Thursday, June 26, 2008

Immigrant Obsessive Lou Dobbs

Lou Dobbs was singled out by a Media Matters study as the talk-show host “most obsessed with the topic” of illegal immigration. Said the report, issued in May, “cable news overflows not just with vitriol, but also with a series of myths that feed viewers’ resentment and fears, seemingly geared toward creating anti-immigrant hysteria.”

There have been two futile efforts recently to get CNN to make Lou Dobbs stop lying. In April the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, made up of 21 Hispanic Democratic congressmen, fired off a letter complaining about Dobbs, and earlier this month the Washington D.C.-based Hispanic Institute called for “a Latino boycott of CNN to protest the cable news network’s ongoing distortion of facts surrounding U.S. immigration issues, especially in commentaries and reports on ‘Lou Dobbs Tonight.’”

Dobbs is still spinning fantasies for his fans, who are all too eager to believe the worst about Hispanics.

For sheer, breathtaking disregard for the facts it is hard to top his leprosy moment on 60 Minutes last year. On his own program earlier, he had shown a report claiming illegal immigrants bring diseases like leprosy, of which there had allegedly been 7,000 cases in the past three years. But 60 Minutes found out it was 7,000 cases in the last 30 years, and that no one knows how many can be attributed to illegal immigrants. Lesley Stahl called him on it.

“Well, I can tell you this. If we reported it, it’s a fact,” Dobbs said.

“You can’t tell me that. You did report it,” Stahl replied.

“I just did,” Dobbs said.

“How can you guarantee that to me?” Stahl asked him.

Said Dobbs, “Because I’m the managing editor. And that’s the way we do business. We don’t make up numbers, Lesley, do we?”

Turns out he does make up numbers. It’s fine to be an opinion journalist, as every columnist knows. But it’s not fine to spread egregious factual falsehoods.

Another lie is Dobbs’s insistence that his concern is illegal immigration and not the legal kind. He gets pretty touchy when someone suggests otherwise, like this past February when he had on his show Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza.

“Have I ever attacked an immigrant? Have I ever?” he said to her, bare teeth clenched in the inimitable Dobbs style. “Have I ever spoken against legal immigration in this country?”

Yes you have, Lou. You mix criticism of illegal immigration (some of it well-founded, some of it needlessly alarmist, some of it outright falsehoods) with attacks on the supposed threat that immigrants in general bring to America. You even think Irish immigrants of the previous century present a threat — why else would you proclaim on your show, “I don’t think there should be a St Patrick’s Day” because “we should be celebrating what’s common in this country”?

Dobbs can get pretty slick, like in this introduction to a correspondent’ s story during the big immigration marches in the spring of 2006:

“Turning to our illegal immigration and border security crisis, the White House today declared that President Bush supports making English the national language of the United States. The Senate also supports the idea. But neither the White House nor the Senate is prepared to make English the official language of this country.”

The issue of “illegal immigration and border security” is of course separate from the question of whether English needs to be made the “official language.” People who think it needs to be “official” believe that the supremacy of the English language is under siege by an overabundance of foreign-language speakers in the United States, regardless of their immigration status. And Dobbs seems to be one of those people.

He made that pretty clear last year on his show when he asked CNN colleague Rick Sanchez whether we have “reached a stage in this country in which English is not the language of commerce, is not the language of education, media and science.”

Can anybody be seriously worried that English in the United States is under that kind of threat?
In what was either a joke or an effort to make nice, last year Dobbs gave $5,000 to the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and became a lifetime member. I knew that you didn’t need to be Hispanic to join. Apparently you don’t have to be a journalist, either.

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