The eliminationist meme connecting immigrants to disease leapt forward about five quanta this week thanks to CNN's Lou Dobbs.
The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that Dobbs is spreading the tale that immigrants are bringing leprosy to America, and concocting numbers out of whole cloth in the process:
- The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) today urged CNN to acknowledge that anchor Lou Dobbs has been spreading false information about the prevalence of leprosy and its supposed links to undocumented immigrants.
"We're not talking about a newscaster who simply made a mistake — we're talking about someone with a national platform who cites wildly inaccurate data to demean an entire group of people and who, when confronted with the truth, simply repeats the lie," said SPLC President Richard Cohen. "It's outrageous, and CNN should do something about it immediately."
In a letter sent today, Cohen asked CNN/U.S. President Jonathan Klein to take prompt action to correct the misinformation.
On "Lou Dobbs Tonight" this past Monday, Dobbs said he stands "100 percent behind" his show's claim that there had been 7,000 new cases of leprosy in the United States over a recent three-year period, and he further suggested that an increase in leprosy was due in part to "unscreened illegal immigrants coming into this country."
Dobbs' endorsement of the claim came after CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl challenged the leprosy figure during a profile of Dobbs on "60 Minutes" this past Sunday. Stahl cited a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services document that reported 7,029 cases over the past 30 years -- not three.
... The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the number of leprosy cases diagnosed in the United States peaked at 361 in 1985. The figure reported on Dobbs' show is easily refuted with just a few minutes of research on the Internet.
Where did Dobbs get his numbers? Unsurprisingly, from a far-right nutcase named Madeleine Cosman:
- In addition to writing about the prevalence of leprosy, Cosman, who died in March 2006, told an anti-immigrant conference in 2005 that "most" Latino immigrant men "molest girls under 12, although some specialize in boys, and some in nuns," a variation on a speech she has given elsewhere. The Winter 2005 issue of the SPLC's quarterly magazine Intelligence Report also contained a profile of Cosman, a lawyer who advised wealthy doctors on how to sell their medical practices and a member of the far-right Jews for the Preservation of Firearms. The piece pointed out that Cosman had lied about having a 1976 book she wrote nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
... Madeleine Cosman's false claim that there were 7,000 cases of leprosy diagnosed in the United States from 2001 to 2004 was included in her article, "Illegal Aliens and American Medicine." More than once, "Lou Dobbs Tonight" reporter Romans repeated Cosman's statistic, saying, "Suddenly, in the past three years, America has more than 7,000 cases of leprosy."
Cosman's piece was published in the Spring 2005 issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, published by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which represents private practice doctors. The journal is known as a right-wing periodical whose science has been the subject of harsh criticism.
Though the article notes her Ph.D., it does not say that the degree is in English and comparative literature. Cosman had no medical training other than as a medical lawyer.
In the article, Cosman provides no source for her claim of 7,000 cases of leprosy, also known as Hansen's Disease, in three years — presumably 2001 to 2004, given the article's publication date.
The claim has no basis in fact.
But is Dobbs at all apologetic about being called on his journalistic malfeasance? Um, no:
- On Dobbs' show Monday, during a conversation with Romans, Dobbs said: "Following one of your reports, I told Lesley Stahl, we don't make up numbers, and I will tell everybody here again tonight, I stand 100 percent behind what you said." He later added, "And the fact that it [the number of leprosy cases] rose was because -- one assumes, because we don't know for sure -- but two basic influences: unscreened illegal immigrants coming into this country primarily from South Asia, and secondly, far better reporting."
... In the "60 Minutes" piece, Dobbs told Stahl, "Well, I can tell you this. If we report it, it's a fact."
"How can you guarantee that to me?" Stahl asked.
"Because I'm the managing editor, and that's the way we do business," Dobbs replied. "We don't make up numbers, Lesley. Do we?"
When it comes to Lou Dobbs -- yes, he does.
Not only does he make up numbers and "facts," he obtains those "facts" from extremist sources whose far-right agenda his "reporting" propagandizes. That is, in fact, his established track record.
The most infamous instance of this came when Dobbs ran a graphic about "Aztlan" that not only was pure fantasy, it was taken from the white-supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens' Web site. And then there has been his ongoing promotion of the Minutemen, which has similarly indulged afactual bashing of immigrants.
Dobbs, in fact, is beginning to make Don Imus look positively benign. Unfortunately, it's increasingly clear that CNN is running hard right in the cable-news wars, so it's unlikely that Dobbs will be affected unless, once again, CNN is hurt where it counts: with the advertisers.
UPDATE: Video added atop post.
UPDATE II: Phoenix Woman points out that Dobbs is only one of many media fabricators.
UPDATE III: Media Matters has more.