NEW YORK (AP) — CNN aired a four-hour special on Latinos in America this week that ignored its own commentator Lou Dobbs, whose persistent advocacy against illegal immigration has angered many Hispanics.
Some activists have started an anti-Dobbs petition drive, and an advocacy group's effort to criticize Dobbs within the documentary was turned down by CNN. This week's special has left many Latinos with mixed feelings: proud that CNN talks about issues important to them but disappointed the network isn't addressing Dobbs' position head-on.
The "Latino in America" documentary aired in two parts Wednesday and Thursday at 9 p.m., repeated at midnight.
"Lou Dobbs is the gigantic anti-immigration elephant in the room at CNN," said Roberto Lovato, who is helping to organize the petition drive. "Rather than address him, they decided to just avoid the issue."
Mark Nelson, vice president and senior executive producer for CNN's documentary unit, said the special is about Latinos, not Dobbs. Just because Dobbs talks about the issue on his weeknight CNN show, it doesn't mean that anyone else on the network who reports on immigration has to talk about Dobbs, he said.
If people feel that the topic has been avoided, “they should do that documentary then,” he said. “This is the documentary we did.”
“A lot of things aren't in,” said the program's host, Soledad O'Brien. “It’s only four hours, and we’re talking about 51 million people.”
CNN's management had nothing to do with that editorial decision, she said.
The documentary does discuss immigration and discrimination issues, most notably in the story of an illegal immigrant from Mexico killed by white high school students in Shenandoah, Pa., allegedly because of his ethnicity.
Dobbs has said he's not singling out an ethnic group for criticism. But his strong crusade for tightening the nation's southern borders and punishing illegal aliens has made many Latinos dislike him, particularly when he concentrates upon social ills brought on by immigrants.
Fox News Channel's Geraldo Rivera said Dobbs “has done more to slander Latin people in America than any other single human being.”
Calls to Dobbs for comment were not immediately returned.
Melissa Morales, a Stanford University graduate who was born in the United States but grew up mostly in the Mexican border town of Juarez, said she's pleased CNN is airing the documentary and hopes as many people as possible will watch it.
But Morales, who works at a nonprofit group promoting emerging women leaders, said CNN is trying to have it both ways by airing a nuanced view of the Latino community at the same time it provides a nightly platform for Dobbs.
“Lou Dobbs creates a venomous atmosphere for all immigrants, particularly Latinos,” she said. “His sources are questionable at best, unquestionably racist at worst.”
Dobbs, on his radio show, has called Lovato delusional and “one of my fleas.”
“You're trying to deny my rights while turning over this country to those who have no regard for our laws, our rules, our customs, the legal foundation of our country,” he said.
Dobbs is a longtime CNN employee and was one of the nation's leading financial journalists before turning his program in a more opinionated direction. He got into some trouble with his bosses this summer by lingering on questions about whether President Barack Obama was born in the United States, after CNN reporters were satisfied with proof that he had.
Lovato is behind Bastadobbs.com, an online petition drive that seeks to get Dobbs taken off CNN. Basta is Spanish – and Italian – for “stop” or “enough.”
The liberal advocacy group Media Matters said it had tried to buy time for a 30-second ad denouncing Dobbs during the “Latino in America” special, but the network refused.
CNN turned away a similar anti-Dobbs ad this summer, because it wasn't obligated to sell time to organizations looking to attack CNN or its personalities.
Groups often know this in advance but try anyway, figuring their ad would get more attention for being rejected than it would if it actually ran.
The “Latino in America” documentary, which has an accompanying book by O'Brien and producer Rose Arce, is an outgrowth of CNN's two “Black in America” specials. Both of those, in 2008 and this summer, drew very strong audiences for CNN.
AP Hispanic Affairs Writer Laura Wides-Munoz contributed to this report.