Lou Dobbs Leaves CNN

Today, Lou Dobbs said that he is leaving CNN, effective immediately.  This represents a real victory for anti-racist activists, such as BastaDobbs and Presente.org, who have worked to get him removed from CNN, which we’ve discussed here and here. Here is the story from the New York Times:

Lou Dobbs, the longtime CNN anchor whose anti-immigration views have made him a TV lightning rod, said Wednesday that he is leaving the cable news channel effective immediately.

Sitting before an image of an American flag on his television set, he said “some leaders in media, politics and business have been urging me to go beyond the role here at CNN and to engage in constructive problem solving as well as to contribute positively to the great understanding of the issues of our day.”

“I’m considering a number of options and directions,” Mr. Dobbs added. A transcript of his remarks is available here.

Jonathan Klein, the president of CNN/U.S. said in a statement that “Lou has now decided to carry the banner of advocacy journalism elsewhere.”

“All of us will miss his appetite for big ideas, the megawatt smile and larger than life presence he brought to our newsroom,” Mr. Klein said.

Wednesday’s program will be Mr. Dobbs’ last on CNN. His contract was not set to expire until the end of 2011. He told viewers that CNN had agreed to release him from his contract early.

CNN indicated that it would name a replacement for Mr. Dobbs on Thursday morning.

Mr. Dobbs informed his staff members of his intentions in a meeting Wednesday afternoon, catching some of the staffers off-guard.

Well known for his political positions, Mr. Dobbs is an outlier at CNN, which has sought to position itself as a middle ground of sorts in the fractious cable news arena. The CNN employees said Wednesday that they did not know if Mr. Dobbs was moving to another network.

Of course, the possibility of the Dobbs moving to another network – such as Fox, which I mentioned recently is the highest rated news network – raises the ominous possibility that he is simply moving on to a bigger audience.

CNN Feeling Pressure as Drop Dobbs Campaign Gains Momentum

Over the past few weeks, CNN has begun to feel the pressure to drop their anti-immigrant news reader and talking head Lou Dobbs.   The effort to get Dobbs off the airwaves has garnered widespread attention, particularly through two websites, DropDobbs.com and BastaDobbs.com.  As Jessie noted here a couple of weeks ago, BastaDobbs.com is a website that demands that “CNN deal with its Dobbs problem once and for all.”

In response to these calls for his resignation, Lou Dobbs has asserted his right to free speech as protecting his view that illegal immigrants have no right to be in the US.   Let’s look at the discussion – does Lou Dobbs cross the line of what’s considered protected speech?

First of all, it is important to clarify that Lou Dobbs Tonight is not exactly a question of “free” speech. Lou Dobbs, and CNN, make a lot of money from advertisers. Mr. Dobbs is getting paid by CNN to express his views. In that light, CNN needs to take into account how what Dobbs says affects its viewers. Without viewers, there would be no advertising revenue, and no CNN. Also, there are plenty of things Dobbs is not allowed to say on CNN, such as “Swiffer dusters are bad for the environment,” or “Planters peanuts are picked by exploited workers.” Making these statements would cause those two advertisers to pull their commercials from CNN. In that light, should Dobbs be allowed to say: “The invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health of many Americans”? Especially, should he be allowed to say this when it is unsubstantiated?

One of the most compelling arguments made by people such as Roberto Lovato of Presente.org and Amy Goodman of Democracy Now about Lou Dobbs’ problematic show is that Mr. Dobbs spreads lies about Latinos, immigrants, and undocumented immigrants. This claim is justified.

In 2008, the Media Matters Action Network published a report on the representation of undocumented immigration on cable news networks, appropriately titled: Fear and Loathing in Prime Time: Immigration Myths and Cable News. This report revealed that three shows: The O’Reilly Factor, Lou Dobbs Tonight, and Glenn Beck consistently propagate myths about undocumented immigrants. These myths include the alleged criminality of undocumented immigrants, the falsehood that undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes, and the myth that Mexicans plan to carry out a reconquista of the United States.    Lou Dobbs seems to be obsessed with the topic of illegal immigration.  In 2007,  70 percent of his shows involved a discussion of illegal immigration. In the three shows combined, there were 402 shows in 2007 where illegal immigration is discussed, an average of more than one per day.

Perhaps most controversial is Dobbs’ sensationalist discussion of crime. Dobbs frequently misrepresents the criminality of undocumented people. For example, on October 5, 2006, Lou Dobbs said “just about a third of the prison population in this country is estimated to be illegal aliens.” This is a gross misrepresentation of the reality – less than six percent of prisoners are foreign-born, and only some of those are undocumented immigrants, the remaining being naturalized citizens, permanent legal residents and other visa holders.

All of these myths are easily countered with research. Extensive research by Rubén Rumbaut and his colleagues has demonstrated that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the native born: the incarceration rate of the native born was four times the rate of the foreign born in 2006.  More than half of undocumented workers pay payroll taxes, and everyone pays property and sales taxes (PDF). The idea of a reconquista is perhaps the domain of a marginalized few, but certainly not the sentiment of most Mexican-Americans.

The constant repetition of hate-filled rhetoric dehumanizes undocumented migrants and renders them appropriate targets for law enforcement activities. One way this can be seen is in polls Lou Dobbs conducts on his show. On his March 5, 2007, show, Dobbs reported that “Ninety-eight percent of you [viewers] voted that illegal immigration, failed border security, and sanctuary laws are contributing to the rise in gang violence in this country.” By consistently presenting undocumented migrants as criminals and dehumanizing them by referring to them as “illegals,” these popular media pundits create animosity toward undocumented migrants in the US.

Creating ill will towards undocumented migrants by spreading lies is certainly something worth complaining about. This not only affects undocumented migrants; it also affects their family members, people who live in communities with undocumented migrants, people who are in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, and people who are not undocumented, but who may be mistaken for an undocumented migrant.

I have to agree – ¡Basta Dobbs! Click here to add your name to a petition to get Dobbs off the air.

Tanya Golash-Boza is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and American Studies at the University of Kansas. Currently, she is in Guatemala, and blogs about her research at: http://tanyagolashboza.blogspot.com