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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Media, Neo-Nazis, and Arizona

Skinhead wears nazi symbolsThe "papers please" law in Arizona has brought a lot of attention to the state. The media, always with an eye out for conflict, has spent most of their time looking at what both sides are saying about it, but very little time looking at the law itself. Someone in charge of the teevee machine decided to invoke the "equal time for nutjobs" rule. So we get one side saying one thing, another side saying something completely contradictory, and close to zero factchecking to see which side is right. So for the sake of argument, if one person points out that the law is unnecessary, while another says that illegal aliens are stealing peoples' brains to build a robot army, the TV media would treat these as equally valid points -- because that's "fair" and "unbiased." Television journalists must never allow themselves to be biased by the facts.

So, we don't find out that the law is, in fact, most likely unconstitutional. Or that the concern is about the rights of legal citizens, immigrants, students, and tourists -- not about protecting criminals from the consequence of crime. See, those things aren't as much fun as boiling the story down to two simplistic points of view, casting it as a difference of ideological opinion (rather than a difference in independent fact), and putting the whole thing across as a war of personalities, in the form of talking heads yelling at each other. So one side says one thing, the other says something completely different, no one bothers to point out what is and isn't true and, by the time the segment is over, you're just as uninformed as you were before you watched it. Oddly, watching two people with contradictory talking points isn't all that enlightening.

But if the media is doing a crappy job of reporting what's actually in the new law, they're also doing a bad job of showing who both sides actually are. The Republican Party itself is torn on the issue, making the left vs. right/"he said, she said" reporting more than a little dishonest. It's not left vs. right, it's left vs. half of the right, with the rest of the Republican Party running away from the issue as fast as they can. One reason for this is that many Republicans see the Hispanic vote slipping away rapidly. Another is that they know who a lot of the people behind the law are -- and they don't want to have anything to do with them.

If there's a center to the nativist universe right now, it's Arizona. Nativists are English-only, "America for Americans" types on steroids. In fact, in large part, they're white supremacist thugs. Hero of the nativist movement Joe Arpaio has a large fan base in the neo-nazi crowd. In fact, there's evidence of a working relationship between Arpaio and a supremacist group known as United for a Sovereign America. Likewise, the author of the bill that would later become the "papers please" law, Russell Pearce, also has a close relationship with the group's leader, J.T. Ready.

But it's much harder to put across the media narrative of an issue that's merely a difference of political opinion when you show who the sides in the argument actually are. On no cable network anywhere will an interviewer get caught dead saying, "The neo-nazi has a point. What's your response?" to a lawyer for the ACLU. So that whole "neo-nazi" thing becomes not so important. Without the conflict, you don't get the ratings. And, in an argument between self-avowed racists and just about anyone on the planet, the racists lose by default -- no more conflict. So we'll just keep this little skinhead thing under our reporter's hats. No sense in distracting everyone from a good, telegenic fight with a lot of facts.

And facts would be these people's deadliest enemy. One of the big catalysts of this law was the murder of a rancher in southern Arizona. Illegal alien drug smugglers killed Robert Krentz, because that's just what illegal alien drug smugglers do. Footprints led from the scene to the nearby border. Krentz death became the flag they rallied around, whipping up a "no one is safe" attitude. Rightwing blowhards went from claiming that illegal aliens "killed a rancher" to saying that they're "killing ranchers." Undocumented drug smugglers were everywhere and, if you didn't pass this law, they would kill you -- guaranteed.

But, again, the facts aren't the friend of the supremacist:

Arizona Daily Star:

The killing of a Southern Arizona rancher that sparked an outcry to secure the border was not random, and investigators are focusing on a suspect in the United States, the Arizona Daily Star has learned.

High-ranking government officials with credible information spoke to the Star, citing a desire to quell the fury over illegal immigration and drug smuggling set off by the shooting death of longtime rancher Robert Krentz on March 27.

So there actually isn't any evidence that the killer was illegal and the trail to the border wasn't the trail of the killer. In fact, at no time did authorities say they suspected an illegal immigrant -- everyone else did, to whip up anti-immigrant hysteria. But, as I say, facts are the enemy of the supremacist, so facts are out of the conversation.

On the other hand, another crime by someone not unknown has been getting a lot less attention.

Southern Poverty Law Center:

The relentless demonization of immigrants by hard-line nativist groups was punctuated by murder last year, when the leader of Minuteman American Defense (MAD) and two followers were accused of shooting a Latino man and his 9-year-old daughter to death in Arizona. The crime set off a firestorm of mutual recriminations among nativist leaders — but it did nothing to slow the movement’s growth.

The double murder took place near the town of Arivaca last May, when MAD leader Shawna Forde and two of her confederates allegedly stormed into the man’s house before being driven away by shots fired by his wounded wife, who reportedly later identified Forde as one of her attackers. Officials say that Forde wanted money to finance her group and believed her victims were cash-rich drug dealers.

Again, if this were to become part of the conversation, the weight would fall down against the pro-"papers please" side. So we'll just keep that to ourselves. Did I mention that Forde was also associated with Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), another group that backed the "papers please" law? I probably should.

So the "he said, she said" reporting going on right now requires a great deal of willful ignorance on the part of the media to sustain it. Illegal aliens probably didn't kill Krenz, but nativists did kill a father and a daughter. And, while the anti-immigrant side argues that undocumented Hispanics are invading America and taking over, Forde's motive in the killing was to help fund "a revolution against the United States government" and, one would assume, take over.

But hey, that's not what keeps the narrative going. The media has no interest in seeing a fight ended. There are no ratings in that, so there's no money in it. If the argument were suddenly to be revealed as "nazi vs. not-a-nazi," it's pretty obvious who would win here. So you just ignore all the nativism and supremacism and present the whole thing as an honest difference in policy. That's not to say that for some it isn't a legitimate policy issue. It's just to say that, for others, it's all about hate. You should know that, but you aren't being told.

Remember, the job of the TV talking head isn't to inform you. The job of the TV talking head is to get you to watch TV.


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