Huffington Post blogger Bill Scher caught CNN's Lou Dobbs in a bit of an innocent mistake Tuesday night. Seems Dobbs' show was citing someone they shouldn't have been -- the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist group that descended from the White Citizens' Councils of the civil rights era.
Oh, come on - you didn't think CNN meant to tell their audience that a white supremacist group's rantings were credible, do you? After all, in a statement released to Greg Sargent on Wednesday, CNN told us it was just an accident:
A freelance field producer in Los Angeles searched the web for Aztlan maps and grabbed the Council of Conservative Citizens map without knowing the nature of the organization. The graphic was a late inclusion in the script and, regrettably, was missed in the vetting process.
Wait a second - something doesn't sound quite right. The only thing CNN apparently considers regrettable here is that they broadcast a map produced by the CCC; the fact that they were even looking for a map of "Aztlan" in the first place escapes notice.
So, seeking clarification, I talked with with a CNN spokesperson, and asked specifically, "Does CNN stand by Casey Wian's statement of the same night that 'You could call this the Vicente Fox Aztlan tour, since the three states he'll visit, Utah, Washington, and California, are all part of some radical group's vision of the mythical indigenous homeland'? Second, does CNN stand by the accuracy of the statements made by Mr. Dobbs and some guests on his show that there is a 'reconquista' movement?" The spokesperson told me CNN feels there is no need for further clarification, and that it stands by the report. (I've offered them the chance to respond to this post if they feel it necessary - I will update or post again if they do so.)
CNN is trying to play this off as an isolated mistake. Don't be fooled: it's not. The fact that Dobbs and reporter Casey Wian showed the CCC map only makes the subtle pattern of racist fantasies given voice on Dobbs' show more visible. (By the way, relatively unnoticed - the same night Dobbs was citing the CCC, he was leaving unchallenged, even laughing along with, one guest's suggestion that in order to get rid of illegal Mexican immigrants New Yorkers should order pizza and then arrest the delivery person. Thanks, Lou. We'll get right on that.) For months now, Dobbs and Wian have been reporting on "reconquista" and "Aztlan" movements, movements that exist not in the minds of mainstream Mexicans but in the fever dreams of white supremacists. That Dobbs eventually aired material pulled directly from a white supremacist organization should surprise no one - when you're subtly citing them on a regular basis, the unfiltered truth is bound to bubble up at some point.
And make no mistake: reconquista is nothing more than a white supremacist fantasy. Indeed, according to journalist David Neiwert and the Southern Poverty Law Center, the term was first brought into the popular consciousness by Glenn Spencer, the leader of a white supremacist organization called the American Patrol. And though racists like Spencer and his cohorts in spreading this myth, like white supremacist affiliate Michelle Malkin, claim to have proof for their theories, that claim falls flat.
You'll hear proponents of the reconquista myth talking about Mexican immigrants who care more about Mexico than the United States, you'll hear them talking about Mexicans in pro-immigration protests carrying Mexican flags, you'll hear them talking about a "widespread" belief among Mexicans that the Southwestern U.S. used to belong to Mexico. (A belief, I should note, that is accurate - but what people like Dobbs, Spencer and Malkin always forget to mention is that noting that the Southwest used to belong to Mexico, which it did, is not the same as believing it should be part of Mexico again.)
What you won't hear them talking about is the Irish flags flying at Irish pubs here, or the Israeli flag that flew next to the U.S. flag in my old Hebrew school - actually, you probably will hear some of the supremacists, often no fans of Jews, talking about that - and you certainly won't hear anyone talking about the widespread flying of a certain flag representing a group that actually succeeded in taking over the southern part of this country:
(Map of the Confederacy, by the way, from PBS - I checked.)
And what you won't hear the proponents of the reconquista myth acknowledge is that this kind of rhetoric has remained essentially the same throughout U.S. history to demonize the groups. The only thing that's changed is who's being demonized - first it was the Catholics, like the Irish and the Italians (that one kept up for a while: as recently as 1960, JFK had to publicly deny that he was more loyal to the Pope than to the United States) then the Eastern Europeans, then the Japanese and Chinese. Each time, there was the era's Lou Dobbs, screaming that these new immigrants - the ancestors of nearly all of us "Americans" today - just plain refused to assimilate, to learn English, to be good Americans. And each time their complaints, steeped in racism, proved unfounded.
But even given that history, CNN apparently sees no need for fact-checking, sees no problem with letting Dobbs and guests rant unchallenged about Aztlan and reconquista as if they were legitimate topics instead of the latter-day version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Accuracy be damned - ratings are up! Well, good for CNN. You've gotten at least one new supporter out of this whole thing.
"Welcome Lou Dobbs," the webmaster of the St. Louis chapter of CCC (which is headquartered in St. Louis) wrote on the chapter's blog on Thursday. "I knew you were one of us all along."
Update: Wow, seems like I set off a bit of a comment firestorm here. Some people seem to be misunderstanding my position, so let me clarify a couple things.
A lot of people seem to think I'm taking one position or another on immigration. I'm not - frankly, I'm not sure I even have a position on the issue. Nor do I consider people who are anti-immigration (or just anti-illegal immigration) to be necessarily racist. And I don't think Lou Dobbs is necessarily a racist either, nor did I ever say that in my post.
What I am is a media critic, one who is concerned by what I see as a pattern in the media of the transmission of white supremacist ideology, either through surrogates like Michelle Malkin, or through the treatment of those ideologies, like the myth of reconquista, as fact. And I think CNN, by standing by Dobbs here, is helping to perpetrate that myth and spread the ideology of some truly vile organizations. I've made the comparison before - it's as if he was reading the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the fake plan for Jewish world domination cited by Hitler and other anti-Semites, on the air and treating it as fact.
As for the idea that some commenters have brought up that Aztlan and reconquista are not myths: I'm aware of the sites that have been cited. And I'm aware of El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan, the founding document of MECHA that some misinterpret as a call to arms or a call for reconquista. It's not - you need to place it in the historical context of the time; the document is a call for self-esteem and self-reliance in the face of oppression, set in the tradition of thinkers like Frantz Fanon. As for the sites, I don't deny that there are some fringe groups out there calling for reconquista. But that's what they are - tiny, ultimately insignifcant groups at a far fringe, being seized on to propagate the ridiculous notion that this is some sort of mainstream thought. It's not. I can show you websites from people who believe that "since 1971-72, the world has lived under an Anglo-Dutch Liberal tyranny," but that doesn't mean a mass of people truly believe that. Having a website doesn't mean you should be taken seriously, and it certainly doesn't mean you represent anything but yourself.