Brian Williams Concedes Bias as NBC Discovers People Opposed to Illegal Immigration

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams conceded on Thursday's newscast that NBC has focused on the interests of those in favor of the immigration bill as he acknowledged “a lot of people” have a different perspective. A week after the immigration bill collapsed in the Senate, NBC got around to the other side -- but that's still sooner than ABC or CBS. With "Immigration Backlash" on screen, Williams explained how “as we have covered the immigration debate here, we have heard from numerous Americans who are trying to run businesses, make money and in some cases bring in ripe crops. They've been begging lawmakers for a workable immigration solution. A lot of people think this country is letting too many people in. Tonight we hear their take on immigration.”

In the subsequent report, David Gregory narrated video from North Carolina as he relayed how “a retired schoolteacher complains the reform plan ignores the steady flow of illegal immigrants” Gregory realized that “the anger in North Carolina is being felt around the country and it has created a nearly-unprecedented grassroots movement dedicated to defeating the immigration measure.” He characterized the view as part of “an anti-immigration assault” fueled by “opponents of the immigration bill who claim it's nothing more than amnesty for law breakers." But he then cited opposition to all immigration: "The issue cuts across party lines. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 50 percent of Republicans, 41 percent of independents, and 40 percent of Democrats think immigration hurts more than it helps.”

A year ago, the June 6, 2006 NBC Nightly News ran a piece from Gregory which looked at the immigration debate through the prism of illegals in Queens: “You see a neighborhood among the most diverse in the city on the leading edge of this fight. Some are afraid. Luis Amigo owns this bodaga. Here illegally, he says he won't visit his sister anymore, fearing he'll now get stuck in Mexico.” Gregory set up “community activist” Ana Maria Archilla: “Leaving really isn't an option?” And before a minister, who didn't differentiate between legal and illegal immigrants, argued that “we would fail our forefathers if we are not doing what we are supposed to do, to welcome immigrants,” Gregory delivered this chastisement of conservatives, “There is also this appeal: Don't let today's politics change the country.” (For a full rundown, scroll down to the second half of this NewsBusters posting.)

On Monday, the MRC distributed a Media Reality Check by Rich Noyes, “TV’s Paltry, Left-Leaning Immigration News; MRC Study: After Celebrating Immigration Bill’s Debut, ABC, CBS and NBC Mostly Ignored the Debate.” Noyes noted:
The costs of illegal immigration were mentioned just twice. In his May 22 commentary on CBS’s Early Show, Lou Dobbs revealed how "Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation estimates the net cost to our government and taxpayers could be more than $2.5 trillion over the next two decades." The only network news report on the subject came May 27, when NBC Nightly News reporter Robert Bazell used a small hospital in Arizona, as a case study: "The cost of treating non-citizens forced the Copper Queen [Hospital] to close its obstetrics unit....Nation-wide, undocumented immigrants cost the nation $6 billion a year for health care."
The caveat: May 27 was a Sunday, a night when Williams does not anchor.

A transcript of the June 14 NBC Nightly News story:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: The President today appealed once again for passage of that immigration deal in Washington and while they're still talking tonight, nothing has revived it since its collapse. As we have covered the immigration debate here, we have heard from numerous Americans who are trying to run businesses, make money and in some cases bring in ripe crops. They've been begging lawmakers for a workable immigration solution. A lot of people think this country is letting too many people in. Tonight we hear their take on immigration from NBC's David Gregory.

DAVID GREGORY: The rolling hills of North Carolina are nowhere near America's southern border, but even here feelings about immigration run red-hot. 64-year-old Beth Thomas, a retired schoolteacher, complains the reform plan ignores the steady flow of illegal immigrants.

BETH THOMAS: There is a way to come here through the legal channels, but just to cross our borders, break our laws is not the way to do it.

GREGORY: North Carolina has seen its Hispanic population increase almost 50 percent in five years. Many have come for construction jobs. Ray Faseola (sp?) moved to North Carolina from San Diego, where he blamed illegal immigration for overcrowding the schools. Now he says it's happening here.

RAY FASEOLA: They have to build new schools, they have to build onto the hospitals because they're taxing everything. The illegal immigrants here get it for free.

GREGORY: The anger in North Carolina is being felt around the country and it has created a nearly-unprecedented grassroots movement dedicated to defeating the immigration measure now being debated here in Washington.

LOU DOBBS ON CNN: What I am worried about is people in this government don't know what they're talking about.

RADIO TALK SHOW HOST ON KOA IN DENVER: I'm a Republican, I want tough immigration reform.

WOMAN IN TV AD: Where's the fence?

GREGORY: Fueling the fire, an anti-immigration assault. Opponents of the immigration bill who claim it's nothing more than amnesty for law breakers. The issue cuts across party lines. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 50 percent of Republicans, 41 percent of independents, and 40 percent of Democrats think immigration hurts more than it helps. Driving those numbers, say experts, the fact that illegal immigrants have moved beyond the border states to new communities.

DORIS MEISSNER, MIGRATION POLICY INSTITUTE: They're experiencing immigration in a way that is new to them. They see their communities changing, they see their schools changing and they see that very many of the people around them are here illegally.

GREGORY: A nation of immigrants divided over the question of who belongs. David Gregory, NBC News, Washington.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center