In a segment for the network's "What Would You Do?" program, ABC News reporter John Quinones reportedly hired an actor to play the role of a "racist" security guard to demonstrate public reaction to the state's "anti-immigration law." Meanwhile, Quinones pretended to be an illegal immigrant.
The aim of the "What Would You Do?" program is to test the morals of unassuming observers to see how people would react in different situations, not knowing they were being filmed. Past social experiments have examined how people respond to homelessness and college hazing practices.
The Media Research Center discovered the questionable move after Quinones explained the undercover concept Thursday morning on Good Morning America: "So, I go undercover, pretending to be someone who is about to be arrested and deported, simply by the way I look," he said.
The piece featured a cartoonish "security guard" harassing Mexican actors in Tucson, Arizona. Presumably, ABC chose a security guard because impersonating a police officer is illegal. The actor walked into a restaurant and spewed, "I'm just looking to make sure these guys are legal citizens. And if they're not legal citizens, they shouldn't be here. They should be deported. They look Mexican." [MP3 audio here.]
Of course, having this man pretend to be a security guard really makes no sense. (A security guard is going to deport people?) Secondly, for journalists that often attack conservative sting operations, it's rather odd to see ABC manipulate such a scenario
The Radio, Television and Digital News Association ethics guide states: "Use surreptitious newsgathering techniques, including hidden cameras or microphones, only if there is no other way to obtain stories of significant public importance and only if the technique is explained to the audience." Was this the only way ABC could do such a story?
What's worse, Quinones characterizes Arizona's SB 1070 law as a "controversial new law [that] would give police the authority to question and perhaps deport anyone who, in their eyes, appears to be in the U.S. illegally."
This assertion is false. The Washington Examiner's Byron York explains:
Critics have focused on the term "reasonable suspicion" to suggest that the law would give police the power to pick anyone out of a crowd for any reason and force them to prove they are in the U.S. legally. Some foresee mass civil rights violations targeting Hispanics.
What fewer people have noticed is the phrase "lawful contact," which defines what must be going on before police even think about checking immigration status. "That means the officer is already engaged in some detention of an individual because he's violated some other law," says Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri Kansas City Law School professor who helped draft the measure. "The most likely context where this law would come into play is a traffic stop."
Quinones also states that until his crew "staged our scenario," Arizona residents "didn't realize... how [SB 1070] might affect innocent people..."
Perhaps the Arizona residents caught up in Quinones misleading social experiment responded with such outrage because what Quinones' actor/security guard was doing was outrageous. In fact, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has stressed that any such racial profiling would not be tolerated and actually disciplined.
"I will not tolerate racial discrimination or racial profiling in Arizona," Brewer said as she signed SB 1070 into law.