OAKLAND, California -- On the May 23 edition of CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight", the generally affable talk-show host, who has become the network's go-to-guy on immigration issues, used a graphic provided by the white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens to pound home his point about a racist anti-immigrant conspiracy theory.
During a piece about "illegal immigrants" in Utah, reporter Casey Wian pointed out that Utah was "part of the territory some militant Latino activists refer to as Aztlan, the portion of the southwest United States they claim rightfully belongs to Mexico."
As a backdrop for Wian's report, CNN ran a map of the United States with the states of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas browned out, and labeled "Aztlan".
Over the past several months -- perhaps as a response to a series of massive pro-immigrant demonstrations held in dozens of cities across the United States -- critics say that Dobbs has repeatedly crossed the line between fair-minded debate and fear-mongering.
"The problem with Lou Dobbs isn't so much that he puts people with connections to hate groups on his show without revealing those ties, or even that he seems to endorse racist conspiracy theories and describes anti-immigration vigilantes as 'great Americans,'" Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Centre told IPS.
"The problem is that Dobbs' unrelenting nativist propaganda is presented to the American public, in primetime and on the leading news channel in America, as actually being news. That's a sorry commentary on the state of the media and, in particular, reflects the Foxification of CNN," he said, referring to the network's conservative rival.
CNN did not respond to IPS requests for comment.
But Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a longtime media watchdog group, notes that Dobbs regularly stirs up anti-immigrant sentiment on his nightly programme.
"Dobbs' tone on immigration is consistently alarmist; he warns his viewers of Mexican immigrants who see themselves as an 'army of invaders' intent upon re-annexing parts of the Southwestern U.S. to Mexico, announces that 'illegal alien smugglers and drug traffickers are on the verge of ruining some of our national treasures,' and declares that 'the invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health of many Americans' through 'deadly imports' of diseases like leprosy and malaria," the group said.
In addition to hosting his own show, Dobbs has appeared on other CNN programmes, and he co-hosted -- along with the network's lead anchor, Wolf Blitzer -- the coverage of President George W. Bush's recent prime time speech on immigration.
Dobbs has been an aggressive supporter of "citizen border patrols" since the Minuteman Project's April 2005 "paramilitary effort to seal the Arizona border", Potok and his colleague, Heidi Beirich, reported in the Winter 2005 issue of the Southern Poverty Law Centre's Intelligence Report.
During the run-up to the Minuteman's first campaign, Dobbs gave the organisation "millions in free publicity, plugging it for weeks and turning over large segments of his air time to directly promoting the project," observed Marc Cooper, a contributing editor of The Nation magazine.
And while Dobbs still brings on guests that oppose his position, he continues to refuse "to present mounting and persistent evidence of anti-Hispanic racism in anti-immigration groups and citizen border patrols," note Beirich and Potok.
The Southern Poverty Law Center's (SPLC) Intelligence Report catalogued a number of occasions when Dobbs overlooked controversial statements, inflammatory websites, and white-supremacist connections of some of his anti-immigration guests.
Glenn Spencer, the head of the anti-immigration American Patrol, has been interviewed at least twice on the programme. His website contains "anti-Mexican vitriol" and he "pushes the idea that the Mexican government is involved in a secret plot to take over the Southwest".
Both the SPLC and the Anti-Defamation League list Spencer's organisation as a hate group. Spencer has spoken at events sponsored by the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens and American Renaissance, a group that contends that blacks are genetically inferior to whites. Spencer has also predicted that "thousands will die" in a supposedly forthcoming Mexican invasion.
Virginia Abernathy served as the head of the national advisory board to Protect Arizona Now, the anti-immigration organisation that sponsored that state's anti-immigration referendum. Dobbs, who repeatedly reported on the measure, never mentioned that Abernathy was a long-time white supremacist and an editorial adviser to the racist Council of Conservative Citizens.
Last year, during a segment on the Minuteman Project, Joe McCutchen, who the SPLC reports heads an anti-immigration group called Protect Arkansas Now, and wrote a series of anti-Semitic letters to the editor and gave a speech to the Council of Conservative Citizens, was quoted. Dobbs, who described the Minuteman Project as "a terrific group of concerned, caring Americans", made no mention of McCutchen's connections to white supremacist groups.
On Oct. 4, Dobbs hosted Paul Streitz, a co-founder of Connecticut Citizens for Immigration Control, on his programme.
"Streitz denounced Mayor John DeStefano Jr. for 'turning New Haven into a banana republic' by favouring identification cards for undocumented workers. Two days later, newspapers revealed that two of the group's other founders had just quit, saying Streitz had led it in a racially charged direction. Dobbs has never reported this," say Potok and Beirich.
Barbara Coe, leader of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, was quoted on a show last March bitterly attacking the retail chain Home Depot for "betray[ing] Americans", mainly due to the fact that "Hispanic day laborers often gather in front of the store looking for work." Dobbs never reported that her group is listed as a hate group by the SPLC, "or the fact that she routinely refers to Mexicans as 'savages.'"
It isn't everyday that the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) is cited as a source by CNN, or any other credible news outlet for that matter. Therefore, it was surprising that Dobbs trucked out the CCC-sourced graphic to illustrate the Aztlan conspiracy theory.
The CCC, which had its 15 minutes of fame a few years back when it was revealed that Republican Senator Trent Lott had a long-term relationship with the group, prefers to keep a relatively low profile.
The organisation was founded in the mid-1990s as an outgrowth of the Citizens Councils of America -- groups formed in the mid-1950s as part of a white segregationist response to federally mandated integration of public facilities.
Leonard Zeskind, an author who has researched white supremacist groups for more than a quarter of a century, has observed that the CCC had "a several-year track record of successfully marrying the white supremacist fringe types with local and state Republican politicians and thereby having an influence in the mainstream discourse."
Dobbs, revered in anti-immigration quarters, won the 2004 Eugene Katz Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration, given by the Centre for Immigration Studies, an organisation that SPLC says claims to be a nonpartisan research institute, "but in fact is a thinly disguised anti-immigration organisation".
On May 25, the St. Louis CCC Blog posted a shout out to Dobbs, discovered by The Huffington Post's Alex Koppelman. Under the "Welcome Lou Dobbs" headline, the text read: "I knew you were one of us all along. Also, thanks for the proper citation, on CNN, no less."
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column "Conservative Watch" documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the U.S. Right.
© 2006 IPS Inter-Press Service