BBC: Hip Hip Hooray for Sanctuary Cities!

By David Seminara, February 27, 2017

When it comes to inaccurate, hopelessly biased "reporting" on immigration, Americans are spoiled for choice. Advocacy journalism is now more the rule than the exception and so rebutting and correcting the deluge of crooked immigration "reporting" is something of a Sisyphean task. Consuming a steady diet of mainstream media immigration "reporting" is akin to relocating to a toxic waste dump — after a while, you barely even notice the stench.

But every so often, I stumble across an immigration piece or segment so odious, so egregious, so hopelessly partisan in nature and execution that I can hardly digest it without retching. Sometimes, dear readers, journalists distinguish themselves with something so foul that they deserve to be named and shamed. This nine-minute, 16-second propaganda piece on the origins and impact of the sanctuary city movement in San Francisco, broadcast on the BBC "Witness" program on February 10, is just such a creature.

The host, Simon Watts, traces the origins of the sanctuary city movement in San Francisco to the churches that protected Central American refugees, interviewing "Jose," an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who "risked deportation to tell his story", and Jim Gonzalez, a San Francisco City Council member and sanctuary advocate. Jose wistfully recalls when the city council passed the sanctuary cities legislation, saying, "people were jumping, people were screaming. It was a party."

If he wanted to produce a fair piece, here Watts could have segued to, "But not everyone in California was popping champagne corks," or something along those lines. Instead, he allowed Gonzalez to spin his sanctuary-cities-are-a-wonderful-thing narrative, which included a dubious claim that immigrant rape victims were afraid to report the incidents for fear of deportation, among other yarns, essentially unchallenged for several minutes.

Near the end of the piece, Watts teases the listener by putting his big boy journalist pants on for a fleeting moment, saying to Gonzalez, "As you know, one of the big criticisms at the time and since is that your ordinance allows potentially dangerous people into San Francisco." But just when you thought Watts might actually do his job, he chickens out, essentially allowing Gonzalez to leave the listener with the impression that anyone who commits a "felony" or "serious crime" in San Francisco would still be turned over to ICE for deportation.

At this point, Watts has already completely failed us, but there was still time for him to redeem his sorry self. All he had to do was segue with something like, "But not everyone is convinced that sanctuary cities enhance public safety. Take, for example the July 1, 2015, killing of Kathryn Steinle, by an illegal immigrant with five previous deportations and seven felony convictions who had been recently released from a San Francisco city prison, which failed to notify ICE (Immigration and Customers Enforcement) despite his lengthy criminal record and the fact that they had a detainer for him."

But no, Watts and the BBC wouldn't want you, the hapless listener, to know that Steinle's killing sparked a huge debate about sanctuary cities, and they certainly wouldn't want you, the hopeless rube, to know that Steinle's killer told KGO-TV that he went to San Francisco in part because of its liberal laws that made it easier for illegal immigrants to "fly under the radar". Oh no, mustn't let the listener exit this happy-happy, joy-joy segment with a bitter taste in their mouths about sanctuary cities.

So, Watts closes with this: "Sanctuary cities still believe that their ordinances work, providing a safer, fairer city in which nobody lives in fear of deportation. And led by San Francisco, they've vowed to fight President Trump tooth and nail to preserve their status."

Now, perhaps I'm being a little tough on Watts, but I can't help but wonder why he didn't instead close with something like this, "Now, on the count of three, listeners, let's all repeat this line: 'Hip Hip Hooray for Sanctuary Cities!'"

I reached out to the BBC "Witness" program via e-mail on February 14 to give them a chance to defend their propaganda piece, but have to date received no reply. I'd like to point out here that I'm someone who is predisposed to love the BBC. My parents gave me a shortwave radio when I was 12 or 13, and I've been listening to various BBC programs ever since.

I write a series called "Travel Pioneers" for BBC Travel. And I'm generally very fond of shows like "Witness" — which is, save for the odd stinker like this, one of the very best podcasts/shows available anywhere. It is precisely because of this respect and admiration for the BBC broadly and the "Witness" program in particular that I expect much more than a propaganda piece like this one.