How The GOP And Fox News Make Anti-Immigrant Ideas "Mainstream"

October 27, 2011 10:08 am ET — Salvatore Colleluori

Before the passage of SB 1070 in Arizona, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R) was mostly known for his harsh treatment of immigrants and forcing prisoners to wear pink underwear. However, Arpaio has recently become an unlikely GOP kingmaker. First, Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) called Arpaio to discuss immigration in September. Three hours after a second Perry call, Mitt Romney phoned Arpaio, too. Not to be outdone, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) paid a visit to Arpaio's office on a recent trip to Arizona, calling him "one of my heroes" and "the nation's sheriff." Even Herman Cain has bolstered his immigration credentials by visiting with Sheriff Joe.

Joe Arpaio

Despite falling approval ratings in his own state and separate Department of Justice and FBI investigations into his actions, Arpaio remains the star of the immigration enforcement movement. How has this extreme figure managed to get himself into the mainstream discussion of immigration issues? The promotion he receives on Fox News Channel certainly hasn't hurt. According to a new report by Media Matters for America, Fox hosted Arpaio eight times from April 13, 2010, through June 9, 2011, with virtually no criticism of his controversial statements and enforcement tactics.

In addition to Arpaio, Fox has given a platform to tough-talking Republican Arizona sheriffs Paul Babeu of Pinal County and Larry Deaver of Cochise County (who appeared 29 and three times, respectively). Thanks to their exposure on Fox, Babeu and Deaver have become figures on the front lines of "America's Third War" — a phrase coined by a Republican politician and adopted by the network. Although his views are welcome on Fox's airwaves, Babeu was asked to tone down his rhetoric by border town mayors who alleged that the sheriff's "misstatements" were cultivating "a culture of fear."

However, allegations that he has exaggerated the problems on the border have not prevented Babeu from becoming influential in Republican politics. When Romney couldn't get face time with Arpaio during a recent stop in Arizona, he settled for a meeting with Babeu instead. Babeu was also featured in Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) infamous "Complete the Danged Fence" ad in 2010, where the sheriff effectively pardoned the senator for his prior support of immigration reform by anointing him "one of us." After receiving so much attention, it's not surprising that Babeu has now announced an exploratory committee for a run for Congress.

In fact, McCain is the perfect example of how Republicans use Fox News to bolster their right-wing credibility on immigration. Facing a primary challenge from conservative radio host and former congressman J.D. Hayworth, McCain fended off attacks on his immigration record with a whopping 25 appearances on Fox between the passage of SB 1070 and the Arizona GOP primary. During one interview on The O'Reilly Factor, McCain justified probable racial profiling under the Arizona law by claiming there were "drivers of cars with illegals in it that are intentionally causing accidents on the freeway." Hayworth appeared on the network five times over the same period.