Dobbs responded to leprosy criticism by falsely suggesting he had admitted error

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

On the May 30 edition of his show, CNN's Lou Dobbs characterized an inaccurate citation in 2005 of the number of leprosy cases in the United States as "an ad-lib on the set of this broadcast uttered more than two years ago ... an unscripted ad-lib, not a report," and claimed that he "set this record straight a couple of weeks ago." But on the May 16 show to which he referred, Dobbs did not correct the inaccurate report, as Media Matters for America noted; instead, he misrepresented it without admitting error.

In response to a New York Times column by David Leonhardt that noted CNN correspondent Christine Romans' inaccurate citation two years ago on CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight of the number of leprosy cases in the United States, host and CBS Early Show contributor Lou Dobbs claimed on the May 30 program that he "set this record straight a couple of weeks ago." But as Leonhardt noted, Dobbs "has never acknowledged on the air that his program presented false information twice." As Media Matters for America noted, Dobbs insisted on the May 6 edition of CBS' 60 Minutes and the May 7 Lou Dobbs that the original report was correct. And on the May 16 edition of Lou Dobbs to which he referred, Dobbs did not correct Romans' report, as he claimed on the May 30 show and in Leonhardt's column that he had done; instead, as Media Matters noted, he misrepresented what Romans had said without admitting error. On the May 30 show, still not admitting that Romans' 2005 statistic of "7,000" cases of leprosy in the United States "in the past three years" was wrong, Dobbs called it "an ad-lib on the set of this broadcast uttered more than two years ago ... an unscripted ad-lib, not a report," ignoring his defenses of the report in May.

On the April 14, 2005, edition of Lou Dobbs, Romans aired a quote by Madeleine Cosman, anti-immigration activist and founding director of the Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at the City College of New York. Cosman said: "We have some enormous problems with horrendous diseases that are being brought into America by illegal aliens." After the report, Romans said that Cosman "told us that there were about 900 cases of leprosy for 40 years. There have been 7,000 in the past three years." However, as Media Matters noted, there had not been 7,000 cases of leprosy "in the past three years," as Romans said. According to the National Hansen's Disease Program (NHDP) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), there were 398 cases of Hansen's disease, or leprosy, reported between 2002 and 2004 -- "the past three years" at the time Cosman made her statement.

CBS News correspondent Lesley Stahl challenged Romans' numbers during a profile on Dobbs on the May 6 edition of 60 Minutes. The next day, Dobbs told Romans on Lou Dobbs: "I stand 100 percent behind what you said." Romans said, "We don't make up numbers here," and supported her claim that her figure was accurate by quoting from Cosman's article: "Hansen's disease was so rare in America that in 40 years only 900 people were afflicted. Suddenly, in the past three years America has more than 7,000 cases of leprosy." Neither mentioned the HHS statistics.

On the May 16 edition of Lou Dobbs, in a report on leprosy, CNN correspondent Bill Tucker gave accurate leprosy statistics, but he did not mention Romans' citations of Cosman. Later during the same program, in an interview with representatives of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Dobbs misrepresented Romans' citation, claiming that the 7,000 number referred to "active" cases of leprosy rather than cases "in the past three years." Dobbs said, "[W]e did not say there were new cases at any time," adding, "What we said in point of fact was that there are 7,000 cases on the ... active leprosy register." Later, Dobbs stated: "So we did not say, we quite agree, that there were 7,000 new cases. We said there were 7,000 on the registry."

In his May 30 New York Times "Economix" column, Leonhardt documented the history of the citation, noting the actual HHS statistics, and concluding: "So Mr. Dobbs was flat-out wrong." Leonhardt wrote that Dobbs "admitted as much, sort of," in a conversation the two had, and when Leonhardt read Romans' citation to Dobbs, the CNN host replied: "I think that is wrong." Leonhardt then wrote that Dobbs told him "that as far as he [Dobbs] was concerned, he [Dobbs] had corrected the mistake" on May 16, even though, Leonhardt added, "he [Dobbs] has never acknowledged on the air that his program presented false information twice." Leonhardt concluded: "[I]f CNN were serious about being 'the most trusted name in news,' as it claims to be, don't you think it would be big enough to issue an actual correction?"

According to mediabistro's TVNewser weblog, CNN issued a written statement in response to Leonhardt's column, in which CNN stated that "Lou Dobbs took the initiative to set the record straight in a full report on the subject two weeks ago," presumably referring to Tucker's May 16 report. Dobbs' May 30 report was posted in a commentary on CNN.com the next day.

From the May 30 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

DOBBS: Now, if I may, a personal note tonight that I'd like to share with you: I've been, over the years -- because of our reporting on controversial issues and my strongly held beliefs on those issues -- attacked, and usually pretty vigorously, by both the left wing and the right wing of this nation's media, both mainstream and otherwise, and of course the politicians that form the extremes of our political spectrum.

As a matter of fact, I'm regularly attacked by the right wing -- the biggest business lobbyists in the country, The Wall Street Journal editorial page, the Bush administration -- for my criticism of so-called free trade policies and outsourcing.

I'm regularly attacked by the left wing as well -- the Southern Poverty Law Center, The New York Times, The Nation, MALDEF [Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund], and MEChA [Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán] -- for my opposition to illegal immigration.

Today, The New York Times published a column that picks up where an advertisement, a paid advertisement in the Times, paid for by the Southern Poverty Law Center, left off two weeks ago.

Today's New York Times column is primarily a personal attack on me, focuses on an ad-lib on the set of this broadcast uttered more than two years ago by Christine Romans on the number of cases of leprosy in this country, an unscripted ad-lib, not a report -- by the way, we've never done a report on leprosy until we had to set this record straight a couple of weeks ago. That's over four and a half years of reporting on that issue.

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