- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2008

For as long as there has been bad news, there have been people who have wanted to kill the messenger — or at least gag him.

For the Hispanic ethnic advocacy network — an assortment of foundation-funded organizations and even the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — the bad news appears to be the mounting body of evidence that mass illegal immigration is a fiscal drain on the resources of the United States, and that the status quo is inherently unfair to citizens and immigrants who play by the rules. But even more alarming from their perspective is that the mainstream media have begun to report the bad news.

Over the past year, since a reform bill that would have granted amnesty to about 13 million illegal aliens, the majority of whom hail from Mexico and other Latin American countries, went down to defeat, this ethnically-based advocacy network has become increasingly shrill in its demands that the media be gagged. Their first target was talk radio — the medium most directly associated with the defeat of the amnesty bill. But in recent months, they have turned their wrath on the big boys: broadcast and cable television news.

In a clearly orchestrated campaign of intimidation, the ethnic advocacy network is attempting to define any negative reporting about illegal immigration as “anti-Hispanic” at best, and bordering on hate speech at worst. Beginning with the National Council of La Raza, the largest and most lavishly funded of the ethnic advocacy groups, they are demanding what amounts to self-censorship on the part of the news media with regard to unfavorable news about illegal immigration; they are also cynically portraying negative coverage of those who violate our immigration laws as a slur against all people of Hispanic origin.

Recently, La Raza and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) have turned their guns on CBS News for airing a report about how America’s policy of birthright citizenship — not to mention public health care resources — is being abused by illegal aliens coming to the United States to give birth.

These groups’ crude attempt to bully network news executives into banning nearly all organizations advocating immigration enforcement from the airwaves has thus far been ignored. Nor have the network brass shown any inclination to muzzle some of the leading journalists on their networks who report regularly on the costs and problems associated with massive violation of our nation’s immigration laws.

Efforts to intimidate the news media into self-censorship are disturbing — even when they originate from advocacy groups with no regulatory power over the corporations that run the media. But when elected government officials get into the act, there is at least the implicit threat that if demands are not met, actions will be taken.

In a letter released on April 25, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus revealed that 20 members of Congress have been seeking, for some months, to go over the heads of news executives at CNN, by requesting a meeting with Jeff Bewkes, chief executive officer of Time Warner, CNN’s parent company. The Hispanic Caucus’ stated intent was to raise concerns about CNN host Lou Dobbs in particular and other unnamed reporters who have adopted “the language Lou Dobbs uses.”

To Mr. Bewkes’ credit, he referred the request to CNN President Jim Walton who, in turn, declined to meet with the lawmakers, stating that, “As a matter of long-standing policy, Time Warner’s corporate management never interferes with the editorial decision-making of its news operations.” There is almost no one who does not believe that the media is biased — and the public certainly has a right to complain when people feel the news is not being reported fairly. But rarely, if ever, have we witnessed this sort of coordinated campaign to dictate who may appear on the airwaves and what language is permissible.

It is both alarming and unprecedented that members of Congress, many of whom sit on committees that write laws that directly affect the corporations that run news organizations, have become part of the effort to influence media coverage of immigration issues. The First Amendment prohibits direct government censorship; but when elected officials become part of an effort to browbeat the media, one of our most cherished freedoms is placed in jeopardy.

Ira Mehlman is media director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.