Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Lou Dobbs' ethics

-- by Dave

Mainstream journalists like to complain that bloggers frequently promulgate bad information and then fail to own up to it when exposed. It's one of the reasons that blogs are supposedly unreliable sources of information.

But they really haven't a lot of room to make this accusation as long as they continue to ignore the continuing antics of Lou Dobbs, who as Media Matters observes, still hasn't corrected his nakedly false reportage on the rates of leprosy infection associated with illegal immigration. Indeed, he's been dodging the issue by claiming that his figures were correct all along.

At least the New York Times' David Leonhardt is raising the issue:
I have been somewhat taken aback about how shameless he has been during the whole dispute, so I spent some time reading transcripts from old episodes of "Lou Dobbs Tonight." The way he handled leprosy, it turns out, is not all that unusual.

For one thing, Mr. Dobbs has a somewhat flexible relationship with reality. He has said, for example, that one-third of the inmates in the federal prison system are illegal immigrants. That's wrong, too. According to the Justice Department, 6 percent of prisoners in this country are noncitizens (compared with 7 percent of the population). For a variety of reasons, the crime rate is actually lower among immigrants than natives.

Second, Mr. Dobbs really does give airtime to white supremacy sympathizers. Ms. Cosman, who is now deceased, was a lawyer and Renaissance studies scholar, never a medical doctor or a leprosy expert. She gave speeches in which she said that Mexican immigrants had a habit of molesting children. Back in their home villages, she would explain, rape was not as serious a crime as cow stealing. The Southern Poverty Law Center keeps a list of other such guests from "Lou Dobbs Tonight."

Perhaps more to the point, Dobbs has a history of citing these white supremacists as credible, while failing to explain to the audience their background. Among such Dobbs guests is Glenn Spencer, the head of the racist American Patrol, whose theories on immigration -- including a conspiracy theory about a Mexican "invasion" and a plot to return the Southwest to an "Aztlan" -- Dobbs has reported on as credible.

Perhaps the most notorious of these instances involved Dobbs running a map of "Aztlan" taken from the Web site of the racist Council of Conservative Citizens. Dobbs apologized for using the CofCC as a source -- but never retracted or corrected the substance of the story itself, which was not just factually bogus but outrageously inflammatory as well.

As a longtime working journalist, this utter lack of accountability among powerful figures in the mainstream media -- a trend dating back to the 1990s, when the New York Times itself was able to simply ignore the damning exposure of Jeff Gerth's shoddy Whitewater reportage by Gene Lyons in Fools for Scandal -- is both infuriating and disheartening, because it does in fact damage the credibility of us all. It is the primary reason, I believe, for the existence of the blogosphere, particularly the media critique that has existed on the left side of the aisle.

As Leonhardt goes on to explain:
The most common complaint about him, at least from other journalists, is that his program combines factual reporting with editorializing. But I think this misses the point. Americans, as a rule, are smart enough to handle a program that mixes opinion and facts. The problem with Mr. Dobbs is that he mixes opinion and untruths. He is the heir to the nativist tradition that has long used fiction and conspiracy theories as a weapon against the Irish, the Italians, the Chinese, the Jews and, now, the Mexicans.

There is no denying that this country's immigration system is broken. But it defies belief -- and a whole lot of economic research -- to suggest that the problems of the middle class stem from illegal immigrants. Those immigrants, remember, are largely non-English speakers without a high school diploma. They have probably hurt the wages of native-born high school dropouts and made everyone else better off.

More to the point, if Mr. Dobbs's arguments were really so good, don't you think he would be able to stick to the facts? And if CNN were serious about being "the most trusted name in news," as it claims to be, don't you think it would be big enough to issue an actual correction?

Note that when Leonhardt began to corner Dobbs on these points -- particularly the racial and ethnic cast of the reportage -- Dobbs responded simply by shutting down: "You've raised this to a level that frankly I find offensive." This was the same defensive posture he raised with Laura Flanders.

The favorite whine of Dobbs and his nativist cohort is that "it's not fair that you can't discuss illegal immigration without being accused of being racist." But as we explained before, the problem isn't discussing illegal immigration. Indeed, I think everyone involved would love to have a discussion on immigration without racism rearing its ugly head.

But racism is rearing its ugly head when Dobbs and Malkin and the whole pack of "immigration reformers" treat white-supremacist propaganda as reliable information and parrot talking points from those white supremacists as well.

Pointing out that they're doing it isn't the problem. Pretending that they're not is.

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