Our VoiceNews & Politics

Lou Dobbs: Perspective on a Piker

Rev. David L. Ostendorf • Sep 02, 2009

What more is to be said about Lou Dobbs? Bigot. Well-paid bigot. Anti-immigrant shill for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and its kind. Birther bloviator. Cash cow for CNN. The list is endless.

What is seldom said is that he is a piker, a small potato, “a person who does anything in a contemptibly small or cheap way” compared to the granddaddy of hate broadcasting, Father Charles E. Coughlin, whose radio diatribes in the 1930s set the gold standard for the airwaves.

A Michigan priest who first supported Roosevelt and was outspoken on behalf of exploited workers, Coughlin took a turn in 1934 and began denouncing the President as a socialist (sound familiar?). He tapped deep wells into American nativism (sound familiar?), gave new life to a vicious brand of anti-Semitism (sound familiar?), and eventually became a mouthpiece for the principles of the Third Reich.

Coughlin’s vehement opposition to asylum for Jews from Nazi Germany fueled his popularity, which soared to levels unheard of even by today’s standards. At his peak, his broadcasts reached some 30 million listeners—20% of the U.S population—and he could turn out tens of thousands at his public venues. Dobbs’ numbers pale in comparison, and Coughlin is said to have trumped even the combined total audiences of all today’s radio and television imitators. The late Don Warren’s chilling book on Coughlin stands to this day as a clarion warning of the potential of broadcast demagoguery.

Numerous efforts to silence Coughlin were undertaken. Prominent Catholics, including Joseph P. Kennedy, were dispatched to quiet him, and Catholic members of the U.S. House spoke out against him. Pressure was mounted, unsuccessfully at first, on the Catholic hierarchy. Pressure on CBS to turn him off had little impact, though some radio stations began to refuse his broadcasts. The National Association of Broadcasters finally mustered up the courage to adopt new rules aimed at cutting off his air time, and threatened the licenses of stations which did not comply. The Roosevelt Administration took steps to undercut Coughlin, which would be deemed—to say the least—highly controversial today.

Back to Lou Dobbs. Put in perspective, he’s a piker. But he must be challenged. The campaigns mounted on CNN are key to showing him the gate, even though he may end up as a mouthpiece for another network hungry for bigoted dollars from advertisers who, like the network, care only about customers, audience, sales, and profitability—the American bottom line. When that line gets dented, change will follow. Keep up the pressure. Do your five minutes today. Take action against broadcast bigotry. You have only a country to lose.

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