There’s at least one group happy about Robert Mueller’s Seinfeld-esque news conference about nothing on Wednesday: Left-wing cable news.
While Mueller did not add any information not already published in Volume 2 of his report, the spectacle should at least juice the dwindling post-Russiagate ratings of CNN and MSNBC. Call it a dead-cat bounce.
Last month, CNN’s viewership fell by a massive 41 percent among the 25 to 54 age demographic, while MSNBC’s fell by 36 percent. Aside from a slight pop that this Russia investigation denouement will offer, expect these low ratings to continue.
Fear sells. And without the Russia collusion threat to hawk, left-wing news outlets have less in stock. Scare stories, like the president of the United States being a Manchurian candidate, drive views and clicks. In contrast, stories about the booming economy, fast wage growth, and the lowest unemployment rate since The Beatles topped the charts don’t have the same visceral appeal.
As the late American novelist Michael Crichton explained in his 2004 masterwork “State of Fear“: “The politico-legal-media complex … is dedicated to promoting fear in the population — under the guise of promoting safety … Politicians need fears to control the population. Lawyers need dangers to litigate, and make money. The media need scare stories to capture an audience.”
Conservative media, led by The Daily Caller’s Chuck Ross and Kim Strassel at the Wall Street Journal, exposed the Russia conspiracy theory and many of the holes ignored by the mainstream. Conservative media has been vindicated.
However, conservative media has a Russian bogeyman of its own. One that it uses to drive fear, clicks, and views just like each Russian collusion “bombshell.” It’s immigration.
Conservative media devotes way too much time fear-mongering about immigrants. Scarcely a day goes by without conservative radio and Fox News hosts devoting large chunks of their programs to the immigration “crisis,” “catastrophe,” or “invasion.” Immigrants — most of the time illegal but also sometimes legal — are routinely depicted as dangerous, diseased, and wretched refuse who threaten American lives and livelihoods.
Conservative websites routinely run press releases disguised as news articles. A taste of the recent headlines: “Sanctuary Cities Stop Deportation of Illegal Aliens from Terrorist-Sponsored Nations”; “U.S. a Sinking Ship with Mass Immigration Crisis”; and “Green Card Holder Caused 28-Vehicle Crash That Killed Four Men.”
This portrayal of immigration as an existential threat to the U.S. is schtick. It’s a performance act to increase fear and drive viewership and ad sales.
Is the current situation at the border good? Of course not. I talked to a New Mexico resident this week whose family is being burdened by and feels vulnerable to migrants crossing through their private land. It would be better if those arriving could be vetted like our ancestors at Ellis Island. Are there public policy measures to further restrict welfare access to new immigrants to further protect taxpayers? Surely.
But migrants fleeing persecution and seeking a better life in America is the nation’s origin story. It shouldn’t keep you up worrying at night.
Like many so-called “crises,” the media and their sources trade insight for incite. Consider the most prominent restrictionist argument that immigrants drive down wages. This claim is presented as a given — an irreducible primary — in much of conservative media. Yet there is no apparent correlation between immigration levels and wages, which are both increasing in tandem. In fact, the parts of the country with the fastest wage growth have the most immigrants and the parts with the slowest have the fewest.
Even drilling down to low-skilled American wages, which supposedly are most affected by immigration, there’s no correlation. Wages among the bottom 10 percent of earners are growing about twice as fast as the population writ large. Blue-collar and non-supervisor wages are growing faster than the U.S. average, in spite of the constant handwringing over the fate of the American worker.
Why isn’t this common knowledge? Because it puts a stake through the heart of the profitable clickbait “immigrants reduce wages” argument on the right and “the economy is rigged” bluster on the left.
Russia collusion and “immigrant invasion” news consumers may think they’re just reading or watching the news. In reality, they’re being sold a bill of goods. But this is a dangerous game that the media’s playing. Because when viewers find out, they tune out.
Jordan Bruneau is an immigration policy analyst in Los Angeles.