America Letter: Fox News accused of using woman’s murder for propaganda

Killing of Kate Steinle prompts debate about San Francisco’s liberal immigration policy

A picture of Kate Steinle is set up at a Senate hearing last week. The 32-year-old was allegedly shot by an immigrant who had been deported to Mexico five times. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

Pier 14 is one of the most beautiful tourist spots in San Francisco, jutting out next to the Bay Bridge that connects the city to Oakland and Berkeley to the east.

From here you can see cormorants dive, a curious seal pop its head up or a flock of pelicans glide on the wind above. Halfway down the pier are engravings with the words: "Who hath desired the sea? – the immense and contemptuous surges?" They belong to Rudyard Kipling from his poem The Sea and the Hills.

Next to the inscriptions are a pile of wilted flowers with two fresh bouquets on top. The memorial is smaller than the display of flowers and memories in Berkeley to the six students, including five from Dublin on J-1 summer visas, killed in June 16th balcony collapse, but it also marks a tragic event.

Wilted and fresh flowers mark the spot on Pier 14 where Kate Steinle was shot in the back walking arm-in-arm with her father on July 1st.

Kate Steinle was walking arm-in-arm with her father on the pier on July 1st when she was shot in the back. The 32-year-old called out to her father: "Help me, Dad." They were the last words he heard from her.


An illegal Mexican immigrant, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, has been charged with the killing. A repeat drug offender, he was deported to Mexico five times and returned to the US. He was in a jail in San Francisco in March when the charges were dropped and he was released. He had ended up in San Francisco on a 20-year marijuana charge and claimed after the shooting to have found the gun on the ground.

The city didn’t hand him over to the federal immigration authorities because its policies as “a sanctuary city” allow it to opt out of co-operating with federal authorities when it comes to deporting illegal migrants. The policies allow undocumented workers access to healthcare, the police and other public services without fear of being deported.

“It was about as unexpected as the Berkeley tragedy,” said Chris Peters of the killing of his childhood friend from nearby Pleasanton, after laying a bouquet of fresh sunflowers at the memorial.

Sanctuary status

The killing has sparked a national debate about San Francisco’s liberal policies and immigration, with presidential candidates

Donald Trump


Hillary Clinton

criticising the city’s “sanctuary” status Steinle’s murder has led to contemptuous surges in public.

The O’Reilly Factor,

the Fox News soap-box presented by conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly, attacked

Scott Weiner

, a member of San Francisco’s board of supervisors, for refusing to talk to the station about the role played by city’s policies in the killing.

“Fox News is not real news,” Wiener told a Fox reporter as he was doorstepped on his way to his office. “And you’re not a real reporter. I talk to real news only.”

O’Reilly, speaking next to the words “Enabling Evil” in his “Talking Points” commentary, described Wiener on air as “a pinhead”. He said people cloaking themselves in compassion believe they are being humane to the poor but they are ignoring the danger of an unsecure border.

In response to the killing, the Fox News host has proposed Kate's Law, which would sentence a felon who is deported and returns to the US to a mandatory five-year prison term. On Thursday, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to withhold federal law enforcement grants to cities that have policies designed to shelter illegal immigrants from deportation, while Republican Senator Charles Grassley has offered to take up Kate's Law.

Internet sensation

As for Wiener, his Fox News put-down went viral, making him an internet sensation and drawing out Tea Party trolls with angry responses for a time. He told

The Irish Times

he has been stopped by people on the street and received messages from around the US and the world, thanking him for calling out Fox News for what they believe it is: “that this propaganda machine is dressing itself up as a news network.”

The elected official– who represents a district of the city that includes the Castro, San Francisco’s famous gay area – calls Fox News “part of the political machine” representing the “right-wing infrastructure”. “They don’t have any relationship with fact,” he said.

He accused Fox of “politicising this horrible, nightmarish tragedy of this poor young woman being killed using it to bash immigrants” when there is a lower rate of crime among immigrants than citizens. Wiener said that threats of deportation undermine public safety and encourage undocumented immigrations not to report crime.

He believes that Fox News is having “a detrimental impact” on the government’s ability to address climate change, income inequality, a crumbling infrastructure and other important issues.

"These are basic, basic issues that are at the heart of what we confront as a society and Congress has been paralysed," he said. "Fox News is not the only reason but Fox News is the main propaganda outreach for the forces that want us to ignore these critical issues."

On being called “a pinhead” on national television, Wiener said: “Anytime that Bill O’Reilly attacks, you must be doing something right.”