1. Critical theory
Hcrit1 and Hcrit2 hypothesize that mainstream large-circulation newspapers were infected prior to the 2007-10 epidemic, and that mainstream newspapers were also initiators of the epidemic. To test these hypotheses, we meme- and link-tracked infected articles in mainstream US newspapers from the two years (2005-6) immediately preceding the epidemic. Before 2005 there were never more than six uses of “anchor babies” per year in all major U.S. newspapers combined, and in 2004 the term was only used twice. In 2005 the figure spiked to 27, and then to 32 in 2006. These are still very small numbers of infections compared to the widespread use of the term in subsequent years. But it is possible that because of national newspapers' large audiences, these newspapers' use of the term in 2005-6 initiated the broader use of the term later. However, most of the newspapers that published the term in 2005-6 were small- or medium-circulation regional papers, with the exception of USA Today and Los Angeles, Chicago, Newark, and Atlanta newspapers (Table 1). Where these smaller papers were infected, in almost all cases the infections were isolated single occurrences. Meme-tracking and link-tracking the 2005-6 articles, based on their titles, authors, and newspaper titles, revealed almost no influence on either the blogosphere or the Internet as a whole.
Table 1. U.S. newspapers printing ‘anchor babies,’ 2005-6
|Newspaper||Weekday Circulation||Newspaper||Weekday Circulation|
|USA Today||2,278,022||Columbus Dispatch||218,940|
|Los Angeles Times||815,723||Fort Worth Star-Telegram||210,990|
|Chicago Tribune||566,827||Boston Herald||201,513|
|Newark Star-Ledger||372,629||Austin American-Statesman||173,579|
|Atlanta Journal-Constitution||357,399||Fresno Bee||157,546|
|Sacramento Bee||279,032||Memphis Commercial Appeal||146,252|
|Kansas City Star||260,724||Tulsa World||120,583|
|Seattle Times||219,722||San Angelo Standard-Times, Wichita Eagle, Waco Tribune-Herald, Wilkes Barre Times Leader, San Bernardino Sun, Times Argus, Ventura County Star||Under 100,000|
If critical theory is useful as an account of the origins of the anchor baby boom, then we would expect the term to begin to diffuse after appearing in a newspaper such as USA Today, which is the largest-circulation paper to have published the term in 2005-6, the number two newspaper in the US in total daily print circulation after the Wall Street Journal (Audit Bureau of Circulations, 2010), and the only paper in this group with a major national readership. In April 2006 USA Today published a 966-word article by Wendy Koch that used the term (Koch, 2006). In the article, “Mixed status' tears apart families—When illegal immigrants' kids are legal, choices painful,” Koch discusses a bill sponsored by Republican Representative Nathan Deal of Georgia and 83 Republican cosponsors that would have restricted automatic citizenship at birth to children of U.S. citizens and legal residents. Koch refers in the article to ‘illegal immigrants who use so-called ‘anchor babies” to establish a foothold in the US. After publishing the 2006 article, USA Today did not use the term again for more than 4 years until the the summer of 2010 when the paper used the term in six articles on Arizona's controversial proposed immigration law S.B. 1070. Meme-tracking and link-tracking Koch's 2006 article uncovers no evidence of its having any impact on the Internet. It is not mentioned in any high-ranking websites or in any immigration-related blogs.
Another example of the early use of ‘anchor babies' in a large-circulation news outlet is an August 2006 article by Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn (Zorn, 2006). Zorn used the term in reference to Saul Arellano, the young son of an undocumented immigrant who had been given sanctuary at a Chicago church. Zorn advocated the mother's arrest and deportation on immigration-related charges. In response to two readers' complaints, the next day Zorn wrote in his defense that the term had appeared in newspaper stories since 1997, ‘usually softened by quotations as in my column.’ He stated that he regretted having used the term, and foreswore using it again.
Meme-tracking and link-tracking Zorn's article reveals that it generated almost no discussion in high-ranking websites or immigration-related blogs, and was not part of a main branch of any conversation tree. References to the article and its aftermath do not appear online until well into the anchor baby boom, and even then there is not much. Thus it appears that the two hypotheses derived from critical theory are not supported: Large-circulation newspapers were only mildly infected prior to the 2007-10 anchor baby epidemic, and we uncovered no evidence that they were initiators of the epidemic.
2. Theories of new media
Hblogs1 and Hblogs2 hypothesize that the blogosphere was infected prior to the 2007-10 epidemic, and that blogs were initiators of the epidemic. Figure 2 presents the results per year of a Google Blogs search of ‘anchor babies' in all blogs from 2004-10. The temporal pattern in Figure 2 is similar to the one for results from the Internet as a whole (Figure 1): Use of “anchor babies” increases slowly beginning in late 2005, and then spikes from 2007-10.
A fine-grained analysis of the data presented in Figure 3 reveals that many blogs were infected prior to 2007. A Google blog search reveals that 103 blogs were infected in 2006 (followed by about 1400 in 2007 and 2300 in 2008). In most cases, these were blogs with small audiences and low PageRanks, and in most cases “anchor babies” was used in an offhand way in comments. It was rarely used in an original post, and was rarely the main subject of a post. Nonetheless, Hblogs1 is supported: the blogosphere was infected before the 2007-10 epidemic.
To explore whether blogs were initiators of the epidemic (Hblogs2), we analyzed the small numbers of infected blogs from 2004 (N = 4) and 2005 (N = 30). It is possible that blog-to-blog conversation trees developed from these early-infected blogs, and that these conversation trees initiated the epidemic.
The first influential blog to use the term in 2004-5 was mangans.blogspot.com, an anti-immigration blog. In a September 24, 2004 post, the blogger Dennis Mangan discussed an article on illegal immigration by conservative historian Victor David Hanson. Mangan used ‘anchor babies' in quotation marks. Hanson did not use the term himself until 2008, and then only in quoting another author. Although the 2010 PageRank for Mangan's blog is a respectable 5, meme- and link-tracking his infected blog uncovered no evidence that his 2004 post initiated a conversation tree.
The next influential blog to be infected in 2005 was vdare.com, a far-right-wing anti-immigration blog (PageRank = 6) that had published an infected “treatise” in 2001, “Weigh Anchors! Enforce the Citizenship Clause.”Vdare.com's infected 2005 post is by Joe Guzzardi, and is mainly a discussion of “Illegal Aliens and American Medicine,” an article by Dr. Madeleine Cosman published in 2005 in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. Meme- and link-tracking Guzzardi's post reveals a star-shaped cascade: It was picked up by five medium-sized right-wing sites, all in 2005. The day after the original post, it appeared on americanpatrol.com (PageRank = 6). Then on June 12 it appeared on three more sites: michnews.com (PageRank = 5), unitedpatriotsofamerica.com (PageRank = 3), and the tiny blog inlibertyandfreedom.net (PageRank = 1). Its last-ever appearance was on stopthenorthamericanunion.com (PageRank = 4) on September 16, 2005.
Liberal blogger David Neiwert posted “Anchor babies away” on his popular blog ‘Orcinus’ (PageRank = 7 on March 29, 2005. Link- and meme-tracking this post reveals that while Neiwert's blog is linked to and discussed by many left- and right-wing blogs, there is no evidence that the 2005 ‘Anchor babies away’ post initiated an information cascade.
By the end of 2006 over 100 blogs were infected. But we were unable to identify any one of these blogs as a cascade initator. Hblogs2 thus receives at most moderate support. While blogs were infected early in the course of the epidemic, we found no evidence indicating that amateur blogs were initiators of the epidemic. Instead, in this case they appeared to function as an echo chamber (Baum and Groeling, 2008: 346; Gilbert and Karahalios, 2009; Messner, 2009; Benkler and Shaw, 2010), reproducing a sound originating elsewhere.
4. Segmented news
Hsegmed1 and Hsegmed2 hypothesize that segmented news sites were infected prior to, and were initiators of, the epidemic. General Internet searches of the years prior to the epidemic reveal that the highest-ranking infected sites were neither mainstream news outlets nor amateur blogs, but were instead segmented news sites. Among these the site with the highest 2010 PageRank is foxnews.com (PageRank = 8), a large site that could arguably be considered a mainstream news outlet. But Fox News is still an example of segmented media, as its target audience is socially and politically conservative (see Collins, 2004). And though they are generally unfamiliar to audiences outside their target audience of political conservatives, other alternative news sites such as Newsmax (PageRank = 7) have become popular and influential (Smith, 2008; Edgecliffe-Johnson, 2010). Two recent studies highlight the asymmetry between the left and right blogospheres, and the reliance of the latter on segmented news sites. First, in their study of the “two blogospheres” in the US, Benkler and Shaw (2010) found that liberal and conservative blogs differed in terms patterns of participation, authorship, narrative length, and other dimensions. And second, Messner (2009) found that while both liberal and conservative political blogs relied heavily on traditional news media, liberal blogs cited elite traditional news media more often than did conservative blogs, which relied more heavily on conservative news outlets.
Foxnews.com. Although “anchor babies” was used once in an on-air interview with commentator Michelle Malkin in 2003, searching the foxnews.com archives reveals that the site was first infected on November 27, 2005 in an article on the bill proposed by Representative Nathan Deal that would have eliminated “birthright citizenship.” Then anchor babies was mentioned for the next two months in an “Up or Down” reader opinion section. In 2006-7 the site was only infected twice, and was not infected again until 2010, when Fox News began to use the term frequently.7
With a large audience and a significant Latino readership (foxnews.com spun off the website Fox News Latino8 in 2010), Fox's infection threshold is higher than that of smaller segmented news sites. Because of its size and visibility, the use of inflammatory and controversial terms is more likely to be resisted by viewers and readers, as well as by influential critics. For instance, Fox News's use of ‘anchor babies' was brought up in congressional hearings in questions to the company's founder and CEO Rupert Murdoch in 2010 (Parkinson, 2010).
Newsmax.com Newsmax.com, founded in 1998, may have been the most critical single site in the course of the anchor baby epidemic. The site “is now a news powerhouse and a must-read on the conservative media circuit” (Smillie, 2009; also Edgecliffe-Johnson, 2010). Newsmax's audience is medium-sized among Internet news outlets (about 4 million unique viewers per month, 2.5 million subscribers to its daily e-mail alerts, and 1 million viewers for its online video channel: Santaniello, 2010; also Meyers, 2010). The Newsmax audience is also wealthy and relatively homogeneous, comprising mainly “very high-end, affluent, well-educated Republicans” (Lantigua, 2008). Newsmax's success is based partly on a unique business model in which the company takes fees from financial services and health-related companies to send email offers to its affluent readers (Smillie, 2009).
With a medium-sized, conservative, socially homogeneous audience, Newsmax fills a gap in the newsmedia landscape between small-audience, low-infection-threshold right-wing news blogs, and large-audience, high-infection-threshold news sites such as foxnews.com. Compared with Fox News, Newsmax is not only smaller, but is considered “more of a cerebral operation” that publishes longer opinion pieces and attracts “people who want to go deeper than what they get in ordinary news and commentary” (Santaniello, 2010). By reaching a “highly affluent and informed audience…it creates a ripple effect by hitting ‘influencers’—opinion leaders in communities, business, and media, especially talk radio and television news” (Santaniello, 2010).
Foxnews.com and Newsmax do not appear to compete directly against one another (Smith, 2008). Instead, their relationship is mostly symbiotic: Newsmax leverages Fox's stories (‘Fox News' appears in Newsmax archives thousands of times), and Fox News regularly draws from columns and articles published in Newsmax. Newsmax has also paid Fox News personalities Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Palin, and Dick Morris to endorse Newsmax products. Newsmax readers “are ardent fans of Fox News: [i]ts Web site ranks No. 3 among those who have watched Fox in the past week” (Meyers, 2010).
Based on a search of the newsmax.com archive, the first infected Newsmax article ran July 31, 2004. Then in 2005 infected articles ran April 2, July 12, and December 26 and 27. In 2006 they ran January 27, February 10, March 10, May 9, May 23, September 7, October 6, and November 10. In 2007 infected articles ran March 2, March 29, May 11, and May 15. And unlike mainstream newspapers, blogs, and even Fox News, Newsmax did not often use ‘anchor babies' in passing or in quotes. Instead, in Newsmax articles and columns the term often appeared in articles' titles and subtitles, and was the main subject of several in-depth pieces (e.g. Putnam, 2004).
From 2008-10 the term was used less frequently in Newsmax than it was from 2004-7. As Newsmax has grown, the site has overall “become less right-wing and ‘more moderate,’ according to its public relations representatives” (Lantigua, 2008). This may be partly due to Newsmax CEO and editor Christopher Ruddy's exhibiting “a stronger commitment to the bottom line than to presenting himself as an ideologue” (Friedman, 2009).
Townhall.com and humanevents.com The conservative news sites townhall.com (PageRank = 4) and humanevents.com (PageRank = 6) are both smaller than Newsmax. Both of these sites use “anchor babies” very frequently, but searches of their archives reveal that they were infected later than Newsmax, Fox News, blogs, or newspapers' reader forums.
Townhall.com was first infected in a June 13, 2006 article by Pat Buchanan, “The stealth amnesty of Mike Pence” (this article was published the same day in humanevents.com). Pence is a “conservative congressman from Indiana who heads the House Republican Conference and was the 2005 Man of the Year to the conservative Human Events weekly” (Buchanan, 2006). Faced with Pence's plan for comprehensive immigration reform, Buchanan argued that what is needed is to “Cease granting automatic citizenship to ‘anchor babies' of illegals who sneak across the border to have them. Take care of mother and child, then put them on a bus back home.” Meme-tracking Buchanan's article reveals that it was reprinted on a number of conservative news sites and blogs. However, none of these sites focus on anchor babies per se, but rather on Pence's 2006 immigration plan. After the publication of Buchanan's article, no townhall.com pages were infected until June 29, 2007, and the vast majority of infected townhall.com pages are from 2010.
Humanevents.com published the infected article “What Makes an American?” by Michelle Malkin on July 9, 2003. Near the end of the article she argues that “the custom of granting automatic citizenship at birth to children of tourists and temporary workers such as Hamdi, tourists, and to countless ‘anchor babies' delivered by illegal aliens on American soil, undermines the integrity of citizenship—not to mention national security.” We found no evidence that conversation trees grew from this article. Anchor babies are also mentioned in passing two-thirds of the way through conservative columnist Phyllis Schlafly's January 6, 2004 humanevents.com article “Will Americans Support Another Amnesty?” This article was later mentioned or linked to on freerepublic.com in 2004, and federalobserver.com and theamericanresistance.com, although no dates were available for these two sites.
In a March 28, 2006 article in Human Events, “Stop the Insanity: Secure Borders Now,” by Representative Dan Burton, “anchor babies” are mentioned in passing near the end of the article, and in quotations: “so-called ‘anchor babies.”’ Burton's article was later mentioned on usmessageboard.com, renewamerica.com in 2009, worldobserver.org, headline.blogspot.com, and freerepublic.com. In a March 7, 2006 article, “Myths, Realities of the 14th Amendment” by talk show host Lynn Woolley, ‘anchor babies' are mentioned about halfway through the article: ‘the 14th Amendment…provides many illegals with citizen children often called “anchor babies.”’ This article was linked back to by cairco.org, and reproduced in its entirety on f**kfrance.com. A July 26, 2006 article “The Crisis in Social Services: Taxing the Middle Class” was an excerpt from the book Minutemen: the Battle to Secure America's Borders, by Jim Gilchrist and Jerome R. Corsi. Near the end of the excerpt, the authors wrote: “…the development of a Hispanic immigrant underclass is being perpetuated into the second generation, including anchor babies born to immigrants in the United States.” This excerpt was linked back to by a number of educational sites, and reproduced on citizensforaconstitutionalrepublic.com (PR = 4). Finally, in “The Other Race in California's 50th District,” published June 4, 2006, Human Events columnist John Gizzi mentioned in passing a proposal “to deny citizenship to the children of illegal aliens [‘anchor babies'].” There was no evidence that this column produced a conversation tree.
It appears that while some of the infected 2006 articles from townhall.com and humanevents.com did contribute to the anchor baby epidemic, overall these sites were infected later than Newsmax. The majority of the infections of townhall.com and humanevents.com occurred in 2010, a pattern that suggests that in this case these sites functioned more like blogs than like Newsmax. They were more like an echo chamber (see Messner, 2009; Benkler and Shaw, 2010) than a cascade initiator.
Summary. We find evidence that supports Hsegmed1 and Hsegmed2. Segmented news sites were infected beginning in 2003, well prior to the 2007-10 epidemic. And there is ample evidence that these sites, especially Newsmax and Fox News, were initiators—if not necessarily the only initiators—of the epidemic.9