Ms Tibbetts’ death has ignited a fierce political debate in the US, with Republicans like President Donald Trump claiming it proves the need for stricter border control. Others, including Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera, say the case has been used to stereotype undocumented immigrants as violent criminals.
“I know that most of the Fox audience disagrees with me, but I’m begging you to have compassion and not brand this entire population by the deeds of this one person,” Mr Rivera said in an interview with anchor Martha Maccallum on Thursday.
“We at this network are putting that spin on the story,” the 17-year Fox News veteran added. “This is a murder story, not an immigration story.”
Fox News has covered the Tibbetts case incessantly since the charging of Cristhian Bahena Rivera, a 24-year-old immigrant from Mexico who authorities say was residing in the country illegally. On Tuesday, the network covered the story more prominently than the conviction of two former Trump associates for multiple federal crimes. The Fox News website featured the Tibbetts story above their coverage of the two convictions throughout the day.
Speaking with Mr Rivera on Thursday, Ms Maccallum summed up many of the network anchors’ positions on the case, saying the situation was made worse for Ms Tibbetts’ family because she was allegedly killed by someone who was “not even supposed to be in the country”.
Mr Bahena Rivera’s lawyer has contested reports that his client was in the country illegally.
Several of Ms Tibbetts’ friends and family members have also asked for the case not to be made into a discussion about immigration.
“Please do not compound the atrocity of what happened to her by adding racism and hate to the equation,” wrote friend Kasie Schultz Taylor on Facebook. “Anyone that knew Mollie knows she wouldn’t want that. Respect each other, support each other but most importantly BE KIND!”
Multiple studies have found that undocumented immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born residents, and that immigration surges do not correlate with an increase in crime. The Trump administration, however, has used the Tibbetts case to spotlight illegal immigration, with White House press secretary calling it “an unfortunate reminder of why we need to strengthen our immigration laws”.
Mr Rivera pushed back on this notion on Thursday, telling Ms Maccallum: “Anyone could have done this, everyone — they do it on a daily basis. White people, black people, red people, yellow people. Everybody, they do these crimes.”