What’s Polarizing

CNN reports on Arizona’s new statute that makes illegal immigration a state crime. CNN’s theme: “Immigration law polarizes Arizonans.”

These days, Jessica Mejia doesn’t leave the house without three pieces of identification to prove her citizenship.
Mejia, a University of Arizona student who was born and raised in Tucson, says the habit formed last week, after a series of raids in Arizona targeting illegal immigrants. And now, a new state law that cracks down on illegal immigration has given her more cause for concern. …
Senate Bill 1070 is set to take effect in August or September, if it withstands legal challenges that a number of groups who oppose the legislation are expected to raise.
Mejia’s concerns were echoed by others in Tucson and across the country who oppose the legislation, which requires police to question people if they have reason to suspect they’re in the United States illegally….

CNN acknowledges that some Arizonans support the new law, but its account tilts heavily, in both volume and sympathy, toward its opponents. The law, after all, is “polarizing.”
That’s typical of news coverage of the Arizona statute. Google News lists over 4,000 stories about protests against the law; that is the overwhelming majority of all coverage. CNN reports that “Hundreds protest immigration law.” The Washington Post headlines, “Arizona immigration law protesters urge action.” The Associated Press finds newsworthy demonstrations against the law haven’t happened yet: “Illegal immigrant law opponents to rally in Arizona.”
But why, exactly, is the most newsworthy fact about the Arizona statute that it is “polarizing”? Why, exactly, are demonstrations against the law especially noteworthy? Most laws are the subject of controversy. Politics, by its nature, addresses issues about which people disagree. Actually, the Arizona law is supported by an unusual degree of consensus: polls indicate that 70 percent of Arizonans support it. So why do the small minority who oppose this particular law deserve top billing?
Compare and contrast: the Democrats’ health care takeover bill was deeply unpopular. It was opposed by a clear majority of Americans, and still is. Health care, like immigration, is a subject about which people care deeply. Hundreds of thousands of Americans, maybe millions, have turned out for demonstrations against Obamacare. There is now a major political movement dedicated to repealing the health care law.
Yet have you ever seen a newspaper story describing the Democrats’ health care bill as “polarizing”? I haven’t. Nor did news coverage of the bill’s passage focus primarily on the law’s opponents or treat their objections with near-universal sympathy.
Why the difference? Obviously, it is due to the fact that nearly all reporters and editors are Democrats. They favored Obamacare, even though most Americans didn’t, and for the most part, viewed those who protested against the government takeover with fear and loathing. Conversely, they are generally opposed to enforcement of the immigration laws, and their own opinion is the basis for their news stories on the subject.
Can we imagine a world in which our news outlets report that Obamacare is “polarizing,” and focus their coverage on sympathetic accounts of protests against it and legal challenges to it, while cheering enforcement of immigration laws? I don’t think we can, actually.

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