On Wednesday’s Newsroom program, a report by CNN correspondent Joe Johns, along with a subsequent interview by anchor Rick Sanchez, raised the implication that anti-illegal immigration rhetoric, particularly from conservatives, might be partially to blame for a spike in so-called hate crimes against Latinos. During a clip in Johns’ report, which was about the recent murder of an immigrant from Ecuador by teenagers, columnist Ruben Navarrette speculated that "[w]hen people go out on the airwaves or in print or at the stump as a politician, and they beat that drum, they shouldn’t be surprised. At the end of the day, many people out there, and particularly young people, who are very impressionable, think, ‘Hey, you know what? This is one group we can do this to.’" At the end of his report, Johns added that "[t]he question that’s already being raised by activist groups in the newspapers is whether anti-immigrant rhetoric has created a climate for this kind of thing."
After the report, Sanchez interviewed Mark Potok of the liberal Southern Poverty Law Center, who added that "really, racist conspiracy theories and false propaganda....have made their way out into the larger anti-immigration movement -- the Minutemen groups and so on. And before you know it, they are on talk radio, they are on some cable news talk shows." Strangely, the CNN anchor then went on a bit of a tangent by bringing how Newsweek recently reported that "the Secret Service has now confirmed that threats against Barack Obama spiked when Sarah Palin began impugning his patriotism."
Johns’ report, which began just before the bottom of the 3 pm Eastern hour of the CNN program, focused on the recent murder of Marcello Lucero, and how his murder, allegedly by a group of teenagers on Long Island, might be part of a wider trend of "ethnically-motivated hate crimes." The CNN correspondent aired clips from a press conference where local Latino community leaders spoke out in anger in reaction to the murder, as well as reactions from other people in Suffolk County, New York. The only other clip came from Navarette, whose full quote is above. Besides the clips, Johns mentioned how "a recent Justice Department report shows Latinos are the chief victims of ethnically-motivated hate crimes" and how the report states that "Latinos were the victims of hate crimes 61 percent of the time."
After Johns' report, Sanchez went immediately to his interview of Potok. He praised Potok’s organization as he introduced him: "There is nobody in this country that does a better job monitoring and following this type of thing than the Southern Poverty Law Center. There are be -- they are to be commended for their work. I’ve worked with them many times on stories like this one, and we're -- we’re lucky enough to be joined now by Mark Potok. He’s one of the directors there at the Southern Poverty Law Center."
Sanchez then asked Potok, the head of the SPLC’s "Intelligence Project," if the Lucero case was an "isolated incident." He replied, "No, Rick, and thanks for the kind words about -- about SPLC. It’s not an isolated case, and what some of the other people in your setup piece said is absolutely true. You know, basically, what we’ve seen over the last seven or eight years is increasingly, the kind of demonization and vilification of immigrants, and specifically, immigrants with brown skin....and that has been driven entirely by their exploitation of the anti-immigration issue."
Note how Potok specifically avoided using the word "illegal," and used the more general (and more biased/loaded) label "anti-immigration." The CNN anchor himself actually used it in his next question: "Do you believe -- I was about to ask you. The anti-immigration issue, which is -- some great arguments that are made on both sides of this argument. But when it gets very personal, do some people get the impression it gives them a license to do things that they normally wouldn't do?"
Potok then went on the offensive in response to Sanchez’s question:
POTOK: Sure, and, you know, there may be, as you say, arguments on both sides. But here’s the bottom line. You know, what we are seeing happening is really, racist conspiracy theories and false propaganda -- ideas like, you know, one-third of American prison cells are filled by undocumented immigrants -- you know, Mexico is engaged in a secret conspiracy to reconquer the Southwestern United States. These ideas jump out of these white supremacist groups. They have made their way out into the larger anti-immigration movement -- the Minutemen groups and so on. And before you know it, they are on talk radio, they are on some cable news talk shows. You know --
SANCHEZ: Yeah --
POTOK: And they get out there into the minds of the population. And these alleged hate criminals, I have to say, these young guys, you know, they're classic in the sense that, you know, if, indeed, they’re guilty of what they're accused of, you know, they undoubtedly felt that they were somehow carrying out the wishes of their community, being good kids.
Strangely, the CNN anchor then brought up what he called a "similar issue" concerning Palin’s now famous "palling around with terrorists" line about Barack Obama’s association with William Ayers:
SANCHEZ: I’ve got to ask you, Mark, one quick question before you go. We did some research here and we found out that there is a report. It was filed by Newsweek. They say the Secret Service has now confirmed that threats against Barack Obama spiked when Sarah Palin began impugning his patriotism. I bring that up because it's similar to what you were just talking about. What do you take from that?
POTOK: Well, I think it's absolutely true, and I wouldn’t completely lay the blame at Sarah Palin’s feet. You know, I think the very idea of a black man being elected, you know, to the White House is shocking to some subset of the American, you know, kind of white population.
SANCHEZ: So you’re saying if you give them just the right information, you could kind of make them crazy with that?
POTOK: Well, I’m saying that when --
SANCHEZ: If you push them?
POTOK: -- when figures of authority, whether they be sort of pundits or preachers or politicians, say, you know, these people are coming here -- as one Congressman said not too long ago, to kill me and to kill you and to kill our families -- that, you know, some people, especially young men, take that message to heart, and before you know it they're, you know, going after somebody with a baseball bat and --
SANCHEZ: Mark Potok with the Southern Poverty Law Center. Mark, let’s do this again. Stay on top of it. We thank you, and we’ll continue to run these stories and let people know what's going on out there.
POTOK: Rick, thanks.
It should be noted that the SPLC has included mainstream conservative groups such as the Young Americans for Freedom on its "Intelligence Project" list of "hate groups."
While the "conservative" or any other analogous term isn’t used during either Johns’ report or Sanchez’s interview, it’s not that much of a jump to figure out who is being referred to when Navarette spoke of people who "go out on the airwaves or in print or at the stump as a politician, and they beat that drum" and when Potok referred to "the larger anti-immigration movement -- the Minutemen groups and so on," "talk radio," and "cable news talk shows."