Dover Bitch

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Shame on you, Lou Dobbs

Even though DB has never felt as badly scooped as I do right now with the blog-o-sphere abuzz with talk about Lou Dobbs' and Laura Flanders, here is the post I began and then set aside last week. (The only thing worse for this blogger than feeling like a particular post has zero effect on the topic is realizing that it may be too late to even have any effect on the conversation in general).

The thing that bothers DB about Lou Dobbs, more than anything, is the way he uses language to dehumanize the millions of hard-working people and families who are in this country without documentation. But beyond that, it is also the way he simultaneously shifts the entire burden of culpability onto the people with the least amount of power in the nation.

I wrote last year about the hypocrisy of the deport-them-all position. In a nation which has all but ignored its own laws, with a representative government and large segment of employers who have synergistically conspired to offer a tacit invitation to workers to enter the country illegally, the idea that the blame lies with people who have accepted those invitations and have done little or nothing other than fulfill their end of the bargain by working hard and raising families in pursuit of the American Dream is ridiculous.

Dobbs insists on calling them "illegal aliens," rather than "undocumented workers." He doesn't refer to our nation's employers as "illegal employers." He doesn't refer to our executive, who has deliberately decided not to enforce the laws against those employers as an "illegal president." He doesn't refer to representatives who have deliberately decided not to seriously fund an effort to stop people from crossing the border as an "illegal congress."

It has been decades now that the American government, ultimately accountable to the American people, in tandem with wealthy American employers, have waved their hands in invitation to hard-working people from South of the border. And yet, despite the fact that he knows this and reports on this, though Dobbs' use of language, the blame is shifted entirely to the workers, who hold the least power in the entire equation and who are the most susceptible to victimization and hate crimes (in fact, not just theory) by an intolerant audience whose emotions are manipulated by this language, despite Dobbs' attempts to distance himself from those elements.

In short, if the American employers and the American government (and by extension, the American people) don't care enough about our immigration laws to have enforced them to any sort of standard that indicates we take them seriously, why should people who come here to simply work and raise a family be charged with the high crime of being disrespectful of the rule of law?

In addition to his use of language, Dobbs also uses dubious sources for his statistics and "facts." Dave Neiwert has done a remarkable job of documenting Dobbs' recent transgressions. The silver lining in being completely scooped by a superior blogger is that I don't need to waste time rehashing how horrible his encounters with Mark Potok and Laura Flanders were. But I have a little bit more to add, anyway.

As incredible as the exchange with Flanders was, what took it to a level of absurdity for DB was the fact that it shortly followed this report from Casey Wian:

WIAN: Surveys of practicing Catholics also reveal discord. A recent Pew Research Center poll asked Catholics if they would quote, "support allowing undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States for several years to gain legal working status and the possibility of citizenship in the future." Sixty six percent favored the idea, 32 percent were opposed.


WIAN (on camera): But a year ago, the Pew Center asked a different question of non-Hispanic Catholics, using the word "illegal immigrants" instead of "undocumented immigrants." Only about a quarter of the group favored allowing illegal immigrants already in the United States to stay permanently, Lou.

DOBBS: And I believe that same poll and also and certainly the Zogby poll revealed that just about two thirds of all Catholics believed in strict border security and a very tough immigration law that should, should congress actually begin contemplating it.

WIAN: Absolutely.

Anybody with a brain would understand that language matters and that using the term "illegal aliens" would have a negative impact on the results of the poll, so it's no stretch to imagine that Dobbs would get that, too. But he even reported it and he did so only moments before berating Flanders for suggesting that he stop using language like that. His argument with her was a remarkable example of bullying (particularly in light of the fact that he apparently followed her off the set to say "How dare you!"). That it followed Wian's report made it a masterpiece of cognitive dissonance.

I'd also point out that the impetus for this conversation was the reported abuses by the Los Angeles police at the May 1 immigration rally. Dobbs devoted the absolute minimum of attention he possibly could to that story for a week. Despite having a reporter based in Los Angeles (Wian), Dobbs had no report on the incident. Perhaps it was too late to get into that day's broadcast, but look at the rest of the week: May 2, just five sentences in passing; May 3, seven sentences in passing; May 4, six sentences in passing. Finally, a report from Wian about it on Monday, May 7, which was incorporated into Dobbs' larger, ongoing reporting about the Catholic Church's involvement in the immigration movement, easily done because Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined Cardinal Roger Mahony at a "Catholic mass of reconciliation" that Sunday.

There was no relenting in Dobbs' coverage of his perceived damage to America by "illegal aliens," but practically no effort to describe the abuses to these demonstrators that were making headlines everywhere else.

And it is also important to note, as many have, that this was hardly the first time that Dobbs has been challenged on his use of language in describing undocumented workers. The way he treated Flanders, however, was extraordinary.

Consider also this exchange seven months ago in his hour-long special "Broken Borders:"

After repeating the word "illegal" 13 times in the program's introduction alone, he eventually reached this moment in the town hall-formatted special:

DOBBS: We're also here with Sheriff Rick Flores from Webb County, Texas. Sheriff, we've heard discussions about ordinances, local law enforcement, local communities taking up what the federal government won't do. Give us, if you will, your perspective as an important law enforcement officer in this state on the border.

RICK FLORES, SHERIFF, WEBB COUNTY: I can tell you, Lou, that Mexican people have been crossing the border since we've had a border with Mexico.

We've never had problems with Mexicans. Mexicans are not terrorists. It's the other than the Mexicans. The other people that are using Mexico as a jumping board to come into the United States who we are worried about and our Mexican border is very porous.

Now, in terms of -- and I do agree with Rosa that these are undocumented people. I don't like the word Mexican or illegal aliens.

DOBBS: You don't like the word Mexican?

FLORES: I don't like illegal aliens. Mexican is OK. Undocumented Mexicans, but see, there's a lot of people coming in through the Mexican border that are OTMs and those are the people that we're concerned about. And that's the reason why Congressman McCaul decided to investigate the Texas border sheriffs and the work that we were doing because of the violence that was escalating along the border and the potential for terrorist cells to make their way through Mexico to come into the United States. This deal about immigration, it just came post-9/11. Nobody had ever complained about illegal immigrants here.

DOBBS: I think you're exactly right.

FLORES: It was post-9/11.

DOBBS: I think you're right.

Dobbs thinks Flores is exactly right? Could anybody believe that? Perhaps it was because there was an audience, perhaps, as I'm inclined to believe, it's because he was not only hearing it from a man, but a sheriff, but in any event, there was no finger-pointing and Dobbs didn't try to talk over him and call him "obfuscatory."

Whatever his motivation for not just taking the comment in stride, but for actually completely agreeing with it, there was no indication in Dobbs' subsequent behavior that he took any of those comments to heart. That special aired over a weekend. The following week, on Lou Dobbs Tonight, the words "illegal aliens," "illegal immigration" or in the country "illegally" were spoken 96 times.

The word "undocumented" appeared just three times: Twice in viewer mail, mocking the term, and once by a member of a Catholic charity Lou brought on to lambaste for being in favor of impoverished "anchor babies" qualifying to receive food stamps as citizens of the United States.

Here we are, seven months later, and Dobbs still feeds a racist audience false statistics and provides cover for those who would dehumanize millions of hardworking people and advocate the destruction of their families by either deportation or the base tactic of simply starving them out of the country by eliminating their sources of income.

It is simply shameful. Shame on you, Lou Dobbs.

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