A Media Matters study of guests on CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight shows that far more Republican and conservative guests have appeared on the show during the first two months of 2006 than have Democratic or progressive guests.
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On a recent episode of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, Wade Buchanan, president of The Bell Policy Center, attempted to address the topic of a proposed ballot measure in Colorado that would bar illegal immigrants from receiving virtually all state services -- about which Dobbs had invited him to speak -- but soon found himself giving up. "[W]ould you like my opinion or would you like to yell at me about this?" Buchanan, one the few Dobbs guests that month who is neither conservative nor Republican, asked his host. Buchanan's exasperated retort -- and the exchange that led to it -- is emblematic of the one-sided debates that Dobbs's viewers can expect every weeknight.
In February, Media Matters for America released "If It's Sunday, It's Conservative," a study documenting the ideological imbalance among guests on the Sunday-morning talk shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC; earlier this month, we released a similar study of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, titled "Hardball for the left, softball for the right." Just as those two studies demonstrated, Republicans and conservatives have dominated the guest list of Lou Dobbs Tonight in recent months -- outnumbering Democratic and progressive guests by a significant margin.
Lou Dobbs joined CNN when it launched in 1980 as the news channel's chief economic correspondent and host of Moneyline. Dobbs left CNN in 2000 but returned the following year to host the general news program Lou Dobbs Moneyline, later renamed Lou Dobbs Tonight. In addition to his career at CNN, Dobbs hosts a nationally syndicated radio talk show, The Lou Dobbs Financial Report, and is a regular columnist for Money magazine, U.S. News & World Report, and the New York Daily News. Although his CNN show's primary focus is economics, Dobbs also regularly covers political topics -- particularly immigration.
During January and February 2006, Media Matters tallied the guests who appeared on Lou Dobbs Tonight. Each guest was coded as either Democrat, Republican, conservative, progressive, or neutral (nonpartisan or centrist). This designation was the result of a particular guest's general partisan affiliation or ideological orientation. We employed the same methodology as with the two previous studies mentioned above.
Among appearances by ideologically identifiable guests in January, 53 percent were Republicans/conservatives, compared with 47 percent who were Democratics/progressives. However, this small advantage exploded into right-wing dominance in February: 67 percent of the ideologically identifiable guests were Republicans/conservatives, while only 33 percent of those guests were Democrats/progressives.
Republicans also dominated Lou Dobbs Tonight guests with respect to elected and administration officials, as well as guests who identified with a political party. Among elected and administration officials who appeared on the show, 70 percent were Republicans, while only 27 percent were Democrats. Further, 63 percent of guests who were identified with a political party were Republican, while only 37 percent were Democrats.
Conservative journalists/pundits appeared much more frequently on Lou Dobbs Tonight than progressive or neutral journalists/pundits. Conservatives led progressives 45 percent to 32 percent: 14 guests to 10. Only 23 percent, or seven journalists and pundits, were centrist or promoted a nonpartisan point of view.
Republicans and conservatives also received a greater share of the solo interviews conducted by Dobbs. Excluding neutral guests, Republicans and conservatives accounted for 60 percent of solo interviews, while Democrats and progressives accounted for only 40 percent: 33 guests to 22 guests, respectively. Four guests who leaned to the right were given multiple solo interviews during this period; however, only one progressive received the same opportunity.
Not surprisingly, panels tended to tilt right more often than left. Panels that tilted right accounted for 45 percent of all panels -- more than double the number of panels that tilted left. Only 21 percent of panels tilted left, while 34 percent were balanced.
The ideological imbalance on Lou Dobbs Tonight was exemplified on the January 10 edition. As Buchanan learned, guests of any ideological stripe should be careful not to cross the host on his favorite topic: illegal immigration. In 2003, Dobbs expressed the view that "illegal aliens [...] not only threaten our economy and security, but also our health and well-being." Exhibiting his obsession with the issue, every single edition of Dobbs's show in January featured at least one segment about immigration. (In February, the focus waned somewhat as he trained his attention on the Dubai ports deal.) For the duration of this study, alternate views to Dobbs's opinions on immigration were few and far between and met with fiery opposition.
As the data show, Republican/conservative guests outnumbered Democratic/progressive guests by large margins during the first two months of 2006. Media Matters asks Lou Dobbs whether his program's booking practices are in the interest of a balanced and diverse debate -- and in the public interest.