Missing: ‘Illegal Alien’ Disappears from Network Vocabulary


Monday's Supreme Court ruling
 on Arizona law did little to settle the nation’s ongoing battles over illegal immigration. But it did show how ABC, CBS and NBC have eradicated “politically incorrect” language out of their coverage of the debate.

In a span of six years major networks stopped using the terms “illegal alien” and “illegals.” The liberal media’s agenda is clear, and the word "illegal" is now considered a racial slur. In 2006, major networks CBS and ABC used the terms “illegals” and “illegal aliens” in their stories (NBC did not). Today, those terms have all but disappeared from network immigration reporting.

The change is clear evidence that pressure from activist groups is succeeding in eroding and altering the terms of debate. Sadly, the most influential of those activist groups may be the Society of Professional Journalists – the professional body that proclaims its mission as “improving and protecting journalism.” In 2011 SPJ decided to encourage newsrooms to discontinue using the terms “illegal alien” and “illegal immigrant” because it is “offensive” to Hispanics and immigrants.

A look at how the networks covered immigration issues just six years ago shows conclusive evidence. One of the largest immigrant rights rallies occurred on April 10, 2006, and in reporting about it the networks still referred to illegal immigrants as “illegal aliens,” or just “illegals.” Out of 76 stories, the term “illegal aliens” was used eight times and “illegals” nine times.

On CBS Morning News on April 11, 2006 anchor Susan McGinnis said “The rallies happened as a CBS News poll finds 74 percent of Americans support giving illegal aliens to stay under certain conditions.”

On April 10, 2006 Elizabeth Vargas on ABC's World News Tonight reported, “Protestors are particularly opposed to a bill passed in the House. It would create a 700 mile wall along the Mexican border and make it a felony for anyone to help an illegal alien.”

Fast forward to 2012 and it’s a different story altogether. In a series of 25 reports after the Arizona ruling major networks had completely eliminated the word “illegal alien” from news reports.  ABC reporters only used the word “illegal immigrant” once in stories, with no use of “illegals” or “illegal aliens.”

NBC opted to only use the term “illegal immigrants” in stories, while CBS reporters, who racked up the most uses in 2006, wielded “illegal alien” and “illegals” zero times. Usage of “illegal immigrants” was cut nearly in half, from 36 times to 17.

The networks, and many other media outlets, have adopted SPJ’s dishonest terminology and have in effect, chosen sides in a national debate. They’d be better served (as would SPJ itself) to adopt something else from SPJ: The part in its code of ethics that says, “Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting.”