Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Be a little skeptical on immigration reform

By Howard Kurtz, CNN
updated 6:07 PM EST, Thu January 31, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Howard Kurtz: The mainstream media are rooting for immigration policy changes
  • Kurtz: Is enthusiasm causing the media to overestimate the prospects for reform?
  • He says the Republican House has been a graveyard for numerous Obama reforms
  • Kurtz: Illegal immigration still arouses visceral opposition among some Americans

Editor's note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and is Newsweek's Washington bureau chief. He is also a contributor to the website Daily Download.

(CNN) -- The mainstream media -- you know who you are -- are rooting for immigration reform.

They like the idea of doing something to accommodate the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants, who, despite conservative rhetoric to the contrary, were never going to be banished.

They swoon over the kind of bipartisanship that brings together John McCain and Marco Rubio on the one hand and Barack Obama and Chuck Schumer on the other.

Howard Kurtz
Howard Kurtz

They believe the Republican Party needs to moderate its harsh rhetoric about immigrants -- if only to salvage its political future -- and are welcoming the GOP's new realism.

But is that enthusiasm causing media organizations to overestimate the prospects for reform?

Watch: Steve Kroft Plays Defense Over Hillary/Obama Lovefest on '60 Minutes'

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Any bill still must pass the Republican House, which has been a graveyard for numerous Obama reforms. The Senate has always been a place where top lawmakers reach across the aisle more easily than in the polarized House, as was evident during the fiscal cliff debacle. And there are conservative groups determined to derail any path toward citizenship, which they view as amnesty.

It's not that journalists are acting as cheerleaders for the emerging plan. But when the media have qualms about an issue, they couch it as being "controversial" and "risky" (say, George W. Bush's plan to privatize Social Security).

Opinion: Immigrant - Can we trust Obama?

Locals: Arizona border is not secure
Brewer: Thrilled president is talking

By contrast, look at the way the president's immigration speech in Las Vegas was covered:

The New York Times: "Seizing on a groundswell of support for rewriting the nation's immigration laws ..."

The Washington Post: "Obama added to momentum on Capitol Hill in favor of an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws ..."

We saw the same supportive approach when the Pentagon lifted a ban on women serving in front-line combat positions, which, despite some conservative opposition, was greeted with favorable features that largely depicted the move as long overdue.

Watch: Should N.Y. Times Have Censored Company Name Over the S-Word?

As with many perpetual Beltway disputes, the contours of a common-sense compromise on immigration have been clear for some time. The right wants tougher border enforcement and employer verification procedures. The left wants undocumented immigrants taken out of the "shadows," as Obama put it, and given a chance to become openly productive members of society.

The key are the tradeoffs. How long would a path to citizenship take? Are fines and back taxes required? How do we ensure that those who broke the law don't get an unfair advantage over legal applicants?

I don't argue with the standard political analysis that the moment may be ripe for immigration reform.

Watch: Media Seize on Emotional Moment of Gabby Giffords' Testimony

Mitt Romney, who talked about wanting immigrants to "self-deport," got clobbered among Hispanic voters. The GOP has lost the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections. Sean Hannity, the Fox News commentator, says he has "evolved" on the issue, and he's not alone.

The conservative media may be a bellwether here. After Obama's Tuesday speech, Hannity's leadoff guest was Karl Rove, the former Bush lieutenant who favors the Senate compromise. And when Rubio, the Florida senator and son of Cuban immigrants, called in to Rush Limbaugh's show, the host -- while criticizing Obama -- told him, "What you are doing is admirable and noteworthy. You are recognizing reality."

Watch: BlackBerry 10: Is It a Hit or All Thumbs?

But illegal immigration remains a divisive subject that still arouses visceral opposition among some Americans. Capitol Hill is a place where partisan maneuvering can push the government to the brink of default. And as George W. Bush learned in his second term, hammering out a compromise on such a volatile issue is maddeningly elusive.

Perhaps the election changed the landscape and both parties will find a way to compromise. In the meantime, it might be wise to take the upbeat media coverage with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Howard Kurtz.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT