Lou Dobbs' daily 'Broken Borders' CNN segment has focused on immigration for years. But there's one issue Dobbs just won't take on.
Lou Dobbs is a genial sort, a pleasant-faced CNN anchorman who regularly presents himself as standing up for American working men and women against those who would injure them. Hosting "Lou Dobbs Tonight" for a prime-time hour every weekday, he is also well known and powerful. So when Dobbs focuses on an issue, millions of Americans learn just what it is that Dobbs thinks they should know.
For more than two years now, Dobbs has served up a populist approach to immigration on nightly segments of his newscast entitled "Broken Borders." He has relentlessly covered the issue, although hardly from a traditional news perspective -- Dobbs favors clamping down on illegal immigration, and his "reporting" never fails to make that clear. He has covered the same issues, and the same anti-immigration leaders, time after time after time. In recent months, Dobbs has run countless upbeat reports on the "citizen border patrols" that have sprung up around the country since last April's Minuteman Project, a paramilitary effort to seal the Arizona border.
But there's one thing Lou Dobbs won't do. No matter what others report about the movement, Dobbs has failed to present mounting and persistent evidence of anti-Hispanic racism in anti-immigration groups and citizen border patrols.
It's not that Dobbs hasn't allowed a pro-immigration activist or two to complain about efforts like the Minuteman Project ("vigilantes," according to President Bush), or even that he has made racist statements on his show. What the anchorman has done is repeatedly decline to present the evidence that links these groups to racism, calling the very idea "mind-boggling." On his July 29 show, he called the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which he said he liked in other ways, "despicable" and "reprehensible" for saying otherwise.
Consider some of what Dobbs has failed to report, despite the fact that in almost every case these developments were reported widely elsewhere:
GLENN SPENCER, head of the anti-immigration American Patrol, has been interviewed at least twice on the show, on Jan. 7 and June 4, 2004. Spencer's Web site is jammed with anti-Mexican vitriol and he pushes the idea that the Mexican government is involved in a secret plot to take over the Southwest -- facts never mentioned on Dobbs' show. Spencer's group is regarded as a hate group by both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. Spencer has spoken at least twice to the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, which has described blacks as "a retrograde species of humanity," and once to American Renaissance, a group that contends that blacks are genetically inferior to whites. Dobbs has never reported those ties, or mentioned Spencer's more wild-eyed contentions, such as his prediction that "thousands will die" in a supposedly forthcoming Mexican invasion. His CNN colleague Wolf Blitzer, on the hand, featured Spencer on his own show but reported Mexico's official response and SPLC's hate group designation.
In late 2004, it was revealed that the new head of a national advisory board to Protect Arizona Now, an anti-immigration organization, was a long-time white supremacist who was also an editorial adviser to the racist Council of Conservative Citizens. Although VIRGINIA ABERNETHY's controversial selection was reported prominently in virtually every Arizona paper -- and despite the fact that Dobbs heavily covered the anti-immigration referendum that Protect Arizona Now was advocating -- Dobbs never mentioned the affair at all.
A man named JOE MCCUTCHEN was quoted last April as part of a feature on the Minuteman Project, described by Dobbs as "a terrific group of concerned, caring Americans." No mention was made of the fact that McCutchen, who heads up an anti-immigration group called Protect Arkansas Now, had written a whole series of anti-Semitic letters to the editor and given a speech to the Council of Conservative Citizens -- facts revealed the prior January by SPLC, causing Arkansas' Republican governor to denounce McCutchen's group.
This August, BILL PARMLEY, a Minuteman leader in Goliad County, Texas, quit the group because of what he described as widespread racism. Similarly, in September, newspapers reported that another Texas Minuteman, Janet Ahrens, had resigned because members "wanted to shoot the taco meat." Dobbs never mentioned either of these people, who were featured prominently elsewhere.
On Oct. 4, Dobbs had PAUL STREITZ, a co-founder of Connecticut Citizens for Immigration Control, as a guest on his show. Streitz denounced Mayor John DeStefano Jr. for "turning New Haven into a banana republic" by favoring identification cards for undocumented workers. Two days later, newspapers revealed that two of the group's other founders had just quit, saying Streitz had led it in a racially charged direction. Dobbs has never reported this.
BARBARA COE, leader of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, was quoted on a show last March bitterly attacking Home Depot for "betray[ing] Americans," apparently because Hispanic day laborers often gather in front of the store looking for work. Not mentioned were her group, listed by the SPLC as a hate group, or the fact that she routinely refers to Mexicans as "savages." Coe recently described herself as a member of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a "white pride" group formed from the remnants of the segregationist White Citizens Councils of the 1950s and 1960s that were once described by Thurgood Marshall as "the uptown Klan." She also told The Denver Post in November that she had given a speech to the group.
CHRIS SIMCOX, co-founder of the Minuteman Project and a top national anti-immigration leader, was arrested in 2003 by federal park rangers for carrying a weapon illegally while tracking border-crossers on federal parkland. While Simcox has been repeatedly interviewed on his show, Dobbs has failed to mention that arrest or bigoted anti-Hispanic comments Simcox made to the Intelligence Report several years ago.
Although Dobbs has steered clear of the racist comments that some of his guests have made elsewhere, he has warned of "illegal aliens who not only threaten our economy and security, but also our health and well-being," according to Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a media monitor. In 2003, FAIR added, a reporter on Dobbs' show grossly mischaracterized a National Academy of Sciences report. The report found that immigrants provided a net gain of $1 billion to $10 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product, but the CNN reporter said the report had found the economic impact of immigrants worked out to a net loss of up to $10 billion.
Dobbs is revered in anti-immigration quarters and on the far right generally. He is the winner of the 2004 Eugene Katz Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration, given by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). CIS claims to be a "nonpartisan research institute," but in fact is a thinly disguised anti-immigration organization. The 2005 Katz Award went to the immigration beat reporter for The Washington Times, a hard-right newspaper based in Washington, D.C.
In general, Lou Dobbs has declined to report salient negative facts about anti-immigration leaders he approves of, or simply avoided mentioning certain of their views -- notably the conspiracy theories propounded by people like Spencer.
Still, Dobbs is hardly immune to the lure of the weird. Last September, he offered up Idaho meteorologist Scott Stevens as a guest on his show. Stevens had just left an Idaho television news program immediately after telling viewers of a bizarre theory that Hurricane Katrina was caused by unknown evildoers. "Terrorists were engaging in a type of eco-terrorism where they could alter the climate, set off earthquakes and volcanoes," he told Dobbs. Stevens said they were using "scalar waves," invented by the Japanese, to attack America with Category 5 storms.
"Intriguing assertion," Dobbs concluded at the end of the interview. Much the same might be said, and in the same spirit, about the news "reporting" that Dobbs presents as he doggedly explores and supports the anti-immigration movement.