Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Can Someone Please Page the "Liberal" Media?

The NYT this morning has a piece in the Arts section (reminding us, however unintentionally, that the media is an art, as opposed to a factual or reality based production) on CNN's Lou Dobbs, emphasizing the host's immigration obsession seen through his nightly "broken borders" segment, which usually comes complete with some hysterical reference to the impact of "illegals" coming over the border from Mexico, the threat from terrorism, regular crime, and jobs that said brown people speaking a funny language have on good old Americans.

Anyway, the piece says

Night after night, Lou Dobbs slides into his anchor chair, turns to the camera and becomes the sober and steady face of CNN. At 60, he has more than three decades of experience, silvering hair and a voice that rumbles with authority. And for most of his program, he looks and feels like a traditional, nothing-but-the-news television host.

Then the topic turns to illegal immigration, and the sober newsman starts breathing fire.

Mr. Dobbs batters the Bush administration for doing too little to stop millions of migrants from slipping across the border with Mexico. He slams businesses and advocacy groups for helping illegal aliens thrive here. He hails the beleaguered officials who struggle to enforce immigration laws. As his scorching commentaries spill across the nation's television screens, first-time viewers might be forgiven for rubbing their eyes in wonder.

Here is Mr. Dobbs, discussing the Roman Catholic Church's opposition to legislation that would make it a federal crime to assist illegal immigrants: "Tonight, the effort to secure this nation's borders has a new opponent. It is the Catholic Church."

Here he is on the Minutemen, the civilians labeled "vigilantes" by their critics for patrolling the border — sometimes armed — in search of illegal immigrants: "I support the Minuteman Project and the fine Americans who make it up in all they've accomplished, fully, relentlessly and proudly."

And here he is criticizing the White House: "How about a congressional investigation of this administration that refuses to enforce either immigration laws or border security, period?"


Many conservatives praise him for giving a rare national platform to people who fear that illegal immigrants are taking jobs from Americans, fueling violent crime and threatening national security. Critics deride him as anti-immigrant, racist and biased, charges he fiercely denies. One Democratic congressman was so incensed that he stood up on the House floor last year to denounce Mr. Dobbs's continuing series "Broken Borders" as a "broken record."

But Mr. Dobbs remains unapologetic. He says he has no interest in assuming the conventional role of the anchor who reports the news dispassionately. His mission, he says, is to tell American viewers the truth, no matter how uncomfortable or controversial.

"There's nothing fair and balanced about me," said Mr. Dobbs, tweaking his Fox News rivals' slogan, as he settled into his office overlooking Central Park one recent afternoon. "Because there's nothing fair and balanced about the truth. 'He says, she says' journalism is a monstrous cop-out."

"I happen to believe strongly and passionately that we are a nation of immigrants," he added. "But only fools with an agenda can defend illegal immigration."


But by repeatedly presenting his forceful opinions on illegal immigration and other subjects — on "Moneyline" he criticized the Justice Department for indicting the accounting firm Arthur Andersen in the Enron scandal — Mr. Dobbs has stepped squarely into the debate over whether cable news anchors are breaching the bright line that has traditionally separated commentary from news.


But for the fans of Mr. Dobbs's segments on illegal immigration, it is precisely his melding of reporting and forthright opinion that is such a powerful draw. "People across the country tune in to Lou Dobbs because they know their views on immigration will be presented," said Rosemary Jenks, director of governmental relations at NumbersUSA, a policy group that favors reducing immigration. "He is a hero to a lot of people."

Mr. Dobbs's critics, who sometimes appear on his program, acknowledge that he explores the issue of immigration more deeply than any other anchor on television. But, they complain, he fails to point out that the overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants are hard-working people who take jobs that Americans don't want.

Representative Luis V. Gutierrez, Democrat of Illinois, became so frustrated with the program that he invited Mr. Dobbs to Washington in 2004 to hear the concerns of about 12 members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He said Mr. Dobbs listened politely, but his program remained the same.

It was Mr. Gutierrez who denounced the program on the House floor last year. "He says, 'I'm fair,' but then he portrays immigrants as purely law breakers and as a threat to our national security," Mr. Gutierrez said. "Meanwhile, he praises other lawbreakers — such as the vigilantes in the Minutemen. And I watch this, and I can't comprehend it."

Mr. Dobbs, who was born in Texas and grew up in Idaho, says he has worked on farms alongside migrant workers, picking beans, hauling potatoes and bailing hay. He says he appreciates the contributions that immigrants have made to this country, though he refuses to discuss his own immigrant heritage.

"One of the things I hate is hyphenated Americans," Mr. Dobbs said testily when a reporter tried to draw him out about his family's history. "I don't give a damn about all of that. We're just Americans."

Mr. Dobbs said he tried to include the voices of "people who would be ignored" because, in his view, too many reporters are too politically correct to give critics of illegal immigration a fair hearing. "Their voices have been denied," he said of many of his guests and viewers.

Mr. Dobbs, who owns a horse farm in New Jersey, says he has never hired an illegal alien. And as for offering a more nuanced portrayal of illegal immigrants on his program, he says he has no interest in treading that territory.

Instead, he plans to continue exposing what he describes as the collusion between the Bush administration, business executives and the Mexican government to disregard immigration laws so as to ensure that America's businesses have a steady stream of cheap labor and Mexico has an outlet for its poor.

"I know firsthand from my own experience that migrant workers are good people," Mr. Dobbs said. "That isn't the issue. We are a nation of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws. If we fail as a nation of laws, the rest doesn't make one bit of difference."

So, after being exposed to snippets of Dobb's vitriol about immigrants through most of the piece we get to the end where the pugnacious cable tv "news" hosts says that his real concern is that we are a "nation of laws". He doesn't hate immigrants, mind you, he just cares about the law.

But strangely, we read earlier in the piece that Dobbs didn't like it that the Justice Department went after the accounting firm Arthur Anderson, as a part of the Enron investigation. I mean, after all, if Arthur Anderson was complicit or negligent regarding its Enron audits, they should be held accountable under the law, right? Apparently not, for lifelong Republican and big business schooze Lou Dobbs.

And maybe this has you wondering what Dobbs thought of the Plame scandal and the Fitzpatrick investigation into the violation of a CIA agent's cover. That's the law, right? Nation of laws, nobody's above the law? Dobbs was on the side of "the law" in that case, right? Dobbs was concerned that the sanctity of the law be enforced in this case, right? Um, no.

Maybe you wonder what Dobbs thinks of the law and Tom DeLay? He's on the side of the prosecutor, right? He cares about finding out whether Tom DeLay broke any campaign financing laws, right? Um, no.

So the law is important when it concerns Mexicans immigrants, but not anybody else, at least not his white skin, white collar buddies.

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