NBC and its related networks, including MSNBC and the Spanish-language Telemundo, are devoting much of their time on newscasts Wednesday to discussions of immigration.
NBC News is wading into an issue rife with hostility. Its own role in doing the stories will be watched as closely in some circles as the stories themselves, which will include release of a poll on American attitudes toward immigration.
NBC had been considering the concentrated look at immigration even before the latest flashpoint, the Arizona law requiring authorities to question people about their immigration status if they are suspected of being in the country illegally, said Alex Wallace, senior vice president of NBC News.
"The whole goal, honestly, is to show as much as possible the two strongly felt sides of this," she said.
"Nightly News" will look at the impact of the law, and at other states considering similar measures. The "Today" show will do stories on how immigration affects families, and "Dateline NBC" will show previews of an upcoming series on migrant children in the United States.
MSNBC will devote some portion of every show to immigration. Stories include following the U.S. Border Patrol as it looks for people entering the country illegally; a piece about a New York City neighborhood with 100 nationalities; and examples of municipalities both overburdened and transformed by immigrant populations. Experts on CNBC will talk about the economics of immigration.
Telemundo's morning program "Levantate" will broadcast from Arizona, the first time in its history the show has gone on location.
"The audience that we speak to lives with this subject 24-7," said Don Browne, president of Telemundo. "It is issue No. 1 for the Hispanics. It is the civil rights story of our time."
Although polls have shown the nation divided on the Arizona law, Browne said he's cognizant of the fact that opinions are more one-sided among Telemundo viewers.
Wallace said she isn't dictating how the individual stations and shows address the topic but wants them to be fair by presenting all points of view. NBC News management also sent out a memo advising people to take care in how they use words, saying that "illegal immigrants" or "undocumented workers" are preferred terms — with a phrase like "illegal aliens" to be avoided.
People will be watching. Shortly after a news release on the immigration special was posted on the TVNewser Web site, comments popped up suggesting that NBC News would be one-sided because, in part, of the fact the word "illegal" wasn't used anywhere in the news release.
NBC News has been a frequent target of complaints by Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, and the unabashedly liberal prime-time lineup on MSNBC affects what many people think of NBC News, said Tim Graham, director of media analysis for the conservative Media Research Center.
Yet Graham's organization recently did a study of network coverage of the Arizona law and found NBC to be more balanced in its presentation of views than ABC or CBS. One of the chief reasons was the work of Telemundo's Jose Diaz Balart, who has also reported on the issue for NBC News, he said.
Wallace urged people to judge NBC's work on Wednesday for what it is, and not anticipate what it might be.
"There are a lot of people of people who view these things through a political filter," said NBC News President Steve Capus. "If that's how you view life, you can find a political argument for everything."
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