Faced with a growing movement of communities demanding that CNN drop his program, Lou Dobbs responded Friday with one of his favorite postures: the victimized defender of American virtue. “They ask CNN to fire me because I oppose illegal immigration” said Dobbs, who added, “”The last thing they want is a first amendment, where people can express themselves… These are the most un-American, frightened people in the world because they won’t compete in the marketplace of ideas and facts.”
Not surprisingly, Dobbs is waving the First Amendment flag to change the subject, which is not about disagreement on immigration policy, and has nothing to do with free speech. Dobbs has the right to his opinions; but there’s nothing in the Constitution that says he deserves a “news” platform to disseminate hurtful and dangerous myths about immigrants.
Dobbs’ suggestion that his detractors, like our recently launched BastaDobbs.com campaign, can’t compete in a fact-based marketplace of ideas is both sad and comical given what passes for facts and ideas on his show. For Dobbs, immigrants are “invaders,” and he regularly uses debunked statistics to paint them as disease-carrying criminals. He reports on conspiracy theories like the “Reconquista” and the “Birthers” as if they were legitimate topics of discussion. And worst of all, he provides a regular platform to the most extreme anti-immigrant groups like FAIR and the Minutemen, trotting them out as experts.
Dobbs left the realm of facts a long time ago. What Dobbs plies is not even “advocacy journalism,” as he sometimes calls it. It’s propaganda, and it’s dangerous. At a time when discrimination against Latinos is growing, and FBI statistics signal a 4 year rise in anti-Latino hate crimes, experts are beginning to draw a connection between anti-immigrant messages in the media and anti-Latino discrimination and violence in communities across the country. In other words, it seems that when Lou Dobbs talks, people can get hurt.
Dobbs’ effort to hide behind the First Amendment is even more cynical, and evidence of how poorly he understands the Constitution. In drafting the Bill of Rights, the Framers were concerned about government’s heavy hand squelching public debate. Dobbs’ use of “free speech” to defend his post and paint his critics as un-American is an insult to the Founder’s intent. Nothing in the First Amendment gives Dobbs the right to a major media platform like CNN.
The truth is, just as Dobbs is free to gin up anti-immigrant sentiment, we are free to educate our community about his impact, call out his pattern of fear mongering and faulty reporting.
And that is exactly what Latinos and our allies are doing. The BastaDobbs.com campaign is bringing together groups and individuals organized in the 25 U.S. cities with the largest Latino populations to show Dobbs for what he is: the Most Dangerous Man for Latinos in America. We are exercising our free speech rights to demand that CNN live up to its claim to be “most trusted name in news.”
While the movement to stop Dobbs has nothing to do with Dobbs’ free speech rights, it has everything to do with CNN’s business. Latinos across the country are letting CNN President Jon Klein know that if he wants our viewership, he can’t keep profiting from the fear and xenophobia that is Dobbs’ daily bread. By continuing to air Dobbs, CNN is making a choice: to distort rational debate about immigration and other issues of concern to Latinos. And that choice will come at a cost: legitimacy in the Latino market.
The growing movement against Dobbs also sends a broader message to CNN, and to all of the news media. For democracy to work, free speech cannot mean that news anchors offer wild opinions unfettered from fact. There is a difference, as CNN’s own Rick Sanchez recently pointed out, between “covering” and “promoting” (an ironic commentary given Lou Dobbs’ appearance last week at the conference for leading anti-immigrant group FAIR). As our country’s national conversation on race, health care immigration and other issues plumbs new lows, the news media must be held to a higher standard; what they say has real and serious consequences. It’s time for CNN to decide: go the way of Faux News, or renew its role in promoting an honest public debate.Roberto Lovato is a Founding Member of Presente.org,
the sponsor of the www.bastadobbs.com campaign.
He also writes for New America Media,
the Nation and other media outlets.