This week, Lou Dobbs is broadcasting his radio show from a national lobbying conference sponsored by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an organization founded by a white nationalist and designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. At a time when studies document the growing link between anti-immigrant hate speech and increased violence against Latinos, Dobbs' appearance at FAIR generates especially profound concerns among those targeted by his almost daily attacks: immigrants and Latinos.
For years, Dobbs and CNN banked on the fact that many of the Latinos who bear the brunt of his systematic media assaults--Spanish-speaking immigrants--were unaware of the threat that Dobbs posed. (Not surprisingly, CNN does not translate Dobbs for broadcast on its CNN en Espanol network). But all of that is changing; Latinos are increasingly making the connection between racism in the media and discrimination in their hometowns, and coming to a simple, yet historic conclusion: Lou Dobbs is the Most Dangerous Man for Latinos in America.
Which is why, today, Presente.org (of which I am a founding member) is joining with Latino organizations throughout the United States demanding that CNN get rid of Dobbs. And we are not alone. In the coming weeks, CNN President Jon Klein will be inundated by a growing national chorus of calls from www.bastadobbs.com and others demanding his network to stop promoting Dobbs' brand of "news." From a Latino perspective, Klein and CNN must respond if they are to maintain any semblance of credibility in the Latino media market. If CNN doesn't live up to its claim to being the "most trusted name in news" it risks losing out on the fastest growing viewing demographic in the country.
Dobbs' extremism can be seen and heard on most week nights and consists of three pillars: obsession with immigrants and Latinos; promotion of systematic myths about immigrants and Latinos; and, most dangerously, providing a platform for leaders of some of the most radical and violent anti-Latino groups in the United States.
More than anyone in national network news, Dobbs has declared war against those he calls "invaders" and "aliens." According to the media watchdog group Media Matters, for example, from January 1 through July 23 of 2009, Dobbs included segments on immigration in 77 out of 140 broadcast hours. With so much airtime dedicated to slandering Latinos, Dobbs has ample opportunity to spread misinformation. For example, he has blamed Latino immigrants for an alleged leprosy epidemic that was widely debunked, and has asserted Latinos' criminality with the wild exaggeration that "illegal aliens" take up a third of the cells in our prisons and jails. Dobbs also has plenty of time to host extremist guests like FAIR, the Minutemen, and controversial Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who he called "a model for the whole country."
Dobbs' incessant attacks on Latinos and immigrants have earned him a following among nativists and those who share his extreme views. But his popularity also makes him a target. Increasingly, Dobbs has become the face of anti-Latino sentiment in this country, and his position at CNN, which remains a legitimate news organization, makes him vulnerable.
The movement to drop Dobbs marks a critical shift in the direction of Latino activism in the United States. It was previewed in 2006, when media and technology helped move thousands to march through the streets, waving flags, beating drums and demanding change. And now, as the destructive role that the national media can play in spreading myths and misinformation becomes painfully clear, we are witnessing a new age of Latino media activism. These battles will be fought through Internet organizing, on cell phones via text messaging, and on blogs as much as in the streets. Paradoxically, we have no one to thank for this new movement more than Lou Dobbs. The Most Dangerous Man for Latinos in America may do as much as anyone to unite us in our ongoing struggle for civil rights.