Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jeff Sessions

Immigration, the Media, and Fictitious Conservative Heartlessness

President Obama’s threat to order an executive amnesty has touched off several simultaneous debates about the plan to legalize millions of illegal immigrants with the stroke of a pen. Left and right are arguing over: the premise of the plan that something must be done; the legality/constitutionality of the move; whether the actual policy aim would be attractive if done through Congress; whether the move would torpedo–again–comprehensive immigration reform; the resulting effect of the plan on future immigration; and other issues. And while the media have dumbed down this debate, no one has done so more plainly and in the service of self-aggrandizement than CNN’s Brian Stelter.

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President Obama’s threat to order an executive amnesty has touched off several simultaneous debates about the plan to legalize millions of illegal immigrants with the stroke of a pen. Left and right are arguing over: the premise of the plan that something must be done; the legality/constitutionality of the move; whether the actual policy aim would be attractive if done through Congress; whether the move would torpedo–again–comprehensive immigration reform; the resulting effect of the plan on future immigration; and other issues. And while the media have dumbed down this debate, no one has done so more plainly and in the service of self-aggrandizement than CNN’s Brian Stelter.

Stelter, the former New York Times media writer, hosts the Sunday morning show Reliable Sources, which examines the media coverage of major issues. Yet rather than offering some much-needed criticism, Stelter’s show has an unfortunate tendency to further elevate the media’s sense of self-importance. A case in point was yesterday’s “Red News/Blue News” segment on immigration.

The point of the regular segment is ostensibly to show how conservative and liberal outlets are covering a story, often talking right past each other. But yesterday Stelter took the opportunity to declare that the media weren’t reflecting the debate on the right and on the left; they were, instead, setting the terms of the debate for the brainwashed masses.

After playing a clip of Fox host Megyn Kelly interviewing GOP Senator Jeff Sessions about the executive amnesty and before putting up a clip of Charles Krauthammer using a form of “the I word,” as Stelter calls it–impeachment–Stelter says this:

Notice what the banner on the screen said. It said, “Plan May Let Millions of Illegals Stay,” illegals.

And when “The New York Times” confirmed FOX’s scoop in advance on Thursday, “The Times” headline said, plans may allow millions of immigrants to stay and work, immigrants.

See, it’s not really the numbers that are in dispute here. It’s not the facts or the figures. It’s the language, it’s the narrative. By Thursday, the FOX narrative was about lawlessness, President Obama acting unlawfully.

Stelter apparently wasn’t even listening to clip he played, because what he said is just plain wrong. But first, here’s how the “blue news” played it. “What you will almost never hear on FOX, though, what you’re unlikely to see on red state is the blue news narrative,” Stelter says. “That’s a very different one. That narrative is about families being wrecked by deportations and about a president standing up for what’s right and delivering on a campaign promise.”

Stelter then played a couple clips from liberal outlets, which included this exchange from MSNBC:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are American families that are being torn apart by a policy that doesn’t work.

ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: So why can’t a story like that move conservatives?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don’t understand how anyone couldn’t see the pro-family aspects of what we’re talking about here.

At that point, Stelter sought to wrap up the segment by imparting the following piece of wisdom to his viewers:

And I will try to answer that question for you. It’s because red news and blue news are talking about two separate things.

In this case, MSNBC is talking about what they would say is morality, while FOX is talking about what they would say is legality. Morality and legality.

There are two reactions to this. The first is that Stelter apparently believes that conservatives don’t see the liberal side of this issue because they watch Fox News, and vice versa. The idea that Fox brainwashes its viewers rather than reflecting the debate they’re having amongst themselves but can’t find on the other mainstream media channels is certainly a popular idea among leftists who want to discredit both Fox and the conservative movement.

Though most intelligent people know it’s just a caricature, the left’s extreme partisans don’t know or don’t care. For Stelter to trade in this tells you that media critics, like the supposedly nonpartisan “fact checker” columnists in newspapers, are simply joining the debate on one side, not enlightening their audience with honest assessments. And in defense of liberal viewers, the same can be said of Stelter’s judgment of “blue news.” I can assure Stelter that MSNBC and its nine viewers are not setting the agenda of American liberalism.

The second response to Stelter’s segment is to note that even the Fox programs that his staff researchers watch for his show prep don’t say what Stelter says they say. Here is the text of the brief clip Stelter played of Sessions’s response to Kelly:

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: And every one of these individuals are going to be given a photo I.D., a Social Security number, and the right to take a job in America, jobs that too few exist and too many Americans are looking for. It’s just the wrong policy and it will incentivize more illegality in the future.

So is it true that, as Stelter says, “it’s not really the numbers that are in dispute here. It’s not the facts or the figures”? Certainly not. Sessions is talking about the impact on employment and the number of jobs available as well as the warning that the practical effect of the executive amnesty will be far larger in number because it will incentivize further illegal immigration. And although Stelter would like to portray the right (with a nod to the MSNBC hosts he excerpts) as cold and impervious to the human factor, the opposite is the case. It’s just that Sessions is talking about the human cost to current citizens and future immigrants.

And it’s not as though the right doesn’t have an ongoing debate about the degree of compassion due illegal immigrants. We talk about that here at COMMENTARY quite often, but that aspect of the debate has been elevated for a couple of years now since both Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich used their 2012 presidential candidacies as a platform to advocate for keeping immigrant families together even if they came here illegally.

Maybe Stelter just watched a few minutes of Fox and didn’t see such an argument advanced. But that’s no excuse to play liberal talking heads leveling that accusation and then pretty much endorsing it (“I will try to answer that question for you”) instead of challenging it, all so conservatives could fit into the neat box that allows Stelter to condemn the supposed insularity of his cable competitors.

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The Enduring Value of Enduring Questions

In an October 22 letter to Carole Watson, Acting Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, questions grants the agency has issued to consider questions like “What is the good life and how do I live it?” Sessions “[affirms] the value of the humanities” but insists that “care and discipline must be exercised by any government agency that decides to favor some projects over others.”

I am surprised and disappointed that a conservative who “[affirms] the value of the humanities” would target the Enduring Questions program, which supports the development of courses that enable “undergraduates and teachers to grapple with a fundamental concern of human life addressed by the humanities, and to join together in a deep and sustained program of reading in order to encounter influential thinkers over the centuries and into the present day.” In my own Enduring Questions course–“What is Love?”–which I offer at Ursinus College, students and faculty read, in their entirety, among other things, Plato’s Symposium, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra and Romeo and Juliet. The grant, of a little less than $25,000, freed me up to develop, assess, and improve the course, not a part of my regular offerings as a professor in our politics department, over a two-year period.

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In an October 22 letter to Carole Watson, Acting Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, questions grants the agency has issued to consider questions like “What is the good life and how do I live it?” Sessions “[affirms] the value of the humanities” but insists that “care and discipline must be exercised by any government agency that decides to favor some projects over others.”

I am surprised and disappointed that a conservative who “[affirms] the value of the humanities” would target the Enduring Questions program, which supports the development of courses that enable “undergraduates and teachers to grapple with a fundamental concern of human life addressed by the humanities, and to join together in a deep and sustained program of reading in order to encounter influential thinkers over the centuries and into the present day.” In my own Enduring Questions course–“What is Love?”–which I offer at Ursinus College, students and faculty read, in their entirety, among other things, Plato’s Symposium, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra and Romeo and Juliet. The grant, of a little less than $25,000, freed me up to develop, assess, and improve the course, not a part of my regular offerings as a professor in our politics department, over a two-year period.

My course is not an anomaly. The Enduring Questions grant program exists, as the description shows, to put students in touch with fundamental human questions and those who offer help in pursuing them. As the National Association of Scholars (NAS), an organization founded to “confront the rise of campus political correctness” has recognized, the Enduring Questions program is the opposite of politically correct because it engages students in a struggle “over the core issues of the human condition,” in “debating, weighing evidence, and conversing with others” about those issues. And as NAS President Peter Woods reminds us, the NAS journal Academic Questions includes the question how “do we recenter liberal education on the enduring questions of the human condition?” in its statement of editorial purpose. Enduring Questions is the very program critics of the politicization of higher education have been looking for.

Of course, some classes recommended by faculty review committees will fulfill the purpose of the program much better than others. But there is no question that over the history of the Enduring Questions program, more undergraduates than would otherwise have been reached have been engaged in challenging courses, asked to reflect on important, timeless questions, and encouraged to take seriously what great books have to say about them.

So when Senator Sessions asks whether $25,000 should be spent so that students can ask “what is the good life, and how do I live it?” the NEH and conservatives should, for once, be of one mind in answering “Hell yes.”

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Why is Leahy Blocking a Bill to Track Down Sex Offenders?

The media narrative for the past month has been that the GOP is waging a “war on women.” But one story that’s fallen through the cracks is the legislation proposed by Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions last spring to crack down on fugitive sex offenders. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill in January, and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy is now reportedly blocking it from full Senate consideration. Big Government reports:

The Act was designed to grant the U.S. Marshals administrative subpoena power so that they could better investigate sex offenders who had not registered as required by law. The FBI already had similar authority for health care and child crime cases; the Secret Service already had similar authority for cases involving threats to officials. …

In January, the bill was reintroduced and passed through the Judiciary Committee. And now, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has put a hold on it, blocking it from full Senate consideration.

There’s no good excuse for such a hold. Administrative subpoena power is necessary because it is faster moving than traditional subpoena power; it is frequently used in emergency situations. And there is no greater emergency than tracking down sex offenders, who have the highest recidivism rate of any criminal subgroup.

You have to wonder what Leahy’s reasons are for holding up the bill, which is non-controversial, and would presumably have bipartisan support. Sex offenders have a high recidivism rate, and there should be universal interest in aiding efforts to track down convicted predators who are trying to dodge registration laws.

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The media narrative for the past month has been that the GOP is waging a “war on women.” But one story that’s fallen through the cracks is the legislation proposed by Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions last spring to crack down on fugitive sex offenders. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill in January, and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy is now reportedly blocking it from full Senate consideration. Big Government reports:

The Act was designed to grant the U.S. Marshals administrative subpoena power so that they could better investigate sex offenders who had not registered as required by law. The FBI already had similar authority for health care and child crime cases; the Secret Service already had similar authority for cases involving threats to officials. …

In January, the bill was reintroduced and passed through the Judiciary Committee. And now, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has put a hold on it, blocking it from full Senate consideration.

There’s no good excuse for such a hold. Administrative subpoena power is necessary because it is faster moving than traditional subpoena power; it is frequently used in emergency situations. And there is no greater emergency than tracking down sex offenders, who have the highest recidivism rate of any criminal subgroup.

You have to wonder what Leahy’s reasons are for holding up the bill, which is non-controversial, and would presumably have bipartisan support. Sex offenders have a high recidivism rate, and there should be universal interest in aiding efforts to track down convicted predators who are trying to dodge registration laws.

Democrats have recently been attacking the GOP for opposing new provisions in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. The law typically has bipartisan support, but this year Democrats have made additions that would create loopholes for illegal immigrants and other measures that Republicans believe are unnecessary or irrelevant to the law’s purpose.

But the bill proposed by Sessions has crucial practical implications when it comes to preventing and prosecuting violence against women and children. This isn’t just a symbolic proposal, like some of the “poison pill” provisions Democrats added to the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization can be characterized as. Big Government writes:

Back in 2006, when considering the predecessor law to the Finding Fugitive Sex Offenders Act, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) pointed to the tragedy of Dylan and Shasta Groene, who were abducted by Joseph Duncan, an unregistered sex offender; he killed Dylan, as well as the kids’ mother, stepfather, and teenage brother. “Joseph Duncan was essentially lost by three states,” Cantwell explained. “He moved from State to State to avoid capture. No one knew where he was nor even how to look for him.

Its cases like that which make Leahy’s hold on the bill seem incomprehensible. If there were any bills relevant to women, you would think this would be at the top of the list. Of course, it would also be difficult to claim the GOP is indifferent to anti-women violence if this bill was introduced on the Senate floor.

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