CNN chief Klein misrepresents birther coverage to defend Dobbs

››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN, BRIAN FREDERICK & JOCELYN FONG

On July 28, CNN president Jonathan Klein reportedly defended Lou Dobbs' coverage of conspiracy theories about President Obama's birth certificate by falsely characterizing Dobbs' coverage as being limited to asking why some people continue to doubt Obama's citizenship. In fact, Dobbs has gone far beyond reporting on other people's conspiracy theories; he has repeatedly used discredited arguments to cast doubt on the adequacy of the birth certificate Obama has provided.

Klein falsely claimed Dobbs has simply asked, "Why do some people doubt [Obama's citizenship] still?"

From a transcript of Klein's comments posted by the Los Angeles Times:

Q: If Dobbs wanted to explore whether the British had won the Revolutionary War, would that be a legitimate topic?

KLEIN: It would not be legitimate for Lou or anyone else at CNN to explore whether Barack Obama is an American citizen. That's why he hasn't done that. And I think the people who are making noise about that have to look at closely what the discussions have been. It's all about the phenomenon of doubters.

[...]

Q: But if he goes on his radio show and contradicts your reporting and then raises the same issue on the air, isn't there some need for somebody to balance that?

KLEIN: What he does on the radio is separate and apart from what he does on our air. On our air, he has said very clearly and repeatedly that Barack Obama is an American citizen. Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. Of that there is no doubt. He must have said it 10 times the last time he did the story. So he couldn't be clearer about that. Now, a couple of times he's hosted panel discussions about this phenomenon: Why do some people doubt it still? That's what those discussions are about. There's a real distinction. Does that make sense? [Los Angeles Times; 7/28/09]

Memo to Klein: Dobbs has repeatedly questioned adequacy of Obama's birth certificate

Dobbs has gone beyond simply asking why there are still doubters. Contrary to Klein's suggestion that Dobbs' birther coverage is limited to discussions about why "some people doubt" Obama's birth certificate and citizenship, on his syndicated radio and CNN television programs, Dobbs has repeatedly questioned the adequacy of the birth certificate Obama released and has demanded Obama "provide the long-form birth certificate."

Klein's distinction between Dobbs' CNN and radio commentary is meaningless. Dobbs regularly uses his radio broadcasts to promote his TV show and vice-versa, including while demanding Obama "provide the long-form birth certificate." On July 28 on CNN, Dobbs said: "Well, I've repeatedly stated that President Obama is a citizen of the United States. My question simply: Why not provide the long-form birth certificate and end all of the discussion. Well, to hear my thoughts on all of this, join me on the radio Monday through Friday for The Lou Dobbs Show." [Lou Dobbs Tonight; 7/28/09]

Dobbs has claimed birth certificate provided by Obama is not "the real document." On July 15 on CNN, Dobbs cast doubt on the adequacy of the birth certificate posted by FactCheck.org, saying: "President Obama was born in Hawaii, according to state officials, and copies of his certification of birth -- FactCheck.org, investigating those circumstances prior to the election, and they have a copy of what they say is the original birth certificate posted on their website. It is, in fact, the so-called short form, not the original document. It is really a document saying that the state of Hawaii has the real document in its possession." [Lou Dobbs Tonight; 7/15/09]

Dobbs has suggested it isn't really a "birth certificate." On July 23 on CNN, Dobbs further stated of the birth certificate posted by FactCheck.org: "[T]here's no reference there to the attending physician. There's no reference there to the hospital in which he was born. It is a certificate that refers to the fact that another certificate exists." When CNN contributor Roland Martin asked: "Is it an official state document?" Dobbs replied: "It is a document that says there's another document. ... A copy of his birth certificate would have the doctor, the hospital that he was born in, correct? And this is the -- and, by the way, this is just what people are concerned about." [Lou Dobbs Tonight; 7/23/09]

Dobbs has suggested it is not "the real deal." On the July 15 broadcast of his radio show, Dobbs claimed that a "long-form" birth certificate -- rather than the document Obama has provided -- is "the real deal," asking: "What do you think? Is President Obama -- should he produce his birth certificate -- the long form, the real deal? Should he be a little more forthcoming?" [The Lou Dobbs Show; 7/15/09]

Dobbs has claimed it is "peculiar" and has "some issues." Dobbs also stated on his July 15 radio show: "[T]his can be dismissed with one -- the production of one simple little document, and that's a birth certificate. It's extraordinary." He later said: "I've seen a lot of peculiar things that turned out to be just as true as they can be. And things that seemed as true as they ought to be were the phoniest son-of-a-guns in the world, so we'll find out." He added: "But this is a peculiar little document, this certification of life birth that everyone is purporting to validate the president. I think there's some issues with this. I mean, it's peculiar." [The Lou Dobbs Show; 7/15/09]

Dobbs faulted media "trying to knock down" birth certificate "issue" and claimed "a certificate of live birth is not a birth certificate." On his July 21 radio show, Dobbs said that "there's certain quarters of the national liberal media that are just absolutely trying to knock down the issue of President Obama's birth certificate, his certificate of live birth. And it's funny because this is an issue that I get a lot of calls on from time to time and we -- what we talk about is the fact that a certificate of live birth is not a birth certificate. It isn't the original document." [The Lou Dobbs Show; 7/21/09]

Dobbs' claims that Obama's birth certificate is inadequate are false

Birth certificate Obama provided "meets all of the requirements ... for proving U.S. citizenship." Contrary to Dobbs' repeated assertions that the birth certificate Obama released is not the "real deal," FactCheck.org wrote: "FactCheck.org staffers have now seen, touched, examined and photographed the original birth certificate [provided by Obama]. We conclude that it meets all of the requirements from the State Department for proving U.S. citizenship. ... The certificate has all the elements the State Department requires for proving citizenship to obtain a U.S. passport: 'your full name, the full name of your parent(s), date and place of birth, sex, date the birth record was filed, and the seal or other certification of the official custodian of such records.' " [FactCheck.org; 11/1/08]

Hawaii officials reject Dobbs' distinction between validity of "long" and "short" form birth certificates. PolitiFact.com reported that Hawaii officials say that the document provided by Obama "is considered a birth certificate from the state of Hawaii" and that "[c]alling it by other names" is, in PolitiFact's words, "just semantics":

When we spoke to a spokeswoman for the Hawaii Department of Health, she said too much was being made of the difference between the so-called "long" and "short" forms.

"They're just words," said spokeswoman Janice Okubo. "That (what was posted on the Internet) is considered a birth certificate from the state of Hawaii."

"There's only one form of birth certificate," she said, and it's been the same since the 1980s. Birth certificates evolve over the decades, she said, and there are no doubt differences between the way birth certificates looked when Obama was born and now.

"When you request a birth certificate, the one you get looks exactly like the one posted on his site," she said. "That's the birth certificate."

[...]

The Health Department says the "Certification of Live Birth" is Hawaii's version of a birth certificate. Calling it by other names -- Certificate of Live Birth, Certification of Live Birth -- is just semantics. [PolitiFact.com; 7/28/09]

Contrary to Klein's suggestion, Dobbs' birtherism continues on CNN

Klein suggested that Dobbs stopped using his CNN show to ask that Obama produce his birth certificate after Klein sent Dobbs' show an email on July 23 declaring the story seemingly "dead." From Klein's July 28 comments:

Q: But if he goes on his radio show and contradicts your reporting and then raises the same issue on the air, isn't there some need for somebody to balance that?

A: What he does on the radio is separate and apart from what he does on our air. On our air, he has said very clearly and repeatedly that Barack Obama is an American citizen. Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. Of that there is no doubt. He must have said it 10 times the last time he did the story. So he couldn't be clearer about that. Now, a couple of times he's hosted panel discussions about this phenomenon: Why do some people doubt it still? That's what those discussions are about. There's a real distinction. Does that make sense?

Q: But he also asks: Why haven't they produced the documents when they have, in fact, produced the documents?

A: That's why I sent that note the other day -- to clarify. We had our guys ask that question. It turns out, he can't. It's not up to him. It's not the president's choice. Lou has now stated that. What he then turns around and does on his radio show is not within our purview.

Even after Klein's email, Dobbs continued to suggest Obama should release birth certificate. On the same day that Klein sent the email to Dobbs' show, Dobbs asked Roland Martin on CNN: "When this could be dispelled so quickly, and -- and simply by producing [the birth certificate], why not do it?" [Lou Dobbs Tonight; 7/23/09]

Transcripts

From the Los Angeles Times transcript of the Q&A between reporters and Klein:

Q: If Dobbs wanted to explore whether the British had won the Revolutionary War, would that be a legitimate topic?

A: It would not be legitimate for Lou or anyone else at CNN to explore whether Barack Obama is an American citizen. That's why he hasn't done that. And I think the people who are making noise about that have to look at closely what the discussions have been. It's all about the phenomenon of doubters.

Q: Are you distinguishing from what he said on his radio show?

A: Oh, yes, absolutely. We have no control over what he says on his radio show. It's not a CNN radio program so he does what he does on the radio separate from what he does on our air. So we ask you and anyone writing about this, to look at what he says on CNN. It's the only thing we control.

Q: Are you concerned, though, that it will damage your credibility?

A: I hope not. All we can do is do great reporting about the facts on this and every other story that we cover.

Q: But if he goes on his radio show and contradicts your reporting and then raises the same issue on the air, isn't there some need for somebody to balance that?

A: What he does on the radio is separate and apart from what he does on our air. On our air, he has said very clearly and repeatedly that Barack Obama is an American citizen. Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. Of that there is no doubt. He must have said it 10 times the last time he did the story. So he couldn't be clearer about that. Now, a couple of times he's hosted panel discussions about this phenomenon: Why do some people doubt it still? That's what those discussions are about. There's a real distinction. Does that make sense?

Q: But he also asks: Why haven't they produced the documents when they have, in fact, produced the documents?

A: That's why I sent that note the other day -- to clarify. We had our guys ask that question. It turns out, he can't. It's not up to him. It's not the president's choice. Lou has now stated that. What he then turns around and does on his radio show is not within our purview.

Q: Is it a topic you'd rather see him drop at this point?

A: I would rather all of our leading journalists rely on their best judgments and instincts and our guidance about them. We believe in the editorial compass of all of our people. It's going to be different according to the individual. But that just makes us a more interesting and vibrant place. Lou is listening to a certain segment of the population all day long on his radio show so naturally that's going to inform some of the decisions that he makes. But, again, to be clear: He is not exploring the question of whether Barack Obama is an American citizen. That is settled. It is a dead issue as far as CNN is concerned.

From the July 28 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

DOBBS: New developments tonight in the controversy over the president's birth certificate. Yesterday, the director of the Hawaii Department of Health issued another statement that she had, in fact, seen Barack Obama's original, so-called long-form birth certificate on file with the department's office of vital records. That official repeated her opinion that the president was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on August 4, 1961. She made a similar statement last October.

There have been repeated requests from some of the president's skeptics about the release of his original birth certificate. Hawaii law, however, prevents the actual release of the document to a third party. CNN had previously reported that when Hawaii's vital records office went paperless in 2001 that the original paper documents were discarded.

That was incorrect. Yesterday, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii Department of Health said, in fact, that paper birth records have been retained in addition to the department's electronic records.

A left-wing group's liberal mainstream media have stepped up some attacks on me for reporting on the controversy over the president's birth certificate when I, in fact, I've stated many times that President Obama is a citizen of this country in my opinion. The Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, called on CNN to fire me for my even discussing the story. Coming to my defense last night: Bill O'Reilly.

[begin video clip]

RICHARD COHEN (Southern Poverty Law Center president and CEO): When's enough, Bill? When's enough, enough? I mean, this -- Lou's been doing this for years.

O'REILLY: It's never enough, enough in a freedom of speech society, Mr. Cohen. It's never enough to know. Freedom of speech --

COHEN: We're not --

O'REILLY: -- allows you to go over the -- up to the line, OK --

COHEN: Sure.

O'REILLY: -- without -- if Lou Dobbs was causing danger to someone then you would be legitimate in calling for his firing, but he's not.

But isn't this partially -- the Southern Poverty Law Center was so outraged about Mr. Dobbs and the illegal alien take that he came up with that isn't this a little payback? Aren't you guys paying him back for the illegal alien deal here?

COHEN: Well, I think we're calling him for his misstatements of fact like we've been doing for years. You know, your entire --

O'REILLY: So it's not just a birth certificate thing. This is illegal aliens and other stuff, too.

COHEN: Well, I wouldn't put it quite that way. I mean, Lou has been saying ridiculous things about undocumented persons.

[end video clip]

DOBBS: Undocumented persons -- well, I want to say, first of all, to Bill O'Reilly, thank you. I do want to point out Bill O'Reilly also kicked my rear end around a bit, disagreeing with me absolutely on the issue of whether or not, as I said, the president could solve all of this by just simply releasing his long form. He and I disagree on that, but I appreciate Bill O'Reilly being a standup guy.

And, apparently, I was a topic on another show on Fox News -- Geraldo Rivera attacking me for being wrong on illegal immigration, as well as the birth certificate controversy. How I could be wrong about that I don't know, because all I said is the president is a citizen, but it would be simple to make all this noise go away with just simply producing the long-form birth certificate. Ann Coulter came to my defense partially.

[begin video clip]

RIVERA: Dobbs has a new distinction as the principal prime-time advocate of the issue of whether or not Barack Obama is really a citizen of the United States. Ann Coulter, is this an issue?

COULTER: No, it isn't. And, by the way, Lou Dobbs is not a crank. He was absolutely right on illegal immigration. You were wrong, Geraldo.

RIVERA: He's a dope.

COULTER: However, he is wrong on this issue.

RIVERA: OK. Good.

[end video clip]

DOBBS: Well, I've repeatedly stated that President Obama is a citizen of the United States. My question simply: Why not provide the long-form birth certificate and end all of the discussion.

Well, to hear my thoughts on all of this, join me on the radio Monday through Friday for The Lou Dobbs Show.

[...]

DOBBS: Left-wing groups attack me for just mentioning the controversy over the president's birth certificate. I have said, straightforwardly, I believe the man's a citizen. That doesn't satisfy the left wing of this country, but I have some very able defenders. Again, I want to say thank you to Ann Coulter, to Bill O'Reilly.

We'll be back with our radio panel. Stay with us.

[...]

DOBBS: Next, the president -- well, he's raising the pressure for his health care plan, but he can't break the deadlock among members of his own party.

And some strong defense that I received after left-wing advocacy groups attacked me for simply saying the president is a citizen, but why not just show that long-form birth certificate?

We'll be right back.

Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
Lou Dobbs
Show/Publication
Lou Dobbs Tonight
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