In a petition to the FCC this week, the National Hispanic Media Coalition claims that hate speech is "prevalent" on national cable news networks and wants the government to do something about it.
That was one of the assertions made by the group in a formal request that the commission open a notice of inquiry into "the extent, the effect, and possible remedies" to what it said was a pervasive problem, and not just on conservative talk radio.
NHMC, a nonprofit LA based media advocacy group, cited a 2007 Media Matters study that concluded that "the alleged connection between illegal immigration and crime" was discussed on 94 episodes of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, 66 times on Fox's Bill O'Reilly, and 29 times on Glenn Beck's Headline News show.
Lou Dobbs' ongoing criticism of immigration reform and border enforcement, or more specifically the lack of it, has often drawn criticism from immigrants' rights groups.
NHMC defined hate speech as speech whose cumulative effect is to create an atmosphere of hate and prejudice that "legitimizes" violence against its targets.
NHMC was looking for a sympathetic ear from an FCC under Democratic hands, citing candidate Barack Obama's fall 2008 speech to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus about immigrants "counting on us to stop the hateful rhetoric filling the airwaves."
It also sent a copy of the petition to the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, asking it to update its 1993 report to Congress on the role of Telecommunications in Hate Crimes.
The group said it was not asking the FCC to re-impose the fairness doctrine, something some congressional Democrats have suggested they might want to do, but it does want the FCC to collect data, seek public comment, explore what they say is the relationship between hate speech and hate crimes and "explore options" for combating it. An aide to then candidate Barack Obama told B&C at least twice during the campaign that he did not support reintroducing the doctrine.
Saying its critics would raise the "red herring" of the doctrine, NHMC said it "has not...called for any such remedy."
A CNN spokeswoman said the network has no comment at this time. Fox News had not commented at press time.
Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps was not commenting on the petition, either, but he did indicate that he stood by comments he made to B&C back in 2007 about regulating hate speech, a conversation prompted by Don Imus' comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team.
"There are roles here for all of us. Parents are the first line of defense when it comes to indecency, violence or the hate speech you are talking about," he said at the time.
"Industry is the second line of defense to provide the tools and controls, but those haven't worked so well. So they need to provide also some sense of practical self-discipline as they did with the old voluntary codes of broadcaster conduct. It wasn't necessarily a golden age, but it was a practical attempt to practice some self-discipline," he said.
"And there is a role for Congress and the courts if they don't like what Congress does. We have a system of checks and balances, but, for checks and balances to work, everybody has to be participating. It doesn't do for the industry to say this is all for parents or for someone in government to say this is all for the FCC or all for Congress to do. We all have to step up to the plate on this with some common sense."
"As an academic I taught the beauties of the First Amendment for many years, so nobody is looking to supplant or run roughshod over it. But we have a pressing national problem that I think lots of people are determined to get a resolution of."