Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dobbs lies to Telemundo about his phony leprosy story: 'I did not stand behind that reportage'

-- by Dave

Lou Dobbs was interviewed on the Spanish-language network Telemundo yesterday by Maria Celeste (h/t Andrea Nill), and she cut quickly to the point:

Celeste: You mention that this criticism and this perception, misperception of yourself, it's only in the extreme, ah, extreme left, and that might be the case in the Anglo market, but trust me, in the Hispanic world, you are viewed by many, by many people as the No. 1 enemy -- maybe because of the many inflammatory and misleading statements about undocumented immigrants that you've made throughout the years. And let me go with the first one.

The most outrageous one was blaming immigrants for a dramatic rise in leprosy cases in the United States, stating that in three years, the cases of leprosy had suddenly jumped to 7,000, and that this was largely due to the influx of undocumented immigrants. By the way, according to the United States Department of Health [and Human Services], 7,000 cases of leprosy were reported over thirty years, not three, which is a big difference.

But even after that, that was proven wrong, what you had said, you stood behind your reporting, insisting that it was accurate. Why was that?

Dobbs: No no. Let's be very clear. For one, I did not stand behind that reporting. In fact, we corrected that reporting.

And secondly, in fairness to me, if you will, I never said a word about leprosy and undocumented immigrants, as you put it. My correspondent on our broadcast ad-libbed it, and as you are very familiar with the process of an edited report, and at the end of that she referred to a source with whom she had been speaking, and she said at the end of that report -- ad-libbed it, that is, without script or preparation, but simply said it -- that there were thousands of people on the registry for leprosy in the United States and those had shot up dramatically over the course of three years.

Dobbs is just baldfacedly lying. He did indeed defend that reporting, he did not correct it at any time, and Romans' didn't simply say "those had shot up dramatically over the course of three years," she clearly indicated that they had skyrocketed from 900 to 7,000 cases -- a grotesquely false claim.

Let's roll the tape, first back to April 14, 2005, when Dobbs first trotted out the phony leprosy story.

First, the report -- by correspondent Christine Romans -- cited a far-right anti-immigrant extremist named Madeleine Cosman, and ran a video of her saying this:

DR. MADELINE COSMAN, MEDICAL LAWYER: We have some enormous problems with horrendous diseases that are being brought into America by illegal aliens. Some of these diseases we had already vanquished, such as tuberculosis. And other diseases we have only rarely had here in America, such as Chagas Disease, leprosy, malaria.

Then the Romans had an exchange with Dobbs:

ROMANS: Lou, anyone coming to this country legally or seeking asylum must undergo medical testing to detect and treat these sorts of diseases. But if we don't know who is coming over, we don't know the magnitude of the diseases they have, how they are being spread and where to.

DOBBS: Extraordinary is the only reaction I can offer. First, the health officials saying it's unrealistic to stop this at the border.

This is a refrain we hear from everyone who wants to -- even health officials concerned about public health. The fact that we're somehow helpless to defend this country, to secure our borders? What in the world is that about?

ROMANS: He says in his experience have you to go at the at-risk groups in their neighborhoods, in the populations here in this country and attack the problem from that way. Not stop it at the borders.

DOBBS: Well, certainly that makes great sense, as well. But to stop future cases it seems clear that one would have to secure our borders. Secondly, these other diseases, tuberculosis, leprosy, malaria?

ROMANS: It's interesting, because the woman in our piece told us that there were about 900 cases of leprosy for 40 years. There have been 7,000 in the past three years. Leprosy in this country.

DOBBS: Incredible. Christine Romans, thank you.

Dobbs was then confronted about it by CBS's Lesley Stahl in a 2007 interview:

STAHL: One of the issues he tackles relentlessly is illegal immigration, and on that, his critics say, his advocacy can get in the way of the facts.

DOBBS: Tuberculosis, leprosy, malaria.

STAHL: Following a report on illegals carrying diseases into the U.S., one of the correspondents on his show, Christine Romans, told Dobbs that there have been 7,000 cases of leprosy in the U.S. in the past three years.

ROMANS: Leprosy, in this country.

DOBBS: Incredible.

STAHL: We checked that and found a report issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, saying 7,000 is the number of leprosy cases over the last 30 years, not the past three, and nobody knows how many of those cases involve illegal immigrants.

[end video clip]

STAHL: Now, we went to try and check that number, 7,000. We can't. Just so you know --

DOBBS: Well, I can tell you this. If we reported it, it's a fact.

STAHL: You can't tell me that. You did report it --

DOBBS: Well, no, I just did.

STAHL: How can you guarantee that to me?

DOBBS: Because I'm the managing editor, and that's the way we do business. We don't make up numbers, Lesley. Do we?

A few days later, Dobbs invited back Romans to discuss the matter:

And there was a question about some of your comments, Christine. Following one of your reports, I told Leslie Stahl, we don't make up numbers, and I will tell everybody here again tonight, I stand 100 percent behind what you said.

ROMANS: That's right, Lou. We don't make up numbers here. This is what we reported.

We reported, "It's interesting, because the woman in our piece told us that there were about 900 cases of leprosy for 40 years. There have been 7,000 in the past three years. Leprosy in this country."

I was quoting Dr. Madeline Cosman, a respected medical lawyer and medical historian writing in the "Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons".

She said, "Hansen's disease" -- that's the other modern name, I guess, for leprosy -- "Hansen's disease was so rare in the America that in 40 years only 900 people were afflicted. Suddenly, in the past three years, America has more than 7,000 cases of leprosy" -- Lou.

DOBBS: It's remarkable that this -- whatever confusion, or confoundment over 7,000 cases, they actually keep a registry of cases of leprosy. And the fact that it 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.

ROMANS: That's what Dr. Cosman told us -- Lou.

Notice: In all this time, both Dobbs and Romans continue to act as though Madeileine Cosman is a credible source. Nor do they correct the quite clear implication of their reportage that leprosy skyrocketed from 900 to 7,000 in three years.

A word about Cosman: She a certified far-right loon who pulls figures out of the thin air of her imagination:

Though she talked endlessly about disease, Cosman, who died in early 2006, was not a doctor. She was a wealthy lawyer who advised physicians on how to sell their medical practices; a former Renaissance Fair queen; a devotée of hard-line libertarian Ayn Rand; and a member of the far-right Jews for the Preservation of Firearms. She was also a contributor to the conspiracy-minded "News With Views" website, where she offered up fare like "Violent Sexual Predators Who Are Illegal Aliens" and "Bird Flu and Illegal Aliens," wherein she theorized that a Muslim terrorist could "create his own weapon of mass destruction" by smuggling an infected person across the border.

Cosman said she'd written more than a dozen books. Her most successful, she said, was Fabulous Feasts: Medieval Cookery and Ceremony, a 1976 volume that she claimed was "nominated" for both a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award (these claims are repeated on the book's back cover). But Pulitzer officials say that there were no official "nominees" for the prize until 1980; before then, there were only "submissions" from writers or publishers. In the case of the National Book Award, prize publicist Camille McDuffie sent the Report complete lists of all past nominees and winners of the award; neither Cosman's name nor that of her book is anywhere on those lists. Immigrant-bashing, it appears, was not the only field in which Madeleine Cosman was prone to exaggeration.

Here's Cosman describing the sexual proclivities of male Mexican immigrants:

Recognize that most of these bastards molest girls under age 12, some as young as age 5, others age 3, although of course some specialize in boys, some specialize in nuns, some are exceedingly versatile, and rape little girls age 11, and women up to age 79. What is important here is the psychiatric defenses. Why do they do what they do? [Mockingly] They do not need a jail, they need a hospital. They are depraved because they were deprived in their home country. But more important is the cultural defense: they suffer from psychiatric cognitive disjuncture, for what does a poor man do if in his home country of Mexico, in his jurisdiction, if rape is ranked lower than cow-stealing? Of course he will not know how to behave here in strange America. This is thoroughly reprehensible.

Finally, contrary to his claim on Telemundo, Dobbs never ran any correction of this, particularly not the use of Cosman as a credible source, not just on the original broadcast but in his subsequent defenses of it -- even though he has taken to claiming he did so. What he cites when making this claim is a report he ran on May 16 from Bill Tucker. But here's the entirety of that report:

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dr. Bill Levis is one of the most respected doctors in the world on the treatment of leprosy or Hansen's disease as it's now known and he says the disease is on the rise.

Levis is the attending physician at the Hanson's disease clinic at New York City's Bellevue hospital. It is one of 11 such federally- funded clinics in eight states and Puerto Rico. Leprosy peaked in the United States 1983 when 456 new cases were reported according to the Department of Health and Human Services which attributes the rise to a large increase in immigration from Southeast Asia.

The number of new cases bottomed out in 2000, but the number of leprosy cases has more than doubled in the years since. Respected medical authorities say there are reasons to suspect those numbers understate the number of leprosy cases.

DR. WILLIAM LEVIS, HANSEN'S DISEASE CLINIC: In the last 30, 40 years we've had 7,000 by registry figures that are maintained, but it's likely to be significantly more than that because not all states require, including New York State, are requiring reporting of the disease. So it's underreported. So that's a minimal figure.

TUCKER: Forty years ago there were fewer than 1,000 people on the registry in the United States. Not only does New York State not require that doctors report cases of leprosy, neither do the states of Georgia, Maine, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, North Dakota and West Virginia.

Complicating the underreporting, many doctors don't even recognize the disease when confronted with it. Of the cases Dr. Levis sees in New York ...

LEVIS: Many of those cases have seen 10 or a dozen or more physicians before they're properly diagnosed.

TUCKER: Disturbing but not surprising because leprosy shares many of the same characteristics as T.B. and it's such a rare disease, it is not even taught in most medical schools.

Why the increases have been occurring since 2000 is not yet fully understood, but 75 percent of the reported leprosy cases today are found in people who were born outside of the United States. Of the new cases reported in America in 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the Department of Health and Human Services reports that the highest number of leprosy infections were found in people born in Brazil and Mexico.

California, Texas, Louisiana, Massachusetts and New York were the states with the highest reports of leprosy infections in 2005. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service requires that legal residents be screened for leprosy, but that screening is not effective if a person is not symptomatic. Of course, illegal immigrants are not screened at all.


TUCKER: Now, the good news is leprosy is a disease which is treatable and curable with modern multi-drug therapy, but of course, Lou, that requires that it be identified.

DOBBS: Absolutely. And as Dr. Levis points out. When people see as many as 10 or 12 physicians and go without diagnosis, correct diagnosis, that tells you how difficult the situation really is. Bill, thank you.

Now notice: While this is a reasonably accurate if tendentious report, there is no mention anywhere of Cosman, or the previously reported false information, or any suggestion at all that this was a correction of earlier falsehoods. This wasn't a correction at all.

And note that Dobbs, on this very show, then went on to argue with the SPLC's Mark Potok and Richard Cohen that "In point of fact ... we did not say there were new cases at any time." The segment with the SPLC was devoted, once again, to Dobbs adamantly denying that he had done anything wrong journalistically. He did the same thing a week later with Amy Goodman.

Well, at least Maria Celeste -- who doggedly kept pursuing Dobbs on the matter for another five minutes -- did finally get him to admit that the report was "a mistake":

I suspect that's the best anyone will ever be able to do.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

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