Our view: Hispanic Institute's boycott of CNN over Lou Dobbs puts networks on notice public won't tolerate hateful lies
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 06.08.2008
The Hispanic Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group, last week launched a national boycott of CNN, the cable news channel, to highlight unrelenting and erroneous attacks against Latino immigrants by talk-show host Lou Dobbs. While we aren't sure such an effort will be effective and while by its nature, it impugns other good programs on CNN, we agree with the spirit of the boycott.
We applaud the institute for taking a stand on behalf of the immigrant community and calling on a network to take responsibility for the content of its programs. We encourage other groups — whether they represent minorities or not — to let CNN and other news outlets know that unwarranted attacks that demonize a particular group of people will not be tolerated.
If the Hispanic community flexes its viewership muscles and the boycott succeeds in reducing CNN's ratings, particularly for Lou Dobbs' nightly show, officials with the network might be inclined to get rid of such inflammatory and dishonest programming.
Similarly, we believe local groups could put pressure on Tucson radio station 104.1-FM, which airs "The Jon Justice Show," a morning program that repeats many of the claims made by Lou Dobbs and other anti-immigrant media personalities.
Lou Dobbs, along with fellow CNN host Glenn Beck and Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, has been behind much of the anti-immigrant sentiment that is gripping the country. Dobbs and others regularly make outlandish and erroneous claims. Among them: that illegal immigrants are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime, that they drain communities of cash by illegally using social services and that they intend to take over the Southwestern United States.
While there are some slivers of truth in what Dobbs and the others say — for example, children of illegal immigrants do cost states money when they attend public schools — their claims were largely discredited in a recent report by the Media Matters Action Network, a project of the Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group Media Matters for America.
In a May 21 report, "Fear & Loathing in Prime Time: Immigration Myths and Cable News," researchers systematically debunked the major anti-immigrant statements made by Dobbs and others.
For example, the report cited Census data and university studies that concluded recent immigrants are less likely — not more — to be involved in crimes than native-born citizens. In fact, the report said, neighborhoods with higher immigrant populations had lower rates of crime.
"When it comes to this issue, cable news overflows not just with vitriol, but also with a series of myths that feed viewers' resentment and fears, seemingly geared toward creating anti-immigrant hysteria," the report said.
Programs like "Lou Dobbs Tonight" are harmful and potentially dangerous because they give license to xenophobes and racists to spew their hate on immigrants.
If such people see men in suits on TV railing against immigrants, it emboldens them to also show hate for someone who doesn't fit their ideal of an "American." To make matters worse, perpetrators of hate crimes often can't tell if a Hispanic person is an illegal immigrant, a legal immigrant or a U.S. citizen.
The FBI reported last year that of all the hate crimes in 2006 motivated by a bias against someone's ethnicity or national origin, 62.8 percent of victims were targeted because of an anti-Hispanic bias. In three years, the number of Hispanic victims of hate crimes jumped 38 percent, from 595 victims in 2003 to 819 in 2006.
Not all this violence can be attributed to talk-show hosts like Dobbs, of course. But such programs foment anger and obviously don't promote civil discourse on the problem of illegal immigration.
What's surprising about the CNN boycott is that it didn't occur sooner.
"We're taking this step after years of CNN management's failure to rein in Mr. Dobbs' irresponsible assertions about immigrants and their impact on our country and its institutions," Gus West, The Hispanic Institute's board chairman, said when the boycott was announced Tuesday.
"The lack of any meaningful response from CNN's management, or any abatement of Mr. Dobbs' offensive tirades, makes it clear to us that the company supports his misleading and often inaccurate positions."
According to the Nielsen Company, which monitors television viewers, there are 12.1 million Hispanic television households in the United States.
Here's hoping they and their allies can help improve the quality of cable television and the standard of living for illegal immigrants. Just because people are in this country illegally — but helping the nation in countless ways — doesn't mean they can't be treated with dignity and respect.