CHC Emboldened, Targets Lou Dobbs

Posted April 25, 2008 at 6:25pm

Fresh off of challenging its own Democratic majority, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is taking on CNN.

In a letter issued Friday to Time Warner Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Bewkes, the CHC’s chairman, Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) contended that the news network is skewed in favor of anti-immigration efforts.

The CHC has been raising its profile. Notably it felt bold enough last week to challenge its party leaders for taking up bills focusing on immigration enforcement instead of a comprehensive approach. And now the caucus is going after Lou Dobbs.

CHC leaders expressed outrage that their appeals for a meeting with Bewkes have been rebuffed for several months, and that even letters to the Time Warner head have landed instead in the hands of CNN President Jim Walton.

“We are deeply offended that you did not take the time or effort to respond to a request from twenty Members of the United States House of Representatives and a United States Senator, but instead simply passed the letter along to Mr. Walton,” the lawmakers wrote. “It is additionally offensive that you did so on a topic as important and sensitive as your company’s treatment and portrayal of Latinos in this country.”

Representatives of Time Warner did not return calls Friday, and a CNN spokeswoman declined to speak for attribution.

In an April 23 letter to Menendez and Baca, Walton said Time Warner’s corporate chief would be unable to address lawmakers’ concerns.

“As a matter of long-standing policy, Time Warner’s corporate management never interferes with the editorial decision-making of its news operations,” Walton wrote.

According to the letter, Walton offered to meet with both lawmakers, as well as any other CHC member, noting that corporate employees and Congressional staff had been in contact in recent weeks.

“I share your interest in providing CNN’s viewers with the accurate and balanced reporting and commentary they need to make informed decisions, and in that regard, value very much your perspective and feedback in our programming,” Walton wrote.

But Hispanic lawmakers dismissed Walton’s explanations.

“It really is a slap in the face, that as many members as there are in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, in the House and the Senate, that we don’t get a direct response,” Menendez said in an interview on Friday.

According to Menendez, many of CNN’s news programs have adopted “the language Lou Dobbs uses,” referring to the host of “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” who uses the platform to complain about illegal immigration.

“The news program has become the equivalent of opinion and not information,” Menendez said, asserting that news anchors opt for language describing “hordes” of immigrants crossing borders, and use phrases such as “illegal” rather than “undocumented” when describing such immigrants.

Baca said he met with Walton several weeks ago to raise the matter — not as a CHC representative, he said, but as an individual lawmaker. He recommended that the network produce a show to “counterbalance” Dobbs.

“It was a very positive meeting. I said look, there’s a lot of good programs that CNN puts on, and we watch a lot of it. We’re only talking about a specific individual. The other programs are pretty good in terms of the news that they bring out,” Baca said.

He said the CHC’s opposition to Dobbs does not infringe on the First Amendment.

“You still have freedom of speech, but you’ve got to put out the facts and information. He lavishes it in a negative connotation, and that goes beyond freedom of speech. He’s a news broadcaster and he should be fair and objective,” Baca said. “He oversteps his bounds on the freedom of speech.”

A CNN spokeswoman pointed to the network’s coverage of the immigration debate in a variety of formats other than Dobbs’ show.

This is not the first time the 20-member CHC has sought to inject itself into programming. Along with other Latino organizations, Hispanic lawmakers successfully lobbied PBS and filmmaker Ken Burns to add nearly a half-hour of footage to the World War II documentary “The War” last fall.