Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lou Dobbs and the Birthers: Mainstreaming fringe ideas for ratings eventually will catch up with you

-- by Dave

Howard Kurtz this weekend was only the latest media critic to pile on Lou Dobbs for his promotion of the Birthers' conspiracy theories on CNN. Like nearly everyone else, Kurtz dismissed the coverage of the story as "ludicrous," and his guests pointed out how profoundly irresponsible it was.

Indeed, Kurtz was a bit late to the story, as Jamison Foser observed:

Well, by the time Kurtz got around to addressing the issue on today's Reliable Sources, CNN President Jonathan Klein had weighed in, calling Dobbs' birtherism "legitimate" and denouncing Dobbs' critics as "people with a partisan point of view from one extreme." (Klein had earlier indicated that the story was dead and the birthers' claims baseless; his flip-flop raises the question of who is in charge -- Klein or Dobbs.)

... Had Kurtz addressed the Dobbs issue last week, when he should have, he might have been able to get away with not coming back to it. But by waiting until today, he put himself in a position where he had to either address Klein's comments, or shy away from criticizing the boss. He chose to keep quiet about Klein. And so we learned from Kurtz's unwillingness to criticize Klein that he likes having the job of media critic more than he likes doing the job of media critic.

As Eric Boehlert observes, the whole dustup has been overall a good thing:

But there was some good news last week, and it came from watching Dobbs' slow motion train wreck unfold on the airwaves. It came from seeing how eagerly -- how convincingly -- the birther claims were debunked, not only online by progressives, but within the mainstream press as well -- the same mainstream press that's often reluctant to show up high-profile media players such as Dobbs, no matter how badly it has botched the facts. And let's not forget conservatives, who dismissed and ridiculed the birther claims.

In the case of the birthers, though, Dobbs' corporate media colleagues were utterly relentless in their fact-checking. I still don't think Dobbs knows what hit him. And frankly, I'm not sure I've ever seen such a well-deserved media pile-on. It's hard to see how Dobbs' career survives the humiliation.

Of course, it's always dangerous when hateful and cuckoo conspiracy theories are ushered into the mainstream and right-wing critics are given a platform to peddle their hateful whodunits about Obama's nationality the way Dobbs did. But, in this case, I almost think it was worth running that risk in order to watch the tidal wave of media disapproval that Dobbs' fearmongering unleashed.

This is all true. It certainly is a heartening sign that Dobbs is finally facing this tidal wave for attempting to present as mainstream absurd rhetoric from the fringes of the far right -- because he has been getting away with doing precisely that for years.

Most of the time, this has involved his rantings about immigration, including his false claims that immigrants were bringing leprosy across the border and that they intended to take back the American Southwest for Mexico. As Alex Koppelman noted at the time, there was a consistent pattern even back then of Dobbs drawing on beyond-dubious far-right fringe sources for his "reporting."

Meanwhile, Dobbs has been overly generous in his dealings with right-wing extremists on his show. He's hosted Glenn Spencer of American Border Patrol without explaining to his audience that ABP is a longtime SPLC-designated hate group, and for good reason: they are unmistakably racist and white supremacist. He also hosted many leaders of the Minutemen movement (most notably Chris Simcox) on his programs over the years while hailing them as "a neighborhood watch" -- though he noticeably has failed to report it when the evidence becomes violently manifest that it is not anyone's idea of a civic-minded organization. More recently, Dobbs was one of the many right-wing pundits who attacked the Department of Homeland Security for its warnings about right-wing extremists.

That Dobbs has been permitted to operate in this fashion without facing the consequences among his fellow journalists has been one of the real ongoing media scandals that no one in the media wants to write about. So now it's out in the open -- and about time.

MM has put together a page where you can chime in on CNN's Lou Dobbs problem. Go make yourself heard.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

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