Good Morning America's reporters on Tuesday hyperbolically attacked John McCain for creating a "firestorm" and a "political calamity" by suggesting that illegal immigrants have been responsible for fires in the southwest.
Reporter Clayton Sandell recounted the blaze in Arizona and hyperventilated, "Now, a political calamity has flared after Senator John McCain blamed at least some of the fires on illegal immigrants." He ignored mentioning the documented proof that illegals have been the cause of past fires.
[See video below. MP3 audio here.]
The journalist played a clip from Clarissa Martinez of the radical left-wing group La Raza. She attacked McCain for "demoniz[ing] Latinos." (Sandell referred to the militant organization simply as "immigrant rights advocates.")
Despite the over-the-top language, co-host Stephanopoulos seemed to backtrack when he actually interviewed the Republican Senator. He began, "I know that you said you weren't referring specifically to the fire in Eastern Arizona."
This didn't stop Stephanopoulos with asking the same question anyway: "But how do you respond to the critics we saw in Clayton's piece right there who say bringing illegal immigrants into the discussion in any way right is inflaming that debate especially when there is no evidence that illegal immigrants are to blame for this fire?"
McCain patiently explained the evidence to Stephanopoulos, pointing out, "But the fact is that as far back as 2006, the Forest Service testified before Congress and I quote 'Large numbers of warming and cooking fires built and abandoned by cross border violators have caused wildfires that have destroyed valuable, natural and cultural resources.'"
A transcript of the introductory segment and the first question to McCain can be found below:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Blaze of blame. Senator John McCain ignites a firestorm of controversy, suggesting that illegal immigrant may be to blame for massive western wildfires. He sets the record straight right here, live this morning.
ROBIN ROBERTS: Now, George, to the controversy over Arizona Senator John McCain and his charges some of the wildfires devastating his state may have been set by illegal immigrants. Clayton Sandell is in Sierra Vista, Arizona where he's checking into the facts behind McCain's comments. Good morning, Clayton.
CLAYTON SANDELL: Good morning, Robin. Firefighters have been working overnight here in Arizona. They've been setting backfires, hoping to protect several communities east of here. It's all happening at the same time Senator McCain is putting out a political fire. It is a season of fires stretching across the southwest. In New Mexico, flames are creeping towards Santa Fe.
SANDELL: Now, a political calamity has flared after Senator John McCain blamed at least some of the fires on illegal immigrants.
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: There is substantial evidence that some of these fires are caused by people who have crossed our border illegally. They have set fires because they want to signal others. They have set fires to keep warm.
SANDELL: Immigrant rights advocates pounced.
CLARISSA MARTINEZ (National Council of La Raza): The sad thing is that the intention was pretty clear and it was to demonize immigrants and to demonize Latinos.
SANDELL: The U.S. Forest Service says they have no evidence illegal immigrants are to blame for the fires burning in Arizona. But at least one local sheriff thinks McCain is right.
MAN: It wasn't the rabbits a rattlesnakes that started that fire.
ABC GRAPHIC: McCain's Firestorm: Did Illegal Immigrants Set Fires?
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's bring in Senator John McCain now. He joins us from Washington. And, Senator, thanks for joining us. I know that you said you weren't referring specifically to the fire in Eastern Arizona, but how do you respond to the critics we saw in Clayton's piece right there who say bringing illegal immigrants into the discussion in any way right is inflaming that debate especially when there is no evidence that illegal immigrants are to blame for this fire?
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Well, because in the question and answer period after our press conference, the issue was raised. Look, this is the toughest year that- in Arizona's history as far as fires are concerned. We're proud of the brave firefighters and all the other men and women involved in rescuing lives and property. But the fact is that as far back as 2006, the Forest Service testified before Congress and I quote "Large numbers of warming and cooking fires built and abandoned by cross border violators have caused wildfires that have destroyed valuable, natural and cultural resources." And go on to say that "armed smugglers have walked through the middle of active fire fighting operations.
The Coronado National Forest," that's where the monument fire is, "must now send armed officers to clear wild land fires or provide security for firefighters." Congressman Flake and I were briefed right at right before that press conference by the Forest Service official that this same situation exists. So, frankly, I'm not sure what all this controversy is about. A group of us senators asked for a GAO study on the same issue, and you just saw Sheriff Larry Dever, who will tell you that the monument fire was started when the park, when the forest was closed so anyone who was in there is illegal. So I'm not sure what all the controversy is about to tell you the truth.