New Report Calls Out Hate Speech on Talk Radio

Researchers at UCLA provide quantitative evidence that hate speech has real and often dangerous consequences for immigrant communities.

By Mu00f3nica Novoa Nov 09, 2011

The UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center just released a new study called "Quantifying Hate Speech on Commercial Talk Radio," in which researchers examined three conservative news talk shows marketed to audiences in Los Angeles County. It’s an ideal location in which to study the impacts of hate speech, since Los Angeles is the most populous county in the country and Latinos comprise nearly half of the population. At the Drop the I-Word campaign we paid special attention to the study’s findings about use of the words like  "illegal" and other charged code words and used to establish Latinos, undocumented people and immigrant rights advocates as "other."

Nationally, as the debate on immigration has intensified, hate crimes against Latinos have risen at the highest rate among racial/ethnic groups, with a 25 percent increase between 2004 and 2008 according to FBI stats.

The main goal of the study was, as the researchers put it, "to develop a sound, replicable methodology for qualitative content analysis" to examine hate speech in commercial radio. And, in effect, show that hate speech has real-life consequences for innocent people. While the findings may not be surprising to people who follow the increasingly hostile anti-immigrant rhetoric that’s swept the country, given the lack of scientific, data-driven investigations about hate speech, the report provides an important reference point for how to conduct and plan future research. 


For the investigation, researchers examined 30-40 minute segments from the "The Lou Dobbs Show: Mr. Independent;" "The Savage Nation;" and "The John & Ken Show" —  which has recently lost major advertisers thanks to a successful campaign run by the The National Hispanic Media Coalition. The findings revealed that:


  • Just over two-thirds of targeted statements focused on undocumented immigrants and Latinos.
  • All segments included the assertion of false, unverifiable and/or distorted claims.
  • Though the sample was small, it was enough to identify one significant and recurring pattern: the constant use of "illegal alien" or "illegal aliens" and "illegal" or "illegals" to describe immigrants.

In an analysis of the transcripts, Dobbs used the term "illegal"  31 times. The talk show host also showed a special knack for the term "illegal alien(s)," defined by researchers as a phrase that "dehumanizes undocumented immigrants and strips away broader socioeconomic contexts and factors." Additionally, two guests from anti-immigration organizations — Steve Camarota of the Center for immigration Studies and Peter Brimelow, who’s president of the VDARE Foundation — together used the term a total of 13 times. Savage used various forms of the i-word 16 times and "The John & Ken Show," used "illegal alien" or some variation of it 9 times in order point to the alleged immorality and criminality of immigrants. According to the data, the hosts also used the phrase four times to qualify terms used for advocates and protesters

Content was also measured against the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics, which is intended as a guide on accuracy and respect for different cultural values. Studies and a investigative report revealed that the connections between the i-word, nativism and anti-Latino sentiment are important tools in the fight to drop the i-word.

The study calls for additional research in addressing the issue of hate speech and its relation to hate crimes. For the full UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center report, methodology, findings and recommendations, go to read the full report.

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