Thursday, May 17, 2007

Lou Dobbs vs. reality

-- by Dave

Lou Dobbs, who remains adamant that his phony numbers on leprosy were accurate, seems to be taking journalism into uncharted territory -- namely, reporting false and misleading information, and then asserting baldly afterward that it is perfectly accurate ... and seemingly getting away with it.

It's also important to understand this case as part of a larger narrative that scapegoats Latino immigrants, promulgated by Dobbs on his nightly CNN program. And when similarly called on that, Dobbs remains adamant that he's done nothing untoward.

We got a concentrated look at that on Wednesday's Dobbs show, when he invited Richard Cohen and Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, two of his fiercest critics in this matter, to appear. He then proceeded to bluster and blow smoke for twenty minutes or so, interrupting his guests when they began pressing him and responding with nonsequiturs. More to the point, when called on his phony numbers, he tried to claim that he hadn't reported what in fact he had quite plainly reported.

Now, note that Dobbs at no time ever addressed using Madeleine Cosman as the primary source for their claim that there had been a surge in leprosy cases to over 7,000 in recent years. Instead, they pointed to an earlier news report from Bill Tucker that included the following information:
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.

Now, compare that to what Christine Romans said in the Dobbs report:
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.

Levis, the respected figure that Dobbs later touted several times, in fact said something radically different than what Dobbs and Romans reported. It's hard to tell if they are mathematically and logically impaired, or just figuring that their audiences are.

Moreover, it's hard to read or hear this without getting the clear impression that suddenly, the number of cases of leprosy have risen to 7,000 in recent years. And yet Dobbs later says this:
Mark, Richard, gentlemen, you know we never said they were new cases. What we said in point of fact was that there are 7,000 cases on the active -- active leprosy register. You also ...

Which is, of course, a complete mischaracterization of what Romans actually said.

It's perhaps useful to understand that reporting that there are 7,000 names on the register does not mean that there are currently 7,000 active cases of leprosy. In fact, the number is not terribly meaningful in terms of the current levels of infection, because leprosy is in fact highly treatable with a Multi Drug Therapy (MDT) regime consisting of rifampicin, clofazimine, and dapsone:
MDT remains highly effective and patients are no longer infectious after the first monthly dose.] It is safe and easy to use under field conditions due to its presentation in calendar blister packs. Relapse rates remain low, and there is no known resistance to the combined drugs. The Seventh WHO Expert Committee on Leprosy, [22] reporting in 1997, concluded that the MB duration of treatment—then standing at 24 months—could safely be shortened to 12 months "without significantly compromising its efficacy."

Meanwhile, look at how Dobbs reports some other statistics:
DOBBS: Let me cite them for everybody one more time and if we've got that graphic I'd like to do that, which in, by the way, in your publication you said the cases have been declining. Since 2000, they have in fact been doubling, rising from 76 to 110, to 133 to 131, 166 and you just listened to one of the most foremost experts in Bill Tucker's report say to you that they are absolutely, absolutely understated and significantly so.

Did Dobbs say "doubling"? From 133 to 131? Really? What, did he graduate from Regent University or something?

Dobbs isn't simply obtuse about numbers; he's similarly thick about the very basic matter of factual accuracy. Witness, for instance, this exchange with Cohen:
DOBBS: Can I ask you gentlemen, we have just about four minutes left, have you ever once heard me say anything against immigration, failing to support higher immigration if it's a matter of public policy? Have you ever heard me be anti-immigrant even once or am I anti-illegal immigration?

COHEN: Lou, I think you've done it many times. I think that when you make false claims about immigrants that that's being anti-immigrant. I don't see any way around it. It's not the case that one-third of the persons in federal custody as you said are illegal immigrants to use your words. Twenty-seven percent of the persons in federal custody were born on foreign soil, some here lawfully, some not and only 12 percent of those were -- had committed violent crimes. So to suddenly say that 33 percent ...

DOBBS: I thought you said it was an unknowable statistic just a moment ago, Richard?

COHEN: No, I didn't say that.

DOBBS: I misunderstood you.

COHEN: You did. I said 27 percent of the persons in federal custody were born on foreign soil. We do not know how many are here lawfully and how many aren't but we do know that 12 percent of those ...

DOBBS: The federal prisons are not allowed to ask their country of either origin or their immigration status, correct?

COHEN: Right. That's right.

DOBBS: So those statistics you've just cited are rather interesting in light of that.

COHEN: Well, I don't know where you got the 33 percent of all -- everyone being an illegal immigrant, Lou.

DOBBS: Those are the estimates ...

COHEN: You were the one who made the claim.

DOBBS: Right. COHEN: You were the one who made the claim and I think it's a misleading claim, Lou.

DOBBS: Do you? To what end?

COHEN: The point is, Lou, that these are the kinds of claims we hear a lot. A few years ago one of your reporters also characterized the National Academy of Science's study of the effects of immigration on this country. Your reporter said with you, you know, nodding your sense, that what the report concluded was that there was an up to $10 billion annual cost -- I'm sorry, $100 billion and in fact what it showed on -- no, $10 billion, in fact what it showed is it was a $1 to $10 billion net positive.

DOBBS: Well, in point of fact your statistics are every bit ...

COHEN: These kinds of things outline the constant stream of misinformation. DOBBS: Please. First, Professor Jorge Borjas at Harvard University as you well know has done extensive research on the cost in terms of suppressed wages in this country of excessive immigration, both legal and illegal. And in point of fact. That number is $200 billion.

COHEN: That doesn't justify mischaracterizing a government report.

DOBBS: That's $200 billion a year. In point of fact, the four principle industries in this country that are hiring illegal aliens, the largest among them, construction followed by landscaping, leisure and hospitality, hotels and restaurants, all have experienced declines in wages. There is no shortage of labor.

And in point of fact or otherwise those wages would be rising, and it has declined as a result of exploitive employers. So I'm going ask this question. Do you believe I'm anti-immigrant or do you believe I'm anti-illegal immigration?

Dobbs' answer -- blowing smoke from a different study to justify misleading reportage, a classic nonsequitur -- is then capped by a diversion into a topic that's really all about him: Is he unfair to immigrants? The preceding babble is thus effectively buried, and we've moved on to the playground aspects of the matter. But Dobbs does say this:
DOBBS: I think that you can find perhaps in the record some basis for either declaring me either anti-immigrant or anti-illegal immigration, but I do think that using me and my name, frankly, as some sort of fund-raising tool is egregiously unworthy of both your tradition and your work in most areas and I do not for one moment comprehend it. I hope we can have further discussions.

Um, well, beyond those instances mentioned by Cohen and Potok on the show, Dobbs in fact has a long and well-documented record of demonizing Latino immigrants and promoting extremist views on his program.

For starters, there was the time he promoted commentary declaring illegal immigration a mortal threat to the nation itself:
Lou Dobbs Tonight - CNN - June 1

Dobbs: The issue, as you said, that the nation would cease to exist, what do you mean by that?

West: Well, the kind of provisions that are in the Senate... and it will be mainly Hispanic. It will be mainly Mexican. -- And so, what the question becomes is, do we want to become a northern section of Latin America? Do we cease to become literally an English- speaking people, become bilingual, and / or Spanish- speaking? And with these questions, you really begin to get at the heart of the matter, a demographic, a newer demographic.

There's also been his afactual reporting on the Minutemen, which he has described as a "neighborhood watch":
Perhaps no one has been more prominent in promoting the Minutemen's image as a group of law-abiding, concerned citizens than CNN's Lou Dobbs, who has made the Minutemen into the symbol of his ongoing campaign on behalf of immigration reform -- meaning he has adopted, essentially, far-right anti-immigrant nativism.

On several occasions, Dobbs' program has featured remarks from Minuteman organizer Chris Simcox, including an extended interview with Simcox that featured some genuinely noteworthy exchanges. Dobbs had reported on his program that the Minutemen were unarmed, and Simcox had to correct this:

DOBBS: And to be clear, you're not permitting any of your volunteers to be armed.

SIMCOX: No, that's not true. I can't do that. We have encouraged them, if you've read our standard operating procedure, that they are to be, again, aware of the laws of the state of Arizona. They're not to carry long arms, because that would make us an offensive -- that would give it an offensive-type attitude.

DOBBS: Well, Chris, let's...


DOBBS: ... be straight up, 1,500 volunteers, untrained, unorganized, and without drill, that is not a reassuring statement that you just made, if you're going to have people with weapons, whether they are sidearms or not.

SIMCOX: Well, Lou, we have -- most of our volunteers are retired law enforcement officers, military veterans, and professional people who -- and not all of them are going to be armed, but the ones that want to be have that right to be.

But we have interaccountability by grouping people together in teams, so that we have people watching each other and making sure that we hold each other accountable. Because this is a political protest, no matter what. We know that. And it would be hypocritical of us to want the government to enforce the laws if we were out there to break the laws.

Dobbs has also been an avid promoter of Pat Buchanan's nakedly racist screed on immigration:
Foremost among Buchanan's media boosters has been CNN's Lou Dobbs, whose proclivity for pushing extremist nonsense into the mainstream has beem previously noted:

"Congratulations on the response to your book," said Lou Dobbs, the CNN anchorman who has made a profession of attacking illegal immigration in story after story after story, as he introduced his old CNN colleague. Dobbs then offered up his own view that President Bush was carrying on an "outright war" against middle-class Americans by allowing illegal immigration. Wrapping up the interview, Dobbs concluded: "The book is State of Emergency. It's No. 3 on the best-selling list. ... I'm going to repeat it one more time. The book is State of Emergency. Pat Buchanan, always good to talk to you. ... [Y]ou've got a lot of readers, so keep it rolling."

Particularly telling is Buchanan's sourcing:

Once again, to make his case in State of Emergency, Buchanan relies on a trove of extreme-right sources. His urgent call for thwarting the "invasion" of non-European immigrants leans heavily on material written by hate group members or postings on hate sites, with citations to nearly every sector of the hate movement, from neo-Nazis to neo-Confederates. He cites the work of white supremacist James Lubinskas; Edward Rubinstein, of the white nationalist think tank National Policy Institute; Clyde Wilson, a board member of the racist and secessionist League of the South; and Wayne Lutton, a veteran immigrant- and gay-hater. Buchanan also quotes Lutton's anti-immigrant hate journal The Social Contract.

But unquestionably the most egregious example of Dobbs' use of extremist material was the time he lifted a graphic from the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens -- a group that Dobbs had the gall to tell Cohen and Potok he finds "reprehensible" without mentioning that he had used their material. Shortly after the CCC graphic ran, Dobbs mumbled his "regrets" for using the CCC as a source. But the "regrets" didn't include reporting a far-right conspiracy theory about "reconquista" as fact. Indeed, note the wording of the "regrets":
A freelance field producer in Los Angeles searched the web for Aztlan maps and grabbed the Council of Conservative Citizens map without knowing the nature of the organization. The graphic was a late inclusion in the script and, regrettably, was missed in the vetting process.

At no point did Dobbs or his reporters ever issue a correction about the phony Aztlan nonsense. The only problem was that they had used an unpleasant source.

As I noted at the time:
[T]he obsession with "Aztlan" -- which, as far as Latinos are concerned, mostly appears in a few relatively obscure '60s-era documents and among a fringe hate group -- has for most of the past decade and longer been almost exclusively the purview of white supremacists: American Patrol, VDare, American Renaissance, the National Alliance, the CofCC, the Barnes Review, and the like.

So when you hear talk about "Reconquista" -- which has not appeared in any MEChA documents or speeches -- the chances are nearly certain that this is where the talk originates. That's who draws up these maps, and touts the claims of an "invasion" incessantly.

Nonetheless, pointing out that racists are the people promoting these hobgoblins just raises a predictable whine: "Can't we talk about immigration without being accused of racism?"

Indeed, that's exactly what Dobbs consistently does whenever he's called on this crap. At some point, you'd think someone -- executives at CNN, other journalists, maybe an advertiser or two -- would catch on.

As Alex Koppelman put it:
CNN is trying to play this off as an isolated mistake. Don't be fooled: it's not. The fact that Dobbs and reporter Casey Wian showed the CCC map only makes the subtle pattern of racist fantasies given voice on Dobbs' show more visible. (By the way, relatively unnoticed -- the same night Dobbs was citing the CCC, he was leaving unchallenged, even laughing along with, one guest's suggestion that in order to get rid of illegal Mexican immigrants New Yorkers should order pizza and then arrest the delivery person. Thanks, Lou. We'll get right on that.) For months now, Dobbs and Wian have been reporting on "reconquista" and "Aztlan" movements, movements that exist not in the minds of mainstream Mexicans but in the fever dreams of white supremacists. That Dobbs eventually aired material pulled directly from a white supremacist organization should surprise no one -- when you're subtly citing them on a regular basis, the unfiltered truth is bound to bubble up at some point.

It keeps bubbling up, all right. But Dobbs is trying to pretend that the odor emanating therefrom is something other than the racial sewer the rest of us smell.

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