MSNBC's prime-time "town hall" on immigration reform yesterday exemplified one of the more unseemly elements of media bias: brazen political advocacy disguised as an "honest conversation."
Attempting to pass itself off as a forum for voices on all sides of the immigration issue to elevate the dialogue, "Beyond Borderlines" featured droves of liberal guests who dismissed, admonished, and overwhelmed only token conservative opposition.
From the outset of the program, conservative guests were disadvantaged and drowned out. The "conversation," which touched on a wide-range of issues related to immigration reform, was steered by hosts Lawrence O'Donnell, who is a self-described socialist, and Maria Teresa Kumar, who is executive director of Voto Latino, a liberal immigration reform group.
Mike Cutler, one of the few guests who offered a contrasting perspective on the issue, was repeatedly attacked by Kumar, who oscillated between the conflicting roles of questioner and answerer, and the other panelists.
When Cutler, who served 30 years as an INS agent, proposed enforcing federal law to deal with the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants currently living in America, Kumar snapped back: "I think what the picture that Mr. Cutler is providing, actually, would devastate the United States economy – period."
O'Donnell took over the reins from there, encouraging Rosario Dawson, actress and co-founder of Voto Latino, to gang up on Cutler: "Rosario, what we're hearing from Mike is the strict enforcement school. And it seems to me it sounds a little bit like Arizona on steroids. How do you think that [illegal immigrants] would react to the kinds of things Mike is talking about? Do you think we would see this mass migration back across the southern border of tens of millions of people because they can't get a checking account?"
Dawson's response, instead of helping to shed light on a complicated public policy issue, distorted Arizona's popular immigration law: "SB-1070 is a law that makes us have to go around and point to people, are you a criminal? No. Are you a criminal? How about you?"
The actor/activist's own solution for dealing with the current illegal immigrant population mangled the conservative perspective and invoked racial overtones: "We can't keep going back to old pieces of paper, because according to old pieces of paper, I'm not allowed to vote and as a person of color, you weren't even considered a full human being. So, that's why we need to inject humanity into this situation."
Building on the recurring theme of mischaracterizing those who oppose liberal solutions to immigration reform, O'Donnell reflected on Nevada Republican Senate nominee Sharron Angle's "demonizing" campaign ad, and Dawson hinted that Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio condoned "voter intimidation" to keep illegal aliens from voting in the 2010 election.
Later in the two-hour program, O'Donnell capitalized on a viewer tweet to take cheap-shots at Cutler and conservative opponents: "Many small govt types yell abt sending undocumented ppl 'back.' What size govt agency would they create to execute this?" After reading the tweet, O'Donnell pressed Cutler: "You have estimated 30 million undocumented people in this country. How many millions of government workers would you have to hire to move them back across the border?"
To his credit, Cutler remained calm under pressure, attempting to redirect the discussion away from such a blatantly partisan topic. But Kumar, refusing to let Cutler talk about the real issue, picked up where O'Donnell left off: "You keep criminalizing the undocumented and that's not acceptable because they're workers, right? They're workers. They're parents. And they serve in our military. That is not okay."
Kumar, O'Donnell, and Dawson paid lip-service to border security, but their unvarnished opinion on securing the southern border was apparent every time they spewed invective at Cutler for supporting strong border enforcement measures.
At the top of the show, O'Donnell introduced a video featuring residents of Fremont, Nebraska, who discussed their concerns over the influx of illegal aliens into their community. During the second-hour, Dolores Huerta, described by O'Donnell as a "legendary co-founder" of the United Farm Workers Union, accused the residents of Fremont of being racist:
When we talk about the people that were recruited to work in the meat packing plants in Nebraska, if those were Canadians, you would not have that problem that you are seeing there. It would be very, very different...It's against the people of color. It's against the people from Mexico and the people from Central America and Latin America.
For lobbing such a baseless and insulting accusation, Huerta received not one iota of criticism from the rest of the liberal panel.
To illustrate the extent of MSNBC"s duplicity, even one of the so-called "conservative" guests was brought on to scold conservatives. Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of a Latino Partnerships for Conservative Principles, lambasted Sharron Angle and Tom Tancredo, among others, who have "actually hijacked the discussion of immigration within Republican ranks." Aguilar also implored Republicans to fight for "something constructive that goes beyond just enforcement-only options."
Throughout the "conversation," O'Donnell solicited audience questions, comments, and emails, most of which reinforced the viewpoints of the liberal guests. One audience member alluded to her disdain for Cutler before railing against America's "colonization and marginalization" of Latin America.
Another audience member took a pot-shot at Susana Martinez: "Governor-elect from New Mexico, Republican, ran on the platform of fear and really enforcing immigration laws, but had no knowledge of the DREAM Act, which is one of the most prominent, you know, legislation that is actually going to be in the lame duck session hopefully this upcoming week."
One of the only fair-minded guests, Telemundo's Jose Diaz-Balart extended a genuine olive branch to Cutler and proponents of strict enforcement:
But let's also see if there's not a common ground that we can find with the ranchers that are in the Arizona border and that feel that they should have the right to not have untold hundreds of people coming through their property every week, and they don't know who they are, and they may be led by a guy with an AK-47, who back home in Mexico was cutting heads off. Everyone has a right to be safe.
Unfortunately, few of the guests and neither host shared Diaz-Balart's level-headedness.
As NewsBusters reported back in May, MSNBC's biased coverage of immigration reform is nothing new. The cable network's "A Nation Divided" series drowned out the conservative message with a deluge of liberal guests and loaded questions designed to advance the liberal argument. Just like its predecessor, "Beyond Borderlines" failed to live up to its name.