Lou Dobbs, Immigrant-Bashing Host, Eyes Next Move

TV host Lou Dobbs abruptly quit his CNN
program yesterday, bringing a sudden end to a television program most
notable for its remarkably one-sided presentation of immigration issues.

Since 2003, Dobbs has regularly used his CNN platform
to issue misleading and alarmist warnings about the threats posed by
undocumented immigrants. Dobbs has spoken of an "army of invaders"
scheming to reannex parts of the southwestern U.S. to Mexico (3/31/06),
claimed that "illegal alien smugglers and drug traffickers are on the
verge of ruining some of our national treasures" (11/19/03) and
declared that "the invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health
of many Americans" (4/14/05).

segments on Dobbs' show were devoted to "illegal aliens" getting free
medical care (10/1/03), putting their children in schools (10/2/03),
committing sex crimes (10/30/03), getting breaks on college tuition
(10/22/03), clogging up the federal prison system (11/4/03) and
"flooding across our borders in some cases carrying dangerous diseases"
(11/20/03). More recently, Dobbs (3/9/09) promoted a misleading report
that suggested hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants would get
jobs due to the government stimulus program.

Indeed, he seemed almost eager to misrepresent statistics in order to
further his anti-immigrant agenda. Dobbs was famously challenged by CBS host Lesley Stahl (5/6/07)
about his erroneous suggestion (4/14/05) that immigrants were causing
an alarming increase in leprosy in the United States. Dobbs' remarkable
response--"If we reported it, it's a fact"--was just as incorrect as
his original reporting (which, it turned out, was based on inaccurate
numbers peddled by a far-right anti-immigrant activist--FAIR Action
Alert, 5/11/07).

While that incident received significant attention, it was certainly
not the only time Dobbs' program misrepresented reality. FAIR's
magazine Extra! (1-2/04)
noted that Dobbs distorted a study of the costs and benefits of
immigration, turning the study's finding of a small economic benefit
into a multi-billion dollar cost to the nation's economy. Dobbs also
inflated the proportion of the prison population believed to be
undocumented immigrants (New York Times, 5/30/07) and recently garbled a CNN poll on immigration to argue that "most" Americans "want illegal immigrants now in the country to leave" (10/22/09; FAIR Blog, 10/23/09).

The show was a regular platform for a variety of anti-immigration
advocacy groups. Dobbs (5/23/06) even went so far as to use an
on-screen graphic from the white supremacist Council of Concerned
Citizens in a report fanning fears about Mexican plans to invade the
Southwest (Huffington Post, 5/24/06). Dobbs did not leave the overheated rhetoric to his guests, though. Before a Republican presidential debate (11/28/07),
he called immigration advocates "misguided abject fools" who are
"working to subvert the will of the majority of the people of this

Responding to a reporter's
comment about how the governor of Arizona "supports comprehensive
immigration reform, including a guest worker program," Dobbs responded
(4/19/06): "All I can say to that is lah-dee-dah. The idea that the
governor has taken such a superior view over the poor, humble residents
of her state, is there any kind of--is there any way in which they
might turn out at the polls to express their grievances?" Environmental
groups opposed to building a border fence between the U.S. and Mexico
were "complete idiots" (5/19/08). Immigrants' rights protests were
regularly derided (5/1/08): "They ignore the fundamental values of the
nation and demand an end to the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws.
We'll have complete coverage of this travesty."

Such language is unsurprising, since there was never any pretense of
balance to Dobbs' show. As he put it to CNN host
Howard Kurtz (4/2/06): "I'm not interested--are you interested in six
or seven views, or are you interested in the truth? Because that's what
I'm interested in; that's what my viewers are interested in." Declining
to present contrasting views because they conflict with one's own
definition of "truth" is not exactly the approach they teach in
journalism school, of course. As reported by Daphne Eviatar in the Nation (8/28/06), some CNN reporters were concerned by the show's techniques:
Another former CNN news
staffer from an overseas bureau said (also on condition of anonymity)
that whenever Dobbs' producers contacted the bureau for stories, "they
would request stories that would fit their agenda.... We wanted to
provide a balanced view. But people on Dobbs' show would look at the
script and ask for changes. If we gave too much of a balanced view,
they would kill the story."
senior staffers said that Dobbs would search out stories that supported
his anti-immigrant agenda. As one put it, "He's assembled
correspondents who feel beholden to him. They are given the line on the
story and told how to assemble it in his partisan manner before they're
sent out to do the story."

One of Dobbs' standard defenses over the years has been that his
concern is illegal immigration, not legal immigration. But Dobbs' show
blurred that distinction a number of times. Dobbs introduced one report
(11/4/03) about "illegal aliens, those noncitizens taking up a third of
the cells in our federal penitentiaries." The ensuing report noted that
there was no way of knowing how many prisoners were actually illegal.

In 2003, Dobbs (9/23/03) expressed outrage over a group of immigrants'
rights activists: "People who have not respected immigration laws in
this country are now demanding equal treatment under the law." A week
later (9/30/03), Dobbs acknowledged that the activists he was
criticizing were not, in fact, lawbreakers. In 2008, Dobbs (1/16/08)
attacked the campaign activities of one Nevada union, complaining that
"as many as half of the union's members are illegal aliens." Actually,
the union had reported that about half of its members were immigrants.

It should be noted that Dobbs' troubling record of distortion is not
limited to immigration. He has featured one-sided discussions on
climate change (12/18/08, 1/5/09) and issued nonsensical complaints
about the White House economic stimulus plan (Extra!, 4/09). Dobbs was one of many figures
in the corporate media to cheer a premature Iraq War victory ("Some
journalists, in my judgment, just can't stand success, especially a few
liberal columnists and newspapers and a few Arab reporters"--4/14/03),
and most recently caused a stir (Associated Press,
8/3/09) by giving airtime to "birther" guests to advance the
discredited notion that Barack Obama is not actually a U.S. citizen.

In his final CNN broadcast (11/12/09),
Dobbs suggested that he would continue in the public arena in some
fashion: "Some leaders in media, politics and business have been urging
me to go beyond the role here at CNN and to engage
in constructive problem-solving as well as to contribute positively to
a better understanding of the great issues of our day." Dobbs also
alluded to "the lack of true representation in Washington, D.C."

Dobbs' propagandistic approach to journalism was an embarrassment that CNN seemed more than willing to tolerate as long as his ratings were high (Extra!, 5-6/06);
with much of the cultural anxiety formerly going into the
anti-immigration movement now focused on the Tea Party movement
associated with Glenn Beck, Dobbs' viewership has been in a prolonged
slump (New York Observer, 7/30/09), so it's not too surprising to find him looking for a new home. CNN president Jonathan Klein once told the New York Times (3/29/06): "Lou's show is not a harbinger of things to come at CNN. He is sui generis, one of a kind." One can only hope.

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