After several months of a focused internet and social media campaign pressuring CNN to fire Lou Dobbs, the xenophobic pundit announced tonight he is leaving CNN effectively immediately.
BastaDobbs.org–the virtual Latino coalition which led the campaign against CNN–is claiming victory. “We are thrilled that Dobbs no longer has this legitimate platform from which to incite fear and hate,” said Roberto Lovato. Lovato, who is an accomplished writer, is also the founder of the Latino-advocacy group Presente.org, the lead organization behind the anti-Dobbs campaign. “The community is newly empowered and energized,” he continued, “and we are ready to fight for a respectful and civil media discourse when it comes to immigration coverage on mainstream news.”
I couldn’t be happier that Lou Dobbs’ uncritical voice of hate is off the air. I am a firm defender of anyone’s right to free speech, but I am also fiercely opposed to the notion that we are better as a society if we provide a platform for all speech. Television news–and cable news in particular–has moved into an era where providing a “safe space” for the voices from the political extreme has come to substitute for critical discourse and constructive debate. That isn’t the news and it isn’t “fair and balanced.” It’s petty, and it’s lazy, and it needs to evolve.
I am also a big fan of Roberto Lovato and Presente.org, for all practical purposes the brains and muscle behind the campaign. In many ways, all of the folks at Presente.org who worked hard on this for months have something to celebrate tonight.
But I would also urge people to be cautious about Dobbs’ departure. It’s not only too early to tell whether or not this was a victory for “the campaign,” the signs may be telling us it is a victory for el otro lado.
I reluctantly never signed on to the BastDobbs crusade. The historian in me sees too many pitfalls in campaigns that target an individual rather than what that individual represents or advocates. Lou Dobbs was never the real problem plaguing Latinos in America. He was a symptom of the larger problem, perhaps at worst a nurturer of it.
That larger problem is a system of entrenched racism that is violent. It is a lack of humanist compassion and empathy. Fear, hate, ignorance are its friends, but even they are not its substance. If Americans everywhere hated Mexican immigrants and did nothing about that hate, there wouldn’t really be a problem.
All that said, we are still better off not having Dobbs on TV. My primary worry comes from how his departure took place. CNN chief Jonathan Klein likely either pressured Dobbs into leaving or, in essence, fired him. By letting Dobbs dictate the public nature of his departure, CNN never has to be publicly accountable for continuing to provide him a platform for the past four years as he grew increasingly hostile toward immigrants and Latinos.
Dobbs also gets to leave CNN as a populist hero for the Right wing. The inference that CNN pressured him out on the supposed effort of a bunch of radical Latinos helps fashion Dobbs into a martyr for the cause. Time will tell whether or not this is the case. Until we see where it is he ends up, we don’t know the measure of the victory. In fact, we may have given him even greater and more authentic power in the eyes of the small constituency to which he speaks.
Finally, the “teachable moment” that was Lou Dobbs program is now gone from the air. That doesn’t mean its views are defeated, and it doesn’t mean uncritical analysis of our most pressing problems is gone from CNN. It does mean CNN gets to put on its best suit and tie and now pretend that what it gives us is the news. It also forces the anti-Dobbs campaign to have to define the problem anew.
In her legendary work of art Borderlands/La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldúa reminds us:
“But it is not enough to stand on the opposite river bank, shouting questions, challenging patriarchal, white conventions. A counterstance locks one into a duel of oppressor and oppressed. . . [it] refutes the dominant culture’s views and beliefs, and, for this, it is proudly defiant. . . But it is not a way of life.”
This week news surfaced that CNN paid Dobbs to go away. This article in the New York Post alleges Dobbs walked away with a check for $8 million from CNN in exchange for his early departure. Dobbs himself is also speaking out, as you can see in his recent visit to FOX News’ Bill O’Reilly.