Debating Lou Dobbs' Stance On Immigration The immigration debate is a staple of conservative talk radio. More than 40 conservative radio hosts came to Washington this week, pressuring Congress to deny undocumented immigrants health care coverage. CNN anchor Lou Dobbs was among those holding their feet to the fire. Roberto Lovato, a journalist and activist who's waged a campaign to get Lou Dobbs off the air, called for "Basta Dobbs" or "Enough, Dobbs." Also joining the conversation is Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform and Rick Rodriguez, a journalism professor at Arizona State University. The two talk with guest host Mandalit del Barco about the tenor of the debate and whether some of the rhetoric should be considered hate speech.
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Debating Lou Dobbs' Stance On Immigration

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Debating Lou Dobbs' Stance On Immigration

Debating Lou Dobbs' Stance On Immigration

Debating Lou Dobbs' Stance On Immigration

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The immigration debate is a staple of conservative talk radio. More than 40 conservative radio hosts came to Washington this week, pressuring Congress to deny undocumented immigrants health care coverage. CNN anchor Lou Dobbs was among those holding their feet to the fire. Roberto Lovato, a journalist and activist who's waged a campaign to get Lou Dobbs off the air, called for "Basta Dobbs" or "Enough, Dobbs." Also joining the conversation is Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform and Rick Rodriguez, a journalism professor at Arizona State University. The two talk with guest host Mandalit del Barco about the tenor of the debate and whether some of the rhetoric should be considered hate speech.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, host:

I'm Mandalit Del Barco, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Coming up, a Jesuit priest who hangs in praise with the homies in L.A., that's in our weekly faith matters discussion in just a few minutes.

But first, more than 40 conservative radio talk show hosts gathered in Washington this week. They broadcast their shows and pressured Congress to ensure undocumented immigrants do not benefit from the proposed health care overhaul. CNN anchor Lou Dobbs was among those holding their feet to the fire.

There's now a movement against Dobbs, anti-illegal immigration messages. Critics say he promotes hate speech. Supporters say he has a right to say what he wants. Here to talk about that debate is Roberto Lovato, a journalist and activist campaigning to get Lou Dobbs off the air. It's a campaign called "Basta Dobbs" or Enough Dobbs. Also, Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. His group sponsored this week's radiothon song, and Rick Rodriguez, a journalism professor at Arizona State University. Thanks all of you for joining us today.

Mr. ROBERTO LOVATO (Journalist, Activist Campaigner): Happy to be here.

Mr. IRA MEHLMAN (Spokesman, Federation for American Immigration Reform): Thanks, Mandalit.

Professor RICK RODRIGUEZ (Journalism, Arizona State University): Glad to be here.

DEL BARCO: Thank you. Roberto, I'm going to start with you. Lou Dobbs, headlined the radiothon, and I know that your organization - your new organization has a lot of concerns about CNN's support of Lou Dobbs. And can you site some specific examples of what you want Lou Dobbs to do or not do on CNN?

Mr. LOVATO: Our concerns were on the gamut there. And - and if you look at Lou Dobbs' program regularly, as we have, and you analyze it - as many other groups have as well for many years- there's a very clear case against him in turns of three points. First, the fact that he obsesses more than anyone else in media. The organization Media Matters, for example, had a study that showed that from January to July, Lou Dobbs' show had 77 out of 140 of discussion hours about "illegal aliens," quote, unquote.

And secondly, he regularly and systematically lies about immigrants, especially Latino immigrants who he's accused of everything from having caused 7,000 cases of leprosies, despite the fact that The Center for Disease Control always have shown that this is just, you know, (unintelligible) or that Latinos under that immigrants - undocumented immigrants constitute a third of the prison system in the U.S. something the Department of Justice has denied.

So, the most dangerous thing, however, is that he uses his show as a platform for groups that promote extremist views, and groups that are themselves extreme and even violent if you look at, say, the Minutemen, whose members in Arizona killed nine-year-old Brisenia Flores and Shawna Forde, the member of the Minutemen has also been affiliated with the group FAIR…

Mr. MEHLMAN: Absolutely not.

Mr. LOVATO: …although they've denied it after she killed…

Mr. MEHLMAN: Absolutely not. Absolutely…

Mr. LOVATO: If I can just - If I could just finish it…

Mr. MEHLMAN: No, no, no, because we - we have to stop it there.

DEL BARCO: I want to - let me - let me just interject because we are talking about CNN and Lou Dobbs. And just to be completely fair, we tried to reach out to CNN for a spokesperson or a written statement. So far, we've not received any response, but I know that in the past CNN has defended Lou Dobbs' right to speak, to say what he wants on his show.

I know that they say, you know, free speech and his show is highly rated. But, Ira, you wanted to respond to these charges against Lou Dobbs.

Mr. MEHLMAN: Well, you know, I'll let Lou Dobbs speak for himself. Lou Dobbs can defend himself. I think his show, as you pointed out, is a highly rated show. It has plenty of viewers who seem to appreciate the point of view that Lou Dobbs gets across. But, you know, if we want to have a civil debate about this issue - and I believe that we need to have a civil debate about this issue - we ought to set some ground rules. And one of the most important ground rules is separating immigration policy from immigrants.

Immigration policy is just that, a public policy. It is there to serve the interest of the American people. We ought to be able to debate immigration policy openly, vigorously, like we do any other public policy issue. Immigrants are human beings. And all human beings deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Even people who are here illegally must be treated with respect and dignity even as we enforce laws against people who violate our laws. So we…

DEL BARCO: (Unintelligible).

Mr. MEHLMAN: …we want a debate about immigration policy. We don't get into immigrants. Immigrants are good people by and large.

DEL BARCO: But you've heard the debates on television, or radio, and in the media. I mean they get very heated. And groups like Roberto's and other organizations, other specifically Latino organizations say that there's a lot of hate speech going around this debate. I mean, you know, the tenor of this conversation does get really hot.

Mr. MEHLMAN: You know, the only hate I'm noticing is the people who defend illegal immigration attacking the people who want our immigration laws enforced and saying that any criticism of immigration policy, any criticism of illegal immigration is tantamount to attack against immigrants or Latinos. And that's simply not true. Again, we are not focusing on any particular ethnic group here, we are focusing on whether active coming to the country illegally harms Americans.

If you look at immigration from the perspective of immigrants, it's always wonderful. Nobody comes here unless it's in their interest. And people like Roberto will say that's noble. And yet, if somebody in this country says from it also from their own standpoint that this is harmful to my interests, somehow that becomes invalid, and becomes an attack against the people who are breaking our laws.

DEL BARCO: Roberto, what do you have to say to Ira Mehlman about his defense of some of the language in the media?

Mr. LOVATO: Look, to the people that have been talking about this for some time. And most recently, people like a gentleman named President Barack Obama, who last year said and I'll quote, "a certain segment was basically feeding a kind of xenophobia. There's a reason why hate crimes against Hispanic people doubled last year," Obama said. If you have people like Lou Dobbs and Rush Limbaugh ginning things up, it's not surprising that that would happen.

And so, this is actually about free speech, but not denying Lou Dobbs free speech. Nobody's proposing that or to CNN, but we're simply - as Latinos and as many other groups across the country, religious organizations, African-Americans - there's going to be a massive and a growing outcry of demanding Lou Dobbs be dropped, basta.com, basta Lou Dobbs.

It's our civil right and our moral duty to demand that CNN take Lou Dobbs off the air now because people are being killed. This is very serious. Okay, I'm not here to debate immigration policy at this point. We can do that at some other time. But in terms of the media, when you have somebody who's fueling the debate so - almost every single day. I mean, it's outrageous. And fuelling it with lies, myths, and fueling it with the help of extremist groups that promote hatred, xenophobia, and extremism. We have to do something. That's why Latinos are saying basta ya. And you will see in the coming months as CNN and president Jon Klein will see a very major campaign to demand that he take Lou Dobbs off the air now.

DEL BARCO: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with activist Roberto Lovato of the "Basta Dobbs" campaign; Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform; and Arizona State University Journalism Professor Rick Rodriguez.

Okay. So, Roberto, let's - let's go to the professor here, the journalism Professor Rodriguez. What can you tell us about the role of the media in this debate? How historically has it played out?

Prof. RODRIGUEZ: The media's role is to be a marketplace of ideas. I think the editors at CNN, you have to make decisions as to what is in the - should be in the public arena. Is it ethical, for example, for Lou Dobbs to be the spokesperson or the chair affairs radiothon this week? I, you know, if it was newsroom and somebody said that I want to go and be the head of an advocacy group's radiothon, I would say no. And if they did it, they would be subject to disciplinary action. So there's a journalism ethical question there that I think needs to be answered.

DEL BARCO: Yeah. And to be fair, Lou Dobbs was one of the featured presenters. I don't think he's a…

Mr. MEHLMAN: He's one of 47 radio show hosts to participate. He had no official capacity other than we provided a microphone for him.

DEL BARCO: But regardless of that question of Lou Dobbs. Isn't it true that in other countries, though, you see the media divided into liberal media, conservative, right wing or left wing or however - they're very specific about how they label themselves and are unapologetic about their points of view. They lay them right out there.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: That's true. You could argue that that's happened essentially with broadcast networks that some have actually taken a position. FOX News Network has taken a position to be right of center. MSNBC has taken a position to be left of center. You know, CNN, which we're debating right now, is kind of over the map.

DEL BARCO: You know, CNN, also to be fair, is soon going to be running a series called "Latino in America." So you have, on the one hand, you have a show promoting the history and personalities of Latinos. And then on the other hand, you have criticisms of big personality and anchor like Lou Dobbs. So, it seems like there is a range of opinions even on CNN.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: See, I don't have an objection to that. The only thing that, from an ethical point of view, is it ethical for a journalist to be so identified with one point of view if, you know, and you still identify yourself as a journalist. You can identify yourself as a commentator, personal view, et cetera.

DEL BARCO: Well, Lou Dobbs is a commentator. He doesn't necessarily claim to be a journalist, more of an advocate.

Mr. MEHLMAN: Right. And by the way, he was there not representing CNN, but he was there as a talk show host. He has his own syndicated radio talk show in addition to his gig at CNN. Like, you know, I'd like to comment on a couple of other things because what I'm hearing here is almost a prescription for shutting down debate. That, you know, because there are a few hotheads out there - and you will find radical people on the fringes of any issue. As a matter of fact, you'll find radicals, hateful people on the other side of this issue as well.

But we ought not to disqualify the viewpoint of millions upon millions of Americans simply because there are a few nuts out there. You know, we need to disregard what those radicals are saying and focus on what most people in this country really feel about this issue. You know, I believe that most Americans are decent folks who don't bear any strong animosity to people based on their race or ethnicity, but simply believe that the immigration policies of the United States aren't serving their interests, and they would like their government to serve their interest by enforcing our immigration laws.

DEL BARCO: And in the media, Roberto, can we have a civil debate about this issue. Have you seen that? Have you seen that anywhere?

Mr. LOVATO: Yes, definitely. We are organizing our online campaigns through bastadobbs.com precisely because we believe it's urgently necessary to have a civil debate about immigration and Latinos and other issues, something that you don't see on CNN'S Lou Dobbs shows every night. All you see are exaggerations, lies, obsessiveness and a platform for extremist groups. And we're tired of it. Latinos in particular are saying basta, no more. There's a rapid increase in hate crimes against Latinos in the United States.

DEL BARCO: You think this is due to the media's messages?

Mr. LOVATO: The media has a direct role. We're human beings and we're rational and we use language. And when you have somebody using language, using false statistics, something has to be done. And that's why we are absolutely committed to demanding that CNN take Dobbs off the air because they can go and have "Latino in America," but are they going to put Lou Dobbs on "Latino in America"? I can guarantee you they won't.

Are they going to translate Lou Dobbs into Espanol for broadcast in CNN in Espanol? No, they don't. Those aren't just journalistic questions. Those are business questions and we're organizing in the top 25 Latino cities in order to make sure that CNN knows they can no longer continue this.

DEL BARCO: That was Arizona State University journalism professor Rick Rodriguez; Ira Mehlman from FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform and Roberto Lovato, a journalist leading a campaign criticizing CNN anchor Lou Dobbs.

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

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