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Lou Dobbs Turns Over a New Leaf with Latinos

The former CNN anchor — formerly hostile to Hispanics — is now trying to convince them that he's really one of their amigos.

by
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Bio

November 27, 2009 - 12:00 am
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Of course, Latinos aren’t the only ones who are happy to see Dobbs leave. More than a dozen media watchdog and immigrants’ rights groups had been lobbying the network to dump Dobbs because they saw him as distasteful, disingenuous, and divisive.  One of Dobbs’ first and most vocal critics — San Diego-based immigrant activist Enrique Morones — even calls him dangerous, someone whose words might have had life-and-death consequences.

“Lou Dobbs wasn’t just yelling fire in a crowded movie theater,” Morones told me recently. “He was setting the fire. And that fire directly caused hate crimes against Latinos.”

In fact, one of Dobbs’ gifts was the ability to offend just about every color of the rainbow. His decision to dabble in the birther controversy, which is fueled by accusations that President Obama is ineligible to be president because he was born in Kenya, convinced many African-Americans that he must be a racist. His clumsy approach to tragedies involving radical Islam such as the Ft. Hood shooting hurt his reputation with Muslim-Americans. And, before all that, came his contention that U.S. trade policy was “Exporting America” to India and China, which didn’t exactly endear him to people from those countries. This year, on March 17, after begrudgingly wishing listeners of his radio show a Happy St. Patrick’s Day (he has previously said that he dislikes all ethnic holidays), Dobbs facetiously wished Asians a happy whatever-they-celebrate “you know, St. Jin-Tao-Wow.”

You know, it’s an odd thing, but for a professional communicator, Dobbs does have trouble speaking appropriately. It’s no wonder that he has, over the years, earned a reputation for being anti-foreigner and been caricatured as such.

One former CNN executive who is Indian-American seemed to conclude as much. A few years ago, when she was still with the network, she told me that Dobbs saw himself as the defender of “real Americans” who looked more like him and nothing like her.

A couple of years ago, a black woman who was opposed to illegal immigration called to complain about my criticism of Dobbs. He was no racist, she insisted. Then came the controversy involving Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Dobbs weighed in and really played up the angle that Wright — and by inference, Obama himself — harbored an animosity toward whites. The woman called back to apologize. “You were right,” she said. “Lou Dobbs is a racist.”

It also didn’t help Dobbs’ case any that he kept slipping and doing the same thing he criticized media outlets such as the New York Times of doing: confusing legal and illegal immigration. He gave loads of airtime to commentators, authors, and advocacy groups that want to ban all immigration. And his show would seamlessly weave together segments on border security (which pertains directly to illegal immigration) with segments on language and culture (which can also be impacted by legal immigration). Before long, people figured that Dobbs had issues with Latino immigrants — both legal and illegal. It’s what these people represented that mattered most to him, not how they got here.

Readers have been writing me all week to assure me that Dobbs can’t be a racist because he’s married to — as one reader put it — “a Latina immigrant.” Actually, he’s not. Debi Segura Dobbs is a Mexican-American who was born in the United States. But so what?

“Without a doubt,” Morones said, “Lou Dobbs is a racist. When someone tells me that he is married to a Mexican woman, that’s a red flag. Why mention that? Besides, Mexicans can be racist too. Racism isn’t limited to Anglos.”

True that. But, to my mind, the word that best describes Dobbs is “opportunist.” He figured out that spreading misinformation and sanctioning prejudice was a way to scare up viewers and make some money. For a while, he managed to do both. But eventually, playing that game cost him his job and his reputation. He’ll find another job. Too bad reputations are harder to replace.

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Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union Tribune, a nationally syndicated columnist, a frequent lecturer, and a regular contributor to CNN.com.
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