Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Be a little skeptical on immigration reform

By Howard Kurtz, CNN
January 31, 2013 -- Updated 2307 GMT (0707 HKT)
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
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1818 GMT (0218 HKT)
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1209 GMT (2009 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT