Dobbs' Resignation Was Long Overdue
While it is not clear what specific straw broke the back of Lou Dobbs, leading him to terminate his contract with CNN, his departure is a great step toward restoring journalistic integrity to CNN's brand and bringing civility and truth back to the immigration debate. For those of us who bore the brunt of Dobbs’s distorted reality, this moment has been long overdue.
CNN President Jon Klein said of the decision that "Lou has now decided to carry the banner of ‘advocacy journalism’ elsewhere." The truth is, such an approach to covering the issues never belonged at CNN in the first place. Despite Dobbs’s history with the station, his shift over the past decade toward so-called "advocacy journalism" was a shift away from the integrity of the CNN news brand. Journalists cover advocates; they don't join them.
My problems with Dobbs surfaced more than two years ago, during the debate over the last version of immigration reform. The rhetoric that Lou and other extreme commentators used surrounding the debate took a harsh turn, so much so that a member of my staff called it a "wave of hate" and said that "this no longer sounds like it's about policy—it sounds like it's about us."
This is not just an exercise in etiquette. The Latino community knows all too well the effect of extreme and polarizing rhetoric. Over the past five years, the vitriolic debate surrounding immigration has created a toxic climate for our communities. During that time, we have seen a double-digit increase in the number of hate crimes against Latinos and substantial growth in the number of hate groups targeting Latinos. As was brutally demonstrated last year by the murders of Marcelo Lucero and Jose Sucuzhanay, lives are literally at stake.
I appeared on Lou's show to ask him to tone down the rhetoric, pointing out that, given the stature of CNN and the reach of his show, violence was a potential outcome of his words. Dobbs went on the offensive, demanding that I "show him" examples of hate on his show. So I did.
For the past two years, we at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) have documented a litany of issues with Dobbs’s tactics, including 1) his regular use of guests representing hate groups, vigilantes, and nativists as commentators on immigration; 2) his relentless repetition of stories on immigrants and crime, projecting an impression of extreme threat to American communities—an impression far from reality; and 3) his inaccurate and pejorative characterization of immigrants as carriers of disease.
Yet Dobbs is not alone in purveying extreme rhetoric on the subject of immigration. There are dozens of others on cable television news and radio who draw our ire. Given the free speech issues that we regularly defend, we have attempted to approach this issue with restraint. We have appealed to the journalistic integrity of the cable networks and requested balance. We have worked with advertisers who have a right to ensure that their brands are not associated with such polarizing debate. And we have used the airwaves to identify patterns of distortion and established a website (www.WeCanStopTheHate.org) to call out the worst offenders so that the public can add its voice to the debate.
Most recently, we joined the Drop Dobbs campaign after Dobbs appeared at a rally hosted by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which has been identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. As a private citizen, Dobbs has every right to speak at whatever event he pleases. However, as a representative of CNN's "best political news team in America," Dobbs provided FAIR with the legitimacy of the CNN brand by appearing at that rally.
While the resignation of Lou Dobbs from CNN is an important step in restoring greater fairness, accuracy, and balance to CNN and cable news, it is our hope that it begins to undo the climate of intolerance fostered by his show.