Lou Dobbs and the American Immigration Crisis
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
In this country few people are as influential in the debate over illegal immigration as CNN Anchor Lou Dobbs. Once known primarily as a business journalist, Dobbs has turned his daily newscast into an ongoing campaign against illegal immigrants, outsourcing and poor port security. Dobbs' many critics say he's on a crusade. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.
JIM ZARROLI: Lou Dobbs looks like anyone of those sober, middle-aged guys in suits who so often fill the anchor chairs on network TV. But unlike those other guys, Dobbs is never shy about expressing his opinions on the air. Like when he interviewed a Rutgers University professor last week.
(Soundbite of Mr. Dobbs interviewing professor)
LOU DOBBS: These are people who are breaking our laws, coming to our country, and the church, and specifically the Catholic Church and the good our Cardinal Mahoney and the person who you seem to think is terrific, is embracing his new parishioners as they flood across the border with Mexico.
ZARROLI: Or when he spoke to New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg, who just proposed more money for border security.
(Soundbite of Mr. Dobbs with Mr. Gregg)
DOBBS: And good for you, and good for all of us who, the 280 million legal citizens of this country who require some representation.
ZARROLI: For years, Dobbs was best known as the face of CNN's business coverage. A man who could speak to corporate CEOs with authority. He won a Peabody Award for his coverage of the 1987 stock market crash. But over the past few years, Dobbs has transformed himself into a full-blooded cable TV populist. What's changed him, he says, was September 11th. The attacks drove home to him how porous U.S. borders had become and how little the government was doing to repair them.
DOBBS: Either we are in a global war against radical Islamist terrorism and the security of the nation is at risk, or it's not. And if it is, we must secure our ports and our borders without fail.
ZARROLI: Dobbs rails against what he calls ethnocentric groups that want to relax border controls. He's made some immigrant rights groups so angry they've called for a boycott of CNN's parent company, Time-Warner. But Dobbs is hard to peg politically. He's a big critic of outsourcing and when he talks about corporations, he often uses language that would do Michael Moore proud. Immigration policy is being dictated, he says, by what he calls corporate supremacists.
DOBBS: The corporatists who own lock, stock and barrel our legislative process through lobbying, our electoral process through their campaign contributions, absolutely own mainstream media. And furthermore, are driving the unlawful entry of illegal aliens so they can have even cheaper labor.
ZARROLI: By focusing so heavily on illegal immigration, Dobbs has made the issue his own. He's become a kind of de facto leader of the anti-illegal immigration movement.
Tamar Jacoby is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
TAMAR JACOBY: I've been in meetings with congressmen who have said, we listen to Lou Dobbs and we think we're hearing our base. And I don't believe that's remotely true but he has managed to create that impression rather effectively. And that's what's troubling and, you know, I would argue even pernicious.
ZARROLI: Jacoby says people should feel free to disagree about a complex issue like illegal immigration. But she says, too often Dobbs lacks objectivity. Dobbs says people usually criticize his objectivity when they disagree with him and don't know what else to say.
DOBBS: We begin each broadcast with Lou Dobbs Tonight, an hour of news, debate and opinion. My audience is, has to be amongst the brightest in television. And they're not going to accept anything less than reasoned analysis and a point of view that I've been bringing to the air for years.
ZARROLI: That strategy seems to be succeeding with viewers. The ratings for Lou Dobbs Tonight have risen by 28 percent since 2003. In the highly competitive world of cable TV news, Dobbs has become a bankable personality for CNN. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.