Seven local immigrants’ rights activists gathered Wednesday in front of camera crews in a cramped restaurant on 24th Street and made a simple appeal: CNN, drop Lou Dobbs.
As waitresses brought out soup and tortillas to a young Latino couple in the front of the otherwise quiet restaurant, the protesters held up a poster with a caricature of the commentator and spoke out against what they said was his hostile coverage of immigrants.
“As a community, we’re standing up and saying ‘no’ to that kind of journalism,” said Eric Quezada, director of Dolores Street Community Services and one of the organizers.
The event was timed to coincide with the news network’s airing Wednesday evening of the first installment of “Latino In America,” a four-hour documentary that looks at how the U.S. Latino Population is changing what it means to be an American.
Similar press conferences were organized Wednesday in New York City, Atlanta, and 16 other cities across the country, as part of a national campaign called BastaDobbs.org, which translates as EnoughDobbs and aims to get CNN to cut its ties with the anchor who has a nightly opinion and talk program called “Lou Dobbs Tonight.”
“We think you can’t have it both ways,” Quezada said in an interview. “We believe if you want to break into the Latino market, which is what this is about, don’t do it while you still have Dobbs on the air.”
Latinos represent one of the fastest growing segments for marketers and, last year, Hispanic media was one of the few places where media ad sales grew. The Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies estimates that the country’s more than 45 million Latinos will have a combined purchasing power of $992 billion. From 1990 to 2007, that same group’s purchasing power grew by a compound annual rate of 8.7 percent compared to 4.8 percent in the general population, according to Market Segment Research.
This wasn’t the first time that Dobbs, who regularly refers to “criminal illegal aliens” on his show and once stated “Mexico has become our enemy” has been criticized for his views on immigration.
In 2007, he said on-air that one-third of the federal prison population was illegal immigrants and that the number was growing. The U.S. Department of Justice refuted his reporting, saying the percentage was much smaller and falling.
That same year, the anchor spent nearly a quarter (22 percent) of his airtime talking about the issue, according to Project for Excellence in Journalism at the Pew Research Center. His ratings climbed during that same time period, as immigration comprised more of the country’s news coverage. More recently, they have dipped.
“Lou Dobbs has traditionally devoted a lot of time to immigration,” said Mark Jurkowitz, associate director for the group at Pew, adding, “He’d certainly be someone for tougher enforcement.”
But the contradictions inherent in a network employing an anchor with strong opinions on the one hand, while pursuing coverage that might run counter to those opinions, is a reality of the cable news business, added Jurkowitz. “This is not to denigrate the protesters in any way,” he said. “It’s really to say that cable news has this very unique brand of programming that’s highly editorial.”
A CNN spokesperson declined to comment on the press conferences saying only that “Latino In America” and “Lou Dobbs Tonight” were separate programs.
Back at the restaurant, Ana Perez, executive director of the Central American Resource Center, and another local organizer of the press conference, said she watched CNN regularly, but that her problem was with what she perceived as an editorial imbalance on “Lou Dobbs Tonight.”
Asked whether she would tune into “Latino in America” this evening, Perez said: “I’m going to give it a chance.”