Friday, May 18, 2007

'An astounding performance'

-- by Dave

I had a long chat earlier today with Mark Potok, the director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, about his recent appearance on Lou Dobbs' CNN newshour (along with SPLC President Richard Cohen) to confront Dobbs about his phony statistics regarding leprosy and immigration, as well as the larger tenor of Dobbs' coverage of the immigration debate. Here's a transcript:

DN: For starters, I noticed that at one point you were trying to point out to Dobbs that you weren't the only ones pointing out what shoddy journalism this was, that there were others pointing it out as well, and he didn't seem to want to let you make that point because he interrupted at that point and went blathering off on a tangent.

Potok: No, I just thought he talked right over me at several key points. I mean, look -- it was an astounding performance. It was a complete and utter bait and switch. He presented a completely new story before we were allowed on the air, and then he defended those numbers. He created a straw man which he then knocked down.

The fact is -- Dobbs tried to tell us at one point that we were working from the same official statistics. That is an outright falsehood. Lou Dobbs and his reporters never relied on the statistics. Their report was based 100 percent on the word of, as they say, the "respected" Dr. Madeleine Cosman, a fringe nut on the extreme right.

That was my biggest disappointment in the piece was that we could not get Cosman in there, because he, in my view, simply lied about that.

Really, I found it an amazing performance. Dobbs ultimately realizes that his numbers cannot be defended, so he creates another set of numbers and tries to portray himself as defending those.

And the whole leprosy debate is merely symbolic of Dobbs' reporting and propagandizing in general. And that's where we were never really allowed to go. The fact is that he makes claims like this fairly routinely, or allows others to make them on his air.

So I don't think Lou Dobbs is a member or a sympathizer of the Council of Conservative Citizens, but the fact that he used their map shows where his information comes from.

I kept wanting to say to him, 'Lou, if you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas, and Madeleine Cosman is a flea.'

DN: The Council of Conservative Citizens report is a classic example of what goes on with Dobbs' reportage. You know, the whole Aztlan thing is basically something concocted by Glenn Spencer [a notorious white supremacist].

Potok: That's right -- cooked up by Spencer, pumped up by various hate groups, and then the larger anti-immigration movement. And Dobbs is -- it's not that he's a member of the CofCC, but when he sets out to illustrate an imaginary conspiracy, big surprise! He winds up taking a map from an openly white supremacist Web site. Because those are the kinds of lunatics that believe this garbage.

DN: And then the only thing he corrected, as it were, was using their information, rather than the entire thesis of the report, which was based on the same garbage.

Potok: It's not like you're going to find a legitimate Aztlan map.

DN: The entirety of the report on Aztlan was built out of this specious material, and he never corrected that.

Potok: No, no, and he won't face it at all. It's quite a performance.

I saw him last night talking about the immigration agreement, describing Washington as, you know, wholesale out of their mind and so on.

DN: And as Richard Cohen pointed out, one of the issues that in fact is coming out of the immigration debate is the effect that this kind of rhetoric is having on the ground, that is, in terms of the stark rise of hate crimes.

Potok: That's right. We weren't quite able to get this out, but look, federal hate crime statistics show anti-Latino hate crime up 23 percent between 2003 and 2005. California statistics, which are particularly well kept, show a rise of 43 percent of anti-Latino hate crimes in the same period.

Dobbs absolutely will not look at where this kind of rhetoric goes. Just a few days ago, an anti-immigrant zealot apparently tried to burn down the day labor center in Gaithersburg, Maryland. A couple of weeks ago a man was sentenced to life in prison in Arizona for murder because he and two relatives went out looking for a Mexican to kill and in fact were successful.

You know, the week before that, a militia in Alabama was busted, and the feds said they had a plot to machine-gun Mexicans in Alabama. This is stuff you will never, ever, ever hear on Dobbs' show.

We ran a search just for fun on the phrase "hate crime" for his show for the last two years, and it hasn't had a mention on his show in two years.

DN: And at the end of his show he asked you to find instances where he was bashing immigrants, and as I pointed out, there's really no shortage of those.

Potok: It's quite easy. You mentioned the Spencer stuff. Think about this guy: They've had Spencer on a number of times, at least two times I know of. You know, Spencer was arrested for shooting up his neighbor's garage in a paranoid midnight fantasy about immigrants coming to get him. That has never appeared on Lou Dobbs' show.

Chris Simcox has been on over twenty times at this point. This is a guy who has talked about the Chinese Army maneuvering on the Mexican border. A nutcase, like Madeleine Cosman, like Glenn Spencer.

DN: Look, we're both journalists -- we both worked as mainstream reporters and editors for many years. And I'm utterly baffled by this kind of behavior, and moreover, that somebody can actually get away with this with their reputations and careers intact. Basically publishing and then asserting that the falsehood was true.

Potok: Well, he looked for any kind of exit. He extremely disingenuously tried to say that they had never said there were 7,000 new cases. Then in a truly incredible television moment, he puts on the tape that shows definitively that that's precisely what they said. And then he tries to get us to agree that we're all talking about the same figures. It was like speaking from one dimension to another -- it was bizarre. Talk about aliens.

DN: This is something that bloggers are always on about -- that the reason for the existence of a demand for blogs is the public's growing awareness that their large, supposedly mainstream media are failing them, especially in terms of reporting truthfully and accurately.

Potok: I heard this from Leslie Stahl, and I've heard it from Dobbs directly on the phone -- Dobbs makes a big deal out of separating the hour into a half-hour of news and a half-hour of 'editorial'. That's the biggest bunch of hogwash I've ever heard. The separation is invisible to all but CNN employees, no doubt. It all looks the same to anyone else. And it was just last night, in his rant about the new immigration deal, that he went after everyone in Washington who was for this bill as a bunch of mindless lunatics -- in the news half of his show. The show is just propaganda from start to finish.

It is a weird situation that CNN would allow this, really. It really is disappointing that CNN says nothing about this, feels no obligation to the truth at all. What we said in the letter is really true -- this really is demonizing. It is not a nice thing to say about a group of people, that they are bringing leprosy to your doorstep, and it is certainly precisely the kind of statement that leads to hate crimes. These people are dirty, they're disgusting, they're coming to do you harm -- not to mention to ruin your economy and steal your job.

I wonder what's going on with Dobbs. I thought he had been somewhat wounded last week. The day after he went after me, which was last Monday, I saw him with this woman from Air America. I only saw a few minutes of it, but it was unbelievable. He was simply screaming at her. It looked like Rivera vs. O'Reilly on immigration. He was simply shouting her down. And this was over an extremely minor point -- she was trying to make the point that calling people 'illegal aliens' is a pejorative, and comes off that way, which I think is pretty undeniable. And Dobbs was just screaming at her.

Laura told me later, he followed her, first, into the dressing room, and then almost into the ladies' room, yelling at her! It was unbelievable.

One other thing you should know, because it's really quite something, is that the Family Research Council attacked him on Sunday. They sent a letter very similar in tone to ours -- the headline was, 'Tell Lou Dobbs: Pastors aren't second-class citizens.' They set up on their Web site a thing for followers to send e-mails. This was because Dobbs the prior week, after the back and forth with us, Dobbs said something to the effect that churches that make statements on immigration should lose their 501(c)3 status, their tax-exempt status. Which is an incredible statement -- I mean, this is probably the only time in my entire life I will ever agree with Tony Perkins, but he was right. Why shouldn't a pastor be able to speak on immigration? As long as that pastor is not endorsing this candidate or that one, they absolutely have the right to speak on that matter, just as I do.

But of course, Dobbs has been beating up on the Catholic Church for a long time. Last week he made the mistake, apparently, of generalizing that to all churches. So now he's getting it from the left and the right.

All these people had been in our office. Christine Romans was in our office, along with four other Dobbs staffers several years ago as we tried to explain to them what we saw in the anti-immigration movement.

You know, for a long time, we tried to work with rather than against Dobbs. An example of this was when Joe McCutchen was named to head up the Protect Arkansas Now initiative, the Prop 200 lookalike organization in Arkansas. And we pointed out all that stuff about his being part of the Council of Conservative Citizens and American Renaissance and had written all these anti-Semitic letters, and so on.

The point is, we called Dobbs and told them, 'Look, this McCutchen guy is an anti-Semite, and here's the evidence.' And what happened is that they did in fact cancel an appearance by McCutcheon. But do you think anything was ever said about any of this on Dobbs' show? They in other words used us to avoid looking stupid, but they did not take the greater point -- which was that quite a few people like this are in the leadership of this movement.

So really, we were aiding and abetting their whitewashing of the news, so that got old pretty quickly, and ultimately it came to a conflict.


More on all this soon.

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