Nativism Watch

Why PBS’s Bonnie Erbé is hosting a nativist collaborator


Imagine2050 Staff • Mar 22, 2017
Bonnie Erbé hosting PBS show On the Contrary. Image source: On the Contrary screenshot.
Bonnie Erbé hosting PBS show On the Contrary. Image source: On the Contrary screenshot.

Despite being considered a stronghold of the so-called liberal media, PBS has allowed the organized anti-immigrant movement to gain a foothold in their coverage. Tomorrow, PBS’s Bonnie Erbé is expected to once again provide an anti-immigrant affiliate with an uncritical platform in public broadcasting.

Erbé has invited Sara Blackwell to appear on her show, To the Contrary. Blackwell is a Florida attorney who represents laid off workers. Her media profile has increased significantly since founding the organization Protect US Workers in 2016. As Imagine 2050 has reported, Blackwell’s litigation and advocacy work has been upheld and aided by the organized anti-immigrant movement. And Blackwell herself has claimed to have “great relationships” with the movement’s leading organizations.

Blackwell also featured in a 60 Minutes segment about H-1B visas and displaced technology workers last Sunday. On Friday, it appears Blackwell will be given another national platform via To the Contrary.

It is troubling that anti-immigrant spokespeople have increasingly been a regular presence in media following November’s election and subsequent coverage of Trump’s dangerous nativist polices. However, To the Contrary host Bonnie Erbé has provided anti-immigrant groups with a platform for years. 

Friday’s program on H-1B visas is only the latest example. 

Erbé has sat on the advisory board of flagship anti-immigrant group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) for over fifteen years. During that time, her To the Contrary segments on issues including population rates, the E-Verify workplace authorization program, so-called “birth tourism,” droughts, and food security have featured spokespeople from the anti-immigrant movement. Anti-immigrant group NumbersUSA has offered free DVDs of several of these programs to members, noting that the group’s founder and President Roy Beck is featured. 

NumbersUSA has regularly noted that “To the Contrary’s coverage would not have been possible without the generous support of the Colcom Foundation.” The Colcom Foundation is one of the primary funders of the organized anti-immigrant movement. To the Contrary’s website also lists the foundation as a supporter of the program.

Tellingly, in 2014, anti-immigrant think tank Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) awarded Erbé with its annual Eugene Katz Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration. CIS announced Erbé was receiving the award for her “in-depth reporting on immigration’s effects on health care, poverty, and natural resources, as well as on birth tourism.”

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Erbé “acknowledged that she works closely with CIS and Numbers USA” during the award ceremony. Erbé also noted she would be donating proceeds from her award to anti-immigrant front group Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR).

Much like other PBS programming, To the Contrary is important. As a long-running, all-female news series, To the Contrary fulfills a needed role in the media landscape. But Erbé’s continued willingness to support and promote anti-immigrant groups requires viewers to approach her work with skepticism.

Imagine 2050 Newsletter