On May 1 the nationwide boycott billed as “A Day Without Immigrants” was all over the evening news. ABC’s World News Tonight reported that “more than a million people took to the streets in thirty cities,” part of “a new wave of protests against legislation that would increase the penalties for being in the US illegally.” On CBS, “they left their jobs and took to the streets to show us what America would be like without millions of immigrant workers.” On Fox, “illegal immigrants and their allies took to streets across America…in an effort to show their economic importance to the country.”
But on CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight, it was a different story. “Hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens and their supporters today failed in their attempt to shut down most of our cities to support amnesty for all illegal aliens,” the network’s 6 pm news anchor reported that evening. Dobbs elaborated in his online column: “It is no accident that they chose May 1 as their day of demonstration and boycott. It is the worldwide day of commemorative demonstrations by various socialist, communist and even anarchic organizations…. No matter which flag demonstrators and protesters carry today, their leadership is showing its true colors to all who will see.”
You might expect that sort of McCarthyesque description from Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh or some other famously right-wing provocateur on Fox or talk-radio. But Lou Dobbs, on CNN? These days, the network once pilloried by conservatives as a leading voice of the “liberal media” is offering an expansive platform to the nation’s leading spokesman for anti-immigration hardliners. Night after night, under the rousing headline “Broken Borders,” the distinguished-looking 61-year-old instructs his growing audience that illegal immigrants import deadly diseases, rampant crime and international terrorism; they live off welfare, destroy public schools and burden hospitals; what’s more, most haven’t even learned to speak English. Add that they’re foot soldiers sent by the Mexican government to “reconquer” the Southwest, and by the end of the hour, we have seen the enemy–and he’s a Spanish-speaking immigrant. Despite the grave threat, Dobbs declares, our lawmakers are doing nothing about it. Thus Dobbs branded the recent bipartisan Senate reform bill, designed to allow more immigrants to work here legally while also securing the borders, “The Amnesty Agenda”–a “pathetic sham” that would make a “mockery” of the American people.
Dobbs’s hysteria and jingoism are now notorious. He’s been ridiculed by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show for calling for the abolition of “ethnocentric” holidays that involve waving other nations’ flags (thus eliminating St. Patrick’s Day); by Andy Borowitz, who wrote in Newsweek that President Bush had decided to move Dobbs to the Mexican border instead of 6,000 National Guard troops; and by the hosts of a Los Angeles radio show, who recently offered a cash prize to the first illegal immigrant mother to name her baby Lou Dobbs.
If the anchor’s antics make for good comedy, they also have a sinister side: Many Americans take him seriously. “Outside of elected officials he’s undoubtedly the most influential spokesman for the anti-immigration movement,” says Wayne Cornelius, a political science professor and director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego. “I think he’s actually putting real pressure on elected officials by riling up a significant portion of their base.”