Thursday, June 14, 2007

Lou Dobbs goes off the rails

Now, there's a surprise: Another Lou Dobbs report, another round of Bizarro Universe Journalism!

Dobbs and his regular partner in dubious journalism, Casey Wian, yesterday filed a report on the Dreams Train -- purportedly in the "regular news" portion of Dobbs' daily CNN broadcast, though you'd never be able to tell this "reportage" from the punditry that Dobbs likes to reserve for his second half -- that was, well, simply a train wreck in terms of journalistic fairness, accuracy, or general truthfulness.

Of course, Dobbs has already long since passed the point of anything remotely resembling objectivity when it comes to his reportage on immigration. Indeed, some of his recent work -- particularly his nonsensical and flatly false reportage on leprosy statistics, and more egregiously his flat refusal to either correct it or even admit that it was wrong, including a bizarre kabukoi dance around the facts not just regarding leprosy but his own misbegotten reportage -- really raises valid questions about not merely Dobbs' journalistic ethics, but CNN's as well.

So let's run the transcript of last night's report:
DOBBS: The Catholic Church and amnesty advocates and lobbyists today taking a new approach to further their amnesty agenda, organizing an amnesty train -- legal immigrants lobbying for illegal aliens. They will be aboard the A train, riding the rails to Washington to take their case to Congress.

Casey Wian has our report.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): All aboard the amnesty train.

CARDINAL ROGER MAHONY, L.A. ARCHDIOCESE: American people want immigration reform, and they want a path to legal residents for the 12 million people.

WIAN: It's another political stunt by the Catholic Church, labor organizations, and others seeking to blur the distinction between legal immigrants and illegal aliens. The Dreams Across America tour's stated purpose is to share personal stories, dispel myths, and provide real facts about the need for immigration reform. But some of those hard facts are at best incomplete. For example, a survey showing 81 percent of Americans believe that no one in their family has lost a job to an immigrant. But organizers don't mention the negative impact of illegal immigration on wages.

Oh really? What negative impact is that?

In reality, nearly every study of illegal immigration's effects on wages indicates that there is no negative effect on wages, or even employment, except among the lowest tier of workers -- namely, high school dropouts and manual laborers. The only study to suggest anything to the contrary was produced by Harvard's George Borjas, who found that an influx of immigrants depressed wages and especially hurt African Americans. Dobbs' reportage leans heavily on Borjas, but he consistently fails to report that, as the New York Times reported, nearly every other labor economist in the country has found his conclusions specious.

What Wian and Dobbs don't tell their audiences, in fact, is that Borjas's study is considered an outlier by nearly every other economist who has examined the issue. As the Immigration Prof Blog notes, "The largest wave of immigration to the U.S. since the early 1900s coincided with our lowest national unemployment rate and fastest economic growth."

The big picture is that immigrants consistently help bolster the larger economy and help create a "tide that lifts all boats." As the Cato Institute observes: "Contrary to popular myth, immigrants do not push Americans out of jobs. Immigrants tend to fill jobs that Americans cannot or will not fill, mostly at the high and low ends of the skill spectrum. Immigrants are disproportionately represented in such high-skilled fields as medicine, physics and computer science, but also in lower-skilled sectors such as hotels and restaurants, domestic service, construction and light manufacturing."

In other words, it isn't progressive immigration-reform advocates who are neglecting to tell the public significant information on the matter that would put it in a realistic perspective. No, that would describe Dobbs and Wian.

Of course, that was only the tip of the disinformation iceberg in this report:
On taxes organizers say so-called undocumented workers pay $7 billion a year in Social Security taxes. But they neglect to mention the billions of dollars state taxpayers spend on education, health care and other benefits for illegal aliens.

Of course, it isn't merely Social Security taxes that are withheld from undocumented workers' paychecks; so are federal and state income taxes. You know, the taxes that pay for those education, health and other benefits.

The Immigration Prof Blog notes: "Immigrants pay taxes, in the form of income, property, sales, and taxes at the federal and state level. As far as income tax payments go, sources vary in their accounts, but a range of studies find that immigrants pay between $90 and $140 billion a year in federal, state, and local taxes." Nor do immigrants disproportionately use those taxpayer-supported resources.

Indeed, a study conducted by the Urban Institute found the following: "Overall, annual taxes paid by immigrants to all levels of governments more than offset the costs of services received, generating a net annual surplus of $25 billion to $30 billion."

Worst of all, perhaps, was Wian's sneering approaching to the Dream Train participants who are trying to put a human face to all the statistics that are slung about by people like Wian and Dobbs -- whose approach, as we've seen, is either to rely on bogus information from white supremacists, or to grotesquely cherry-pick certain numbers that can support their predetermined theses, usually with little regard to the truthfulness that emerges with a broader approach:
This supporter claims her landscaping business will fail without amnesty.

CATHY GURNEY, DREAMS ACROSS AMERICA: Without fair and comprehensive immigration reform in our country we soon won't have access to legal workforce, which will result in having to close down our business, and I will leave 60 families without an income.

WIAN: Organizers say all of the 100 immigrants on board the four Washington, DC-bound trains have legal status in the United States.

SAMINA FAHEEM, DREAMS ACROSS AMERICA: Right now it is impacting my Latino brothers and sisters most. I want to stand with them. Because as a Muslim it is my duty to stop injustice.

WIAN: But some came here illegally including Luz Diaz who was brought across the border by her Mexican mother as a small child.

LUZ DIAZ, DREAMS ACROSS AMERICA: We are here because we love this country. We are here because we want to build this country, and now that we're here we should be having the same liberties.

WIAN: Diaz served in the Navy Reserves and is now a U.S. citizen with a nursing degree.


WIAN: Organizers hope stories like hers will help persuade lawmakers to give legal status to the 12 to 20 million illegal aliens now in the United States. So far, Lou, they have not succeeded.

DOBBS: Yeah. That's sort of a strange approach, to use legal immigrants to make a case for illegal immigration and amnesty. Bizarre thinking, even by Cardinal Mahony's standards.

Wait just a minute. Does Dobbs not listen to what his own reporter just said?
But some came here illegally

Now, it's true that none of the Dreamers are currently illegal. Do Dobbs and Wian actually expect an organization to put people who might be arrested and deported at any time into a high-publicity situation like this? Or are they just wishing someone on this trip would get arrested?

Remember, when we talk about Immigration Control and Enforcement, we're talking about a government agency that actually deports American citizens if they're merely suspected of being illegal and fail to prove their citizenship for any reason. That was recently demonstrated in the case of the 29-year-old Latino man, born in the USA, who was deported to Tijuana because he is developmentally disabled and unable to prove his status before he was shipped off to Mexico. His family is still searching desperately for him.

Of course, that perspective will never make its way into a Casey Wian report. Instead, we just get more sneering:
WIAN: Yeah, there's a lot strange about this effort. The organizers insist with a straight face, I might add, that this effort has nothing to do with any particular piece of legislation, they're not trying to influence law in any particular way, they're just trying to share stories to influence the American public and give them a better view of immigrants, Lou.

Fact: Dreams Across America does not support any particular legislation. Nor can Wian or Dobbs produce any evidence to the contrary, beyond their own demeaning innuendo. Indeed, I've detected nothing but a sincere effort to reach out and start a real conversation with real Americans about immigration -- and putting flesh and blood to the numbers. No doubt their approach to immigration is starkly removed from that of the nativists like Dobbs, Wian, and the whole pack of paleoconservatives who are trying to drive the debate with little more than scapegoating and demonization. And it is this last factor that gives the lie to Dobbs' final claim in this report:
DOBBS: Well, I don't think that the American public has demonstrated any lack of understanding of the importance of immigration or the importance of immigrants and the appropriateness of welcoming those more than 2 million folks who come here legally every year through our immigration system.

The issue is illegal immigration as far as I and a whole lot of other folks can discern. But it's I'm sure a nice train ride for everybody, no matter what. Thank you very much. Casey Wian.

This is, of course, the constant refrain we hear from Dobbs and his cohort. And it is, once again, complete and unmitigated nonsense.

If it's only illegal immigration that the nativists are constantly on the rampage about, then perhaps they can explain why so much of their reportage is directed at scapegoating all immigrants generally, and not just "illegals." To wit:

-- The reportage on leprosy and other diseases purportedly brought to this country by immigrants does not distinguish between illegal and legal immigrants at all. Rather, it's merely an ugly smear of the kind that nativists have used against immigrants since well before there were even laws declaring immigrants "illegal."

-- The wailing and gnashing of teeth from Dobbs and the rest of the nativist right over the Spanish-language version of the national anthem was all about the supposedly negative impact of the influx of Latin Americans (even though, in fact, there have been multiple linguistic versions of the anthem available for many decades now). This angst, again, was not inspired by illegal immigrants but, simply, Latino ones.

-- The bogus reportage on the supposed plot by Mexican immigrants to retake the Southwest and much of the West and return it to Mexican rule as "Aztlan" -- also known as the "Reconquista" theory -- once again did not make any distinction about the legality or illegality of the immigrants; it just made all Mexican immigrants out to be part of this plot. And as I've explained several times, the "Reconquista" theory not only has no real basis in fact, it was in fact concocted by white supremacists, and has been a featured conspiracy of various hate groups for well over a decade now.

Let's be honest: The nativists only use the law -- a misbegotten, unenforceable and completely dysfunctional law -- as a club for bashing Latino immigrants. And as the stories we'll be examining this week will make clear, there really is not a clear and bright line between legal and illegal immigrants in any case; legal immigrants with green cards can become illegal if they foul up their paperwork (which, considering the maze we've erected, happens more often than not) and those who cross the border illegally are capable of finding their own paths to legal citizenship.

Perhaps more importantly, a significant portion of "illegal immigrants" are in fact family members of legal immigrants: wives and husbands, children, mothers and fathers. The same faction that loves to shout "illegal!" at these immigrants also is fond of shouting "family values!" at the rest of us. But as always, they have a funny way of showing it.

Well, as I've said before: If Dobbs and Co. don't want us to be concerned that their immigrant-bashing is, at its base, bigoted scapegoating, then perhaps they'd do well to stop trotting out nakedly racist nonsense to support their cases.

Until then, I think our skepticism -- not just about Dobbs' intentions, but his journalistic ethics, as well as that of his entire news organization, which clearly is failing to hold him accountable -- is thoroughly warranted.

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