inescapable conclusion is that hidden cameras reveal a reality that illegal-alien activity is escalating."
Well if CIS says such a conclusion is, "at minimum," "inescapable," Fox News shouldn't waste their time verifying the claim, right? How I wish it weren't so.
Over the course of three of Fox News' "straight news" programs, the hosts and correspondents channeled CIS's claims, treating the 10-minute documentary as groundbreaking. Bill Hemmer described the video as "shocking," Megyn Kelly called it "stunning," correspondent Molly Hennenberg uncritically reported that CIS "says these videos show the escalating illegal alien activity," and Bret Baier said the film "shows the situation along the border getting worse." Trace Gallagher further suggested that the video is evidence that "the feds" are not protecting the lands that appear in the video.
While Fox made a lot of conclusions, they certainly didn't provide a lot of facts. To a real news organization, it might have been a red flag that part of the evidence CIS provides for the claim that "illegal-alien activity is escalating" is a Power Point presentation about environmental damage that is six years old.
More notably, Fox News didn't even try to provide context for the number of undocumented immigrants that appear in the video. "850 illegal aliens" over "60 days" sure sounds like a lot. But in the Tucson Sector, where the hidden cameras were placed, Border Patrol apprehended 449,654 illegal immigrants in fiscal year 2001, the year Bush took office [Associated Press 10/01/02]. That's 1,232 people every day. In 2006, there were 1,074 apprehensions per day in the Tucson sector.
By fiscal year 2009, the number of Tucson sector apprehensions was down to 241,600, or 662 per day, reflecting a drop in the number of illegal immigrants attempting to enter the United States, due to the recession and increased enforcement. (The Southwest border and the Tucson sector are now policed by more Border Patrol agents than ever before.)
The number of illegal immigrants apprehended in the Tucson sector in 2009 was a 10-year-low and still 47 times the number of people who appear in the CIS video.
In short, the "mini-documentary" tells us nothing.
And yet Fox News says we should be shocked. What's truly shocking is that Fox has no understanding of what's been happening along the Arizona border for the past decade. And that instead of tracking down the relevant information, the network instead reproduces the claims of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group with a clear agenda, without blinking an eye (or asking question).