I'm not going to weep any tears for CNN's erstwhile token nativist Lou Dobbs, who resigned on air Tuesday, handing a victory to Latino groups who've sought his ouster through the Basta Dobbs campaign, led by activist/writer Roberto Lovato's Presente.org.
Dobbs has been a despicable opportunist, cynically dousing the anti-immigration bonfire with gasoline, spreading rumors and untruths about Mexican immigrants, slandering them as carriers of disease, and as criminals.
His latest blunder, insinuating that a stray bullet that hit his home was some sort of attack on the life of himself or his wife, surely did not help his cause as Hispanics cried for his head. Dobbs said it was due to a "climate" created by critics of his brown-bashing ways. The police chuckled at this characterization, suggesting it had more to do with hunting season in rural New Jersey, where Dobbs owns a farm.
Ironically, it may have been CNN's Latino in America series, which delivered the coup de grace. Latinos tarred CNN with the label of hipocresia, for appealing to them via the sympathetic series, while allowing Dobbs to spew his anti-Hispanic blather. The label stuck.
The New York Times reports that Dobbs had been given an ultimatum by CNN months back: Keep the nativism confined to his radio show and do a straight broadcast, or hit the bricks. His contract did not expire till 2011. But, Dobbs informed viewers, he and CNN President Jonathan Klein "have agreed to a release from my contract that will enable me to pursue other opportunities."
The reaction of Hispanic groups has been one of total ecstasy. The Basta Dobbs campaign's Web site declared "WE DID IT!" in bold letters. When I spoke to Phoenix civil rights activist Sal Reza, whose group Puente was part of the Basta Dobbs coalition, he couldn't stop laughing. Later, he e-mailed me the following statement:
"CNN with a huge viewing audience of CNN en Espanol, all over Spanish Speaking Countries, had to make a hard dollar decision during hard economic times. The global consumers won, led by a media savvy campaign led by Roberto Lovato. CNN had to make a choice toward the multiculturalism of the 21st century or the backwaters of racism and xenophobia spouted by Lou Dobbs.
"It is a lesson that Fox News has not learned yet, or one that Sheriff Joe Arpaio will have to learn the hard way. Whenever, xenophobia and racism show their ugly head, the persecuted with their numbers and buying power sooner or later will overtake. Congratulations to Roberto Lovato and all the organizations that made this victory over intolerance possible."
And yet, I would advise Reza not to laugh too hard. The Basta Dobbs coalition certainly contributed to Dobbs' downfall, as did the 2008 Presidential election, and Dobbs' own penchant for tickling his tonsils with his big toe. But censorship cuts both ways, and let's be clear that political correctness is as abhorrent a form of censorship as any other. And just as effective.
In the Eighties, a coalition of ultra-left, extremist feminists and far-right Christian groups joined forces in an effort to ban anything that was remotely sexual, even if it was as mundane as the sale of a Playboy on a college campus. Similarly, many campuses instituted speech codes. It wasn't enough for lefties to simply denounce the ideas they didn't like. They sought to eradicate them within confined spheres of influence, as if by doing so, they would cleanse the world of errant thoughts.
Though I am as liberal as they come, I have always despised this tendency towards censorship, whether on the right or the left. Lou Dobbs is by no means entitled to a forum on CNN, but his show was an opinion-based one. Did he twist facts to meet his ends, sometimes employing bigoted shibboleths in the process? Absolutely. Is this reprehensible? Yes. And yet, if you were to impose a truth purity test on all of talk radio, and all cable newscasts, I could guarantee you an extremely high failure rate.
Dobbs was verbally pistol whipped and fact-checked by everyone from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Geraldo Rivera to The New York Times and 60 Minutes. Bad speech was countered by more, good speech.
Do lefties wish to be held to the same standard? If so, then every one of them who toyed with the idea that the Bush administration was complicit in the 9/11 attacks should never, ever be allowed to hold any government office, or any position of media prominence. Stating that 9/11 was an "inside job" is as much of a lie as the canard that Mexican immigrants have increased the rate of leprosy in the U.S. (a myth Dobbs couldn't let go of). Indeed, 9/11 truther-ism is on par with the cretinous anti-Semitism of Holocaust denial.
Of course, my fellow liberals will not swallow their own arsenic, and I don't blame them. I unfurl unpopular views on a regular basis. And though I attempt to be intellectually honest and factual, many despise what I have to say. Nativists have attempted letter-writing campaigns to New Times' advertisers, seeking to have me fired. True, they never got very far in these efforts, and my bosses are not the types to bend on such issues. But the power of the billfold is a mighty thing. At another publication, threats of a boycott could easily curtail the speech, or employment, of a columnist.
And so it goes. Ideologues and activists cheer when the man or woman they love to hate falls on his or her sword. And they react with indignation and cries of suppression of free thought when their tribune is under attack. Each side, left and right, can rationalize their call for silence on the other side. This or that statement was beyond the pale. Call for the guillotine. Time to make it sing.
But what Robespierre learned so long ago during the French Revolution with the guillotine is that what you use on others can be used on yourself, as it was in his case. I have no problem with exposing others' faults, calling them out as racists, slapping them verbally in the mug and demanding satisfaction. Hell, I do that all the time. In fact, it's my job.
Nor do I worry much for Lou Dobbs. They guy's already stinky rich. I just get this queer feeling round my neck when the sharpened blade is lowered on someone else, wealthy or poor. It's a tickle that goes with the territory, I reckon.