2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
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Brendan McKenna
2/1/08 Dallas Morning News


 Cable news channels have let the war of words over immigration escalate into hate speech, according to a national Hispanic civil rights organization.

The National Council of La Raza wants to meet executives of Fox News, MSNBC and CNN and take them to task for "handing hate a microphone" on their programs, said Janet Murguia, president and chief executive of the organization.

"Hate groups and extremists have taken over the immigration debate," she said.

She also called on Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee to renounce his endorsement by Minuteman Project co-founder Jim Gilchrist, a frequent guest on cable news shows opposing immigration reform. In response, Mr. Gilchrist called La Raza a racial supremacy group that "dwarfs the combination of Black Panthers, KKK, American Indian Movement and Asian gangs."

CNN Worldwide's CEO agreed to meet with the group, said Cecilia Munoz, the council's senior vice president. A CNN spokeswoman said Ms. Murguia will appear on Lou Dobbs' show Monday night. Spokespeople for Fox News and the Huckabee campaign declined to comment. MSNBC officials said they look forward to receiving NCLR's letter.

Ms. Murguia said the tone taken by networks, hosts and commentators had derailed discussion of the issues that need to be addressed in immigration reform.

"It is a serious issue and it requires a serious discussion. And we welcome that discussion," she said.

More troubling, Ms. Murguia said, the tone of the debate on the cable news channels could be the cause of an increase in hate crimes against Latinos, which increased 25 percent between 2004 and 2006, according to FBI statistics compiled by the Latino group.

"This surge of hate is being driven by a relatively small but vocal and extreme segment of our society," she said.

The organization will first seek to resolve its problems with the networks amicably, Ms. Murguia said, but she said the growing economic power of the Hispanic community could come into play.

"These outlets have sponsors, so if we can't get to the networks, we'll get to the sponsors," she said.

And politicians, from presidential candidates to candidates for Congress, who embrace the same rhetoric risk facing defeat at the polls, Ms. Murguia said. She highlighted that point in answering a question about whether the group would support mass demonstrations.

"The march I support would be the marches that would occur on Election Day in November, straight to the voting booths," Ms. Murguia said.

Although he shares Ms. Murguia's concerns and backs her efforts, Brent Wilkes, the executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said he wasn't certain how effective NCLR's efforts would be.

"We certainly are supportive and we've certainly tried to do the same thing in the past," Mr. Wilkes said. "It doesn't seem to work because the media companies like the controversy."

He added that arguing with the media "is like wrestling with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it."


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