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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Lou Dobbs and Immigration: Journalism or Something Else?

The film clips show rallies filled with hostile illegal aliens, flipping obscene gestures to bystanders and militantly flying their home country's flags. And their motives are guided by a hidden force -- organizers connected to leftist regimes in Latin America, bent on throwing America off balance. Missed these nuggets in media coverage of Monday's largely peaceful immigration rallies? Then you weren't watching CNN's Lou Dobbs, who has turned his program into a haven for paranoid, America-first sloganeering only marginally disguised as objective news reporting.

In a recent report titled "Radical Agenda," Dobbs' show turned pictures of one man flipping off a photographer and protestors chanting around a TV van into evidence that the protests are growing more aggressive. In an earlier show, Dobbs had criticized news networks for not using the terms "illegal aliens" in their coverage -- as if use of that single, loaded term was enough to disqualify all reporting on the issue.

Dobbs, a longtime opponent of amnesty for illegal immigrants, has surprised no one by turning up the rhetoric as immigrants have become more vocal about their opinions on Congress' immigration bills. He has criticized everything from immigrants flying flags of their home countries at rallies to recordings of the Star Spangled Banner in Spanish, insisting that immigrants should assimilate totally in America. (this picture shows Dobbs hanging with border security vigilantes The Minutemen)

These reports are thinly-disguised expressions of mainstream America's paranoia about illegal immigrants -- that they will overwhelm the nation's culture, take jobs from citizens and subvert the country's direction. As long as they were willing to accept illegally low wages and criminally dangerous working conditions in silence, the nation's pundits had little to say on their plight.

But they have since learned what women, African Americans and other minority groups learned a long time ago -- to get real fairness in America, you often have to get in somebody's face.

All this talk about immigrants hurting their chances at success with Congress reminds me of the debates during the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the famous civil rights marches of the '60s -- not to mention outright riots in Watts and elsewhere. Back then, black activists were told white people would grow too angry to give them what they wanted. But historians have come to agree that fear of urban unrest, combined with the non-violent alternatives offered by Martin Luther King is what pushed America into finally granting black people their rights.

Many pundits have resisted comparing the current immigration protests to civil rights marches -- we love the '60s-era civil rights movement so much, agreeing to a comprison lends instant credibility. But one lesson from those marches is that real reform often only comes from aggressive challenge -- even when the cause's legitimacy seems obvious.

I question Dobbs' aggressiveness in demonizing illegal immigrants -- insisting on describing them using the most inflammatory language and seizing on any small example to discredit the entire protest effort. Rather than try cutting through the malarkey of this issue, he's playing on his audience's worst fears and jingoism. The liberal watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting points out that Dobbs' views have been joined by fellow on air personality Jack Cafferty and will likely be echoed by new CNN Headline News hire Glenn Beck.

Can it really be that one of the big issues under discussion is whether immigrants should have recorded the Star Spangled Banner in Spanish? Have we grown so intolerant that the sight of Mexican flags and a rendition of a song in Spanish is considered grounds for changing our stance on immigration law?

America is being forced to face its hypocrisy on illegal immigration -- allowing a huge pool of undocumented workers to labor for criminally low wages to avoid the economic and political disruption that would come from facing a thorny issue. And like all good hypocrites, instead of addressing the issue, many have been trying to change the subject.

A quality pundit and journalist would keep his audience focused on the real issues -- the seemingly unsolvable clash between America's need for cheap labor and its imperative to enforce immigration laws. Instead, Dobbs wants to make the problem simple for viewers by demonizing one side, enabled by a worldwide news network addicted to his show's ratings.

No wonder journalists have no crediblity left.

Poll Shows Americans Trust Government More than Media

If, as NYU professor Jay Rosen theorizes, the Bush administration's press strategy has mostly been focused on discrediting the news media rather than informing them, the Bushies can rest easy. It's working.

According to a poll conducted by the BBC, Reuters, and the Media Center, 67 percent of Americans polled trusted government compared to 59 percent who trusted media. In Britain, 51 percent trusted government compared to 47 percent who trusted media. Overall, about 30 percent had abandoned at least one news outlet in the past year over mistrusting its content.

Countries with the highest level of media trust included Nigeria, Indonsia, Egypt and Russia -- all countries with a history of government corruption which have also struggled with issues of press repression. What do they know that we don't?

A Deadly Year for Journalists

The tally might be 47 or 37, depending on who you believe. But there is little doubt that the war in Iraq has helped make 2005 a deadly year for journalists, with trhe total number of journalist killed surpassing the death toll for any other war.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 47 journalists died in Iraq in 2005, 60 killed there since 1996 -- 32 deaths higher than the next country's total. The Iraqi Journalists Association pegs the death toll in 2005 at 35, but 112 for the war's duration.

As today marks the U.N.-sponsored World Press Freedom Day, it is worth a second or two to ruminate on the sacrifices of journalists who have given their lives to ensure the world's citizens stay informed about a conflict which has proven the most deadly to journalists in history.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:36pm]

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