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Hate Radio and the War on Immigration

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Unless the courts prevent it, the contentious Arizona immigration law Senate Bill 1070, which gives police power to racially profile people of color, will go into effect Thursday, July 29. Both friends and foes of the law are girding for battle, and the war of words is escalating. Language from opponents of the law like the Border Action Network, which plans protests and acts of civil disobedience in Arizona and across the country, is measured: they promise "civic engagement campaigns all over the state encouraging people to register to vote and to vote by mail."

The language from SB1070 supporters, however, is more virulent: a press release from Jim Gilchrist's Minuteman Project states they are rushing a delegation of lawmakers to the border. "We will be accompanied by armed Minutemen. Our guests are appraised of the situation and have made additional safety arrangements as well. The day of picnics and ice cream at the border is over," says Gilchrist.

Anti-immigrant rhetoric is ramping up on the public airwaves as well. On July 10, Arizona Republican Sheriff Paul Babeu told listeners of the openly "pro-white" Political Cesspool radio show they should apply for his department's "posse" program. (It is worth noting that, according to research from Media Matters, Babeu has appeared at least 18 times to promote the controversial law on Fox News, while two Arizona border sheriffs who spoke out against the law have never been invited to appear.)

The Clear Channel radio station in Columbus, Ohio has been running the following contest:"610 WTVN would like to send you where Americans are proud and illegals are scared, sunny Phoenix, Arizona! You'll spend a weekend chasing aliens and spending cash in the desert, just make sure you've got your green card! Win round trip airfare to Phoenix, hotel accommodations, and a few pesos in spending cash." Rush Limbaugh, predictably prevaricating on 600 radio stations, has targeted Flagstaff's City Council for their opposition to the law, resulting in death threats to council members. The list of hate radio rhetoric goes on and on and on.

Perhaps that's why Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) at the recent Netroots Nation convention (aimed at the progressive blogosphere) in Las Vegas told me he is targeting the media as a significant factor in the escalating war over immigration reform. "You've got Dobbs, you've got Beck... Dobbs for six to seven years has consistently been demonizing every immigrant as a criminal." Talk radio falsehoods such as increased border crime and beheadings in the desert are typical. "When people think that is 'news,' it's a problem," Grijalva says. "We're closed out of that media. There is no equal time."

The issue of media consolidation was a theme at the convention. Sen. Al Franken, (D-MN), told the audience in his keynote, "Resisting this trend towards media consolidation, resisting attacks on net neutrality - we should throw ourselves behind these causes with the same energy and urgency that we showed in 2006 and 2008." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, (D-NV), echoed those sentiments, deriding media consolidation and encouraging the bloggers to fight for net neutrality and "keep calling out the Right Wing on misinformation."

Tuscon Congressman Grijalva brought up Congress' rewrite of the Communications Act as a needed solution to the media misinformation problem. The 1996 rewrite of the Act deregulated radio ownership, changing the rule which capped radio ownership at 40 stations per person (corporate or otherwise,) and allowing companies like Clear Channel to buy unlimited numbers of radio stations. (Clear Channel snapped up 1200 stations at the time, and programmed most of them with "Conservative" Talk Radio.) The current rewrite, led by Senators Kerry (D-MA) and Rockefeller (D-WV) and Reps. Waxman (D-CA) and Boucher (D-VA), is mainly focusing on issues of net neutrality and broadband. "As we struggle with the Communications Act," say Grijalva, "it's all about new media. We need to take this opportunity to fix what's wrong with old media."