Lou Dobbs Leaves CNN

Last week, when CNN anchor Lou Dobbs unexpectedly resigned from his position, one couldn’t help but wonder whether his managers at CNN had simply had enough. By the time Dobbs left CNN – whether he was pushed out or not – he had become a lightning rod for the network, drawing a storm of criticism for his blistering, often ill-informed, tirades against illegal immigration, not a few of which were tainted by hate-mongering and thinly-veiled racism.

The question is: what took so long? For a network with “News” as its middle name, one would think Dobbs had become an embarrassment for CNN. Far from sticking to the objective reporting of verifiable facts – the job of every “hard news” reporter – Dobbs had strayed into the zone of free-floating subjectivity, blurring the line between fact and opinion, and at times drifting off into the alternate reality of racially-tinged conspiracy theories. This was especially apparent in his promotion of the so-called “birther” movement, those claiming that President Obama was not born in the United States, and therefore was not entitled to be President – despite verifiable proof that Mr. Obama was born in Hawaii.

Another example was Dobbs’s assertion that illegal immigrants were bringing new leprosy cases into the United States by the thousands – a claim he continued to defend even after it was shown to be baseless. Yet another example which was shown to be the opposite was that immigrants commit more crimes than Americans. Dobbs also was fond of speculating that the U.S. government was conspiring with the Mexican and Canadian governments to form a “North American Union,” and that Mexican immigrants were seeking to re-conquer the southwestern United States for Mexico.

Oddly, through all of this, Dobbs remained at the anchor desk, retailing his own opinions under the mantle of hard news, and stirring up uncritical opposition to immigration, in any of its many forms. None of this was a constructive contribution to the debate over immigration reform. Serious-minded people recognize that immigration policy is fraught with many complex and difficult trade-offs, decisions that don’t lend themselves to the neatly binary simplicities of Lou Dobbs. What Dobbs did was add heat, not light, to the national immigration debate, with his incendiary rhetoric. To people shaken by the economic convulsions of a deep recession, and its aftershocks, he offered an all-purpose scapegoat for their woes, in the form of “the immigrant.”

Dobbs’s departure gives hope that the immigration reform debate will henceforth be conducted in a more civil tone, with malice toward none and due respect for verifiable facts. Hopefully, this will help to lower the temperature of the debate. I am reminded of the last words of the great German poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who supposedly exclaimed on his deathbed, “Light! More light!” Let us hope that light, rather than heat, will be the hallmark of the immigration debate, from now on.

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