Obama Labor Pick: Media Must Be Held 'Accountable', Accused O'Reilly, Dobbs, Beck of Inciting 'Uneasiness' Toward Latinos

President Elect Barack Obama picked Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) as his Labor Secretary today. While groups like La Raza, N.O.W., and NARAL are likely to be pleased, Solis is also likely to please the liberal group Media Matters.

In late May of this year, she teamed up with Media Matters to present a report ( titled "Fear and Loathing in Prime Time/Immigration Myths and Cable News") that said cable news shows hosted by Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, and Lou Dobbs presented a negative image of “undocumented immigrants.”

Media Matters has the You Tube Video video here. At the very end of the video Solis says, “We all have to be responsible as well and make the cable companies responsible.”

On May 27th, Solis was interviewed by National Public Radio about the Media Matters report. The new censorship doctrine may very well come in the form of government-mandated diversification of media. Solis talks about wanting a more accountable media and that certain cable shows have already “incited” “hate crimes.” (my emphasis throughout:)

NPR: Last week you were part of a group of members who wanted to showcase a report by a media watchdog group. It said that certain cable news shows anchored by Lou Dobbs, Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck consistently present illegal immigrants in a negative light. That’s by the group called Media Matters. That’s a liberal group watchdog group. Now it’s not unusual for politicians to not like news coverage but it is unusual to single out specific shows and anchors. So why do you think that was important?

SOLIS: I joined in with Media Matters Action Network made up of different organizations, and I think it was at that point, I guess, where members of congress said, you know, we finally have some factual information presented by, we think, a very reputable group.  In fact, what we found in reading the report, that during 2007 Lou Dobbs program alleged 72 times that undocumented immigrants drained the social services and don’t pay taxes. That’s very misleading, because as we know undocumented people are prohibited from receiving any federal aid right now. That has been the law since 1996.

In fact, hate crime is growing in the Latino community against Latinos. In fact,  in a report also issued in November 2007 , the FBI said that there was an increase of anti-Latino crimes in 2004 by 25%. 

NPR: Are you saying though that you feel that cable news shows... these three shows which were the ones high lighted in this report are responsible for an increase in hate crimes?

SOLIS: They helped incite that uneasiness and because they repeat these stories over an over again there’s a tendency for people to believe in many cases the information that’s presented. And granted if you do that repeatedly most people will say, "well gee maybe its true," and unfortunately these three different cable programs have been the ones that have been most forceful in breeding this kind of anti-immigrant sentiment... and it isn’t just the Latinos it’s also toward people of color or people who are middle-eastern or even African American--- but what is really notable here is the increase against Latinos overall. So you can be here as a citizen,a naturalized citizen, a legal permanent resident, and you’ll still be profiled in a negative light.

NPR: But how do you know that? How do you know that they and the way they talk about these issues are responsible for that kind of..I think the report makes two points. One is that these programs emphasize the issue of illegal immigration to a great degree. It said that 70% of the 2007 episodes contained discussion of illegal immigration. That was Lou Dobbs’s program. 56% of the 2007 episodes on the O’Reilly Factor discussed it…and Glenn Beck 28%, but they also said that they also said they present this issue in a predominantly negative light and criticizing illegal immigrants. But how do you know that simply because they’re very concerned with this issue that they are in fact responsible for promoting hostile behavior toward people?

SOLIS: Well some of what they’re saying is inaccurate. I mean-- there has been reports by these news organizations so called fair and balance news organizations. Like immigrants, undocumented immigrants are spreading leprosy and all kinds of diseases and in fact there’s no verifiable evidence to show that, so I really do think that the way media…and we know how manipulative media can be in certain cases unless they’re held accountable and that’s all we’re asking here--that there be accountability that there be a balance here as well. That there also be a promotion of positive aspects of what immigrants have really brought to this country.

NPR: But what kind of accountability are you talking about? For example this is not this the first time particularly some lawmakers have weighed in a on a media issue. Earlier in the year, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus also weighed in on Kent Burns’s documentary about the war saying that they don't feel that the Latino experience was adequately covered. Some people raise the question is it really appropriate for elected officials to be trying shape news coverage? Isn’t that a slippery slope?

SOLIS: I don’t know that we’re really trying to shape it. I think what we’re saying is be balanced about it. Show the other side of the evidence and report accurately, and I think that’s where we’re really going. Why don’t we see more Latinos in the media? Why don’t you see any other commentators that can talk about our positive experience? Why does it always have to be shown in a negative light or used whenever there’s a crime "Latino of origin" or something that really depicts color and ethnicity as opposed to a person?   I think it’s a civil rights issue.

While Solis is not being chosen for an FCC position or a spot at Homeland Security her stances on immigration and media are still disturbing, as she will have the new President’s ear as part of his inner circle on his cabinet. After January 20, Media Matters and La Raza could very well find themselves seats in Obama’s cabinet through Congresswoman Solis.

***updated with name and link to Media Matters report