A coalition of 11 Hispanic and pro-immigrant groups has launched a petition drive to force CNN and its advertisers to drop Lou Dobbs, following a similar effort that reportedly led dozens of companies to pull their ads from Fox's Glenn Beck show.
Should we support these petitions as a way to get reckless anchormen off the air? Or are we risking moving television networks and advertisers to drop all news programs that tackle controversial issues, thereby reducing the marketplace of ideas and narrowing the scope of political discourse?
The campaign to get CNN's Dobbs off the air was launched Tuesday by a coalition that includes the National Council of La Raza, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the New Democrat Network.
The group posted their petition at www.dropdobbs.com, where they hope to get 100,000 signatures in the next six weeks. Then, the document will be sent to CNN and Dobbs' advertisers, organizers say.
The campaign follows a similar drive against Fox's conservative comedian-journalist Beck, which gathered 200,000 signatures and moved 62 advertisers to pull their advertising from Beck's show, according to its organizers.
"CNN gives Dobbs an unparalleled and powerful perch from which to spread right-wing misinformation and promote hate and fear. And his advertisers help make that possible — and profitable — for CNN," says the Dropdobbs.com website.
"These advertisers depend on the loyalty of a broad consumer base that includes millions of Latinos who are tired of being demonized by Dobbs. . . . Let's send a message to these advertisers that they will be held accountable for financially supporting the spread of hate."
According to Simon Rosenberg, head of the New Democrat Network and a former television journalist himself, cable TV shows such as Dobbs' are fueling a dangerous social polarization in the United States.
"Dobbs spreads things that are clearly untrue and uses wild and extreme rhetoric, particularly about Hispanic Americans, that should have no space on a mainstream network like CNN," Rosenberg said. "He is free to say whatever he wants on his own website, his books and on his radio show, but CNN and Time Warner, which are globally respected companies, should take a stand regarding this kind of speech."
Should we support this petition?
Edward Schumacher-Matos, a lecturer at Harvard and Miami Herald ombudsman, says that "the boycott is perfectly legitimate. As much as Dobbs may not mean to demonize immigrants and Latinos, he does. He hammers at this issue night after night, and he takes so many facts out of context, that even if I don't think he is a racist, he feeds into racism."
In addition, Dobbs often misleads the public by presenting opinion disguised as news, Schumacher-Matos added.
Edward Wasserman, a journalism-ethics professor at Washington and Lee University and a Miami Herald columnist, added that just as Dobbs has a right to free speech, news consumers have a right to boycott companies that sponsor irresponsible journalism.
"If you find the general drift of Dobbs' commentary to be incendiary, reckless, deceitful, then you shouldn't be buying these advertisers' products," Wasserman said.
He added that both Dobbs and the coalition asking for his firing will get greater attention from this fight, and that "the greater danger is of deepening fragmentation, if we see more and more of these boycotts."
My opinion: If Dobbs' show was presented as an opinion show — "The angry-white-male nightly diatribe" would be a proper name for it — I would be against a boycott drive because it would curtail his right to free speech. But if Dobbs, Beck, and other cable TV entertainers continue to deceive the public by using news formats to disguise opinion as news, and cross the line from dispassionate discourse to fire-brand crusading, they must live with the consequences, including boycotts.
(If you wonder why The Herald runs my column under the banner "In my opinion," and why I always end my columns with the words "my opinion," it's precisely to let you know exactly what you are reading.)
The key issue should not be where Dobbs or other Hispanic-phobic TV show hosts stand, but whether they present themselves as what they are — opinionators. And Dobbs clearly doesn't pass the test.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Andres Oppenheimer is a Miami Herald syndicated columnist and a member of The Miami Herald team that won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize. He also won the 1999 Maria Moors Cabot Award, the 2001 King of Spain prize, and the 2005 Emmy Suncoast award. He is the author of Castro's Final Hour; Bordering on Chaos, on Mexico's crisis; Cronicas de heroes y bandidos, Ojos vendados, Cuentos Chinos and most recently of Saving the Americas. E-mail Andres at aoppenheimer @ herald.com Live chat with Oppenheimer every Thursday at 1 p.m. at The Miami Herald.