CNN exec concedes Dobbs is “opinionated” -- but that's the least of his journalistic faults

While CNN's Jon Klein conceded to The New York Times that Lou Dobbs constitutes an exception to CNN's “no bias” strategy during prime time -- with Klein acknowledging “that Mr. Dobbs ... is the most opinionated anchor on CNN” -- he apparently did not acknowledge the numerous falsehoods and distortions, including of other CNN reports, committed by Dobbs.

In an April 26 article on CNN's efforts to “steer the middle course in its news coverage,” The New York Times asked CNN domestic network president Jon Klein how CNN anchor Lou Dobbs fits in to the network's strategy. The Times reported, “Mr. Klein conceded that Mr. Dobbs, who has been an outspoken advocate against illegal immigration, is the most opinionated anchor on CNN 'by a mile.' ” The Times further reported, “Mr. Klein also said that the network was trying to adjust the format. 'If you watch Lou's show, he's doing more of a straight newscast than he's ever done before.' ” But while conceding that Dobbs is “opinionated,” Klein apparently did not also concede that Dobbs is often wrong, advancing falsehoods as well as distortions of CNN's other reporting. Indeed, other CNN employees and guests have criticized Dobbs' program's content and the theories that he promotes.

Distortions of CNN's reporting

Dobbs has repeatedly distorted CNN correspondents' reports on immigration reform by pairing these reports with on-screen text containing the politically charged word “amnesty.” Media Matters for America documented Dobbs' repeated use of this type of caption during the debate on the comprehensive immigration reform bill proposed in the Senate in 2007. During the June 7, 2007, edition of his show, for example, while CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash reported on Senate deliberations of the immigration bill, CNN included two separate on-screen texts referring to the bill as “amnesty” and the “amnesty bill,” respectively, even though Bash herself had noted in previous reporting that “amnesty” is a characterization of the bill favored by “conservative critics.” In fact, when CNN's The Situation Room had aired the same report earlier that day, it had used the less inflammatory descriptor “Immigration Bill” as its on-screen text, suggesting that Dobbs' program was responsible for adding editorial commentary during what was ostensibly a CNN news report. Dobbs went on to air “amnesty” captions during similar reports on June 14, 16, and 17, 2007 by Bash, White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, then-congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel, chief national correspondent John King, and senior political correspondent Candy Crowley. Dobbs returned to form on April 9 of this year, pairing Crowley's report on the possibility that President Obama will soon begin addressing the country's immigration system with the on-screen text, “New amnesty push [;] President's open borders agenda.” Lou Dobbs Tonight aired this caption despite Crowley's noting in her report that “amnesty” is what “critics call” the president's plan. Moreover, while Crowley did not use the phrase “open borders” at all, Dobbs' on-screen text referred falsely to the “President's open borders agenda.”

When Crowley's report aired on that day's edition of The Situation Room, the caption read, “Pres. prepares for next big fight,” followed by “Sources: Immigration reform push.” Neither the term “amnesty” nor “open borders” appeared in The Situation Room's on-screen text.

From the April 9 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight:


From the April 9 edition of The Situation Room:


Immigration-related misinformation

Dobbs came under intense fire following his program's gross overstatement of the number of new leprosy cases in the United States and for implying that immigrants were responsible for the purported spike in the disease's incidence. On the April 14, 2005, edition of his show, Dobbs said, “The invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health of many Americans.” He then introduced a report in which CNN correspondent Christine Romans stated that “the woman in our piece [medical lawyer Madeline Cosman] told us that there were about 900 cases of leprosy for 40 years. There have been 7,000 in the past three years. Leprosy in this country.” “Incredible,” Dobbs replied. However, as Media Matters and others noted, the claim was wildly inflated. According to the National Hansen's Disease Program (NHDP) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), there were 398 U.S. cases of Hansen's disease, or leprosy, reported between 2002 and 2004 -- “the past three years” at the time Romans made her statement.

Despite the fact that Romans' original 2005 reporting on leprosy has been proven false, Dobbs has never admitted to the error on his show and indeed defended Romans' reporting on numerous occasions. For example, on the May 6, 2007, edition of CBS' 60 Minutes, Dobbs said of the leprosy claim, “If we reported it, it's a fact.” On the June 18, 2007, edition of his show, Dobbs tried to downplay his program's airing and affirming of a falsehood about the number of leprosy cases in the United States, saying the comment was “eight seconds long and as I said, took place two and a half years ago.”

On the May 23, 2006, edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight, CNN correspondent Casey Wian characterized then-Mexican President Vicente Fox's trip to Salt Lake City, Utah, as a “Mexican military incursion” and claimed that "[y]ou could call" Fox's trip to the United States “the Vicente Fox Aztlan tour,” an apparent, baseless reference to those who espouse the concept of "reconquista."

During Wian's report, CNN featured a graphic of “Aztlan” that was sourced to the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) -- an organization whose "Statement of Principles" says: “We also oppose all efforts to mix the races of mankind, to promote non-white races over the European-American people through so-called 'affirmative action' and similar measures, to destroy or denigrate the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people, and to force the integration of the races.”

On May 25, 2006, in response to the criticism of CNN over the appearance of the CCC graphic during the May 23, 2006, show, a CNN spokeswoman said that a “freelance field producer” had “grabbed the Council of Conservative Citizens map without knowing the nature of the organization” and that its inclusion in the segment “regrettably, was missed in the vetting process.”

During the February 4, 2008, edition of Dobbs' show, National Council of La Raza president and CEO Janet Murguia confronted Dobbs about his use of this graphic. Dobbs dismissed Murguia's criticism, asking, “You got anything a little more recent?” He also asked, “How long was that on the air?” When Murguia responded, “It doesn't matter how long,” Dobbs replied, “Of course it does,” adding that it was aired only for "[s]econds." Dobbs went on to say, “You have just given them more airtime than this network, this broadcast ever did.”

The Anti-Defamation League has reported that the CCC was "[e]stablished by former activists in the segregationist White Citizens' Councils," and "[a]lthough the group claims not to be racist, its leaders traffic with other white supremacist groups and its publications, Web sites and meetings all promote the purportedly innate superiority of whites."

Other instances of Dobbs' immigration-related misinformation include:

  • On July 11, 2008, Dobbs falsely asserted that in his July 8 remarks, then-Sen. Obama was “out telling people to have their children not learn languages -- foreign languages, but specifically, while discussing the issue of illegal immigration, tells them they've got to learn Spanish.” In fact, Obama was responding to a question about education and bilingualism, not “illegal immigration,” and while Obama did reference “immigrants,” at no point in his July 8 remarks did he mention “illegal immigration.”
  • On March 14, 2008, Dobbs falsely claimed that “Senators Obama and [Hillary] Clinton are making it very clear where they stand: not for border security, for open borders, and for amnesty.” Dobbs' assertion followed false claims made in a report by CNN correspondent Louise Schiavone about Obama's and Clinton's records on immigration.
  • On January 16, 2008, Dobbs noted that that the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, based in Nevada, “is encouraging its members to caucus on behalf of Senator Obama” and then baselessly claimed: "[I]n point of fact, as many as half of the union's members are illegal aliens" [emphasis added].
  • On April 12, 2006, Dobbs uncritically reported Republican leaders' false suggestion that Democrats were to blame for a plan to make illegal presence in the United States a felony.
  • On March 10, Dobbs claimed that the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce “is effectively an organization that is interested in the export of American capital and production to Mexico, and Mexico's export of drugs and illegal aliens to the United States.” On March 17, Dobbs apologized for the smear, saying that he “made a mistake.” Dobbs also said: “I, of course, do not believe that the chamber supports or condones either drug or human trafficking.”

Global warming misinformation

Dobbs also has a history of misinforming on global warming. Despite overwhelming evidence of human-caused global warming and warnings by experts that short-term weather conditions are not evidence for or against its existence, Dobbs said during the introduction of his December 18, 2008, show: “And tonight, unusual winter storms are dumping snow in unusual places across Western states, and a huge snowstorm is headed toward the Northeast. This is global warming?” During his segment on the issue, Dobbs hosted Heartland Institute senior fellow and science director Jay Lehr without disclosing that Heartland receives funding from the energy industry and without challenging Lehr's assertions that "[t]he last 10 years have been quite cool" and that “the sun” -- rather than humans -- is responsible for recent climate change. According to NASA, “2008 is the ninth warmest year in the period of instrumental measurements, which extends back to 1880. ... The ten warmest years all occur within the 12-year period 1997-2008.” (NASA states that it “can only conclude with confidence that 2008 was somewhere within the range from 7th to 10th warmest year in the record.”)

On the January 5 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight, Dobbs again questioned the impact of humans on global warming and suggested that solar activity may be far more responsible for global warming than humans, stating, "[M]any scientists are saying, 'My gosh, compared to what our sun can do, man has minuscule influence.' " In making these assertions, Dobbs ignored the conclusion by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that “it is extremely likely [greater than 95 percent chance] that humans have exerted a substantial warming influence on climate” and its estimate of “radiative forcing” caused by humans “is likely [>66% chance] to be at least five times greater than that due to solar irradiance changes.” According to the IPCC, “The observed widespread warming of the atmosphere and ocean, together with ice mass loss, support the conclusion that it is extremely unlikely [<5% chance] that global climate change of the past 50 years can be explained without external forcing and very likely [>90% chance] that it is not due to known natural causes alone. During this period, the sum of solar and volcanic forcings would likely have produced cooling, not warming.”

As Media Matters documented, the suggestion by Dobbs and others that short-term weather conditions are relevant to the issue of global warming has been roundly rejected by experts. For example, on CNN during the February 17, 2009, edition of American Morning, when Christopher Field, director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology, said during an interview with co-host John Roberts: “It's important to remember that the world's climate system is incredibly complex with a whole bunch of internal dynamics. The internal dynamics are such that, for several years at a time, you can see the average temperature go in a direction that's different from the long-term trend. The fact of the matter is that all of the recent years have been among the very hottest on record, and there is abundant evidence that, over the long run, the planet is continuing to warm, and it's highly likely that this is a consequence of the greenhouse gases that are being released by human activity.”

Economic misinformation

  • On February 17, 2009, Dobbs falsely claimed, “President Obama sign[ed] a $800 billion stimulus package that we now know will come to about $3 trillion with debt servicing over the next decade.” In fact, more than half of the $3.2 trillion figure comes from the cost of permanently extending more than 20 provisions in the recovery bill, which the bill does not do.
  • On February 3, 2009, echoing a Republican talking point, Dobbs claimed the recovery bill provides $4 billion in funding for “so-called advocacy groups such as ACORN.” In fact, the recovery bill did not mention ACORN or otherwise single it out for funding.
  • While talking about then-Sen. Obama's tax plan on October 15, 2008, Dobbs falsely asserted that “just about 40 percent of all Americans -- working Americans -- don't pay taxes.”

Misinformation about Pelosi plane

On February 8, 2007, Dobbs asserted that the military aircraft used by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert would be able to fly current Speaker Nancy Pelosi “coast to coast.” But the day before, CNN host Wolf Blitzer reported that it is possible, “in theory,” that the type of plane Hastert used could “fly coast to coast without refueling, but that would also depend on multiple factors, including winds, payloads, and reserve fuel requirements.”

Pushing conspiracy theories

Dobbs' program also has a history of promoting conspiracy theories regarding government plans for, among other things, a “North American Union,” while other CNN reporters appear to dismiss these theories out of hand. For example, on the August 21, 2007, edition of The Situation Room, White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux aired a video clip of then-President Bush's response to a question about the North American Union. In that response, Bush said: “It's quite comical, actually, when you realize the difference between reality and what some people are talking on TV about.” Malveaux said Bush's denial followed “a lot of talk in the blogosphere and conspiracy theorists.” According to a search of the Nexis database, the North American Union had been mentioned on 53 Lou Dobbs Tonight broadcasts aired previous to Malveaux's statement. Indeed, during a Malveaux report just the day before -- on the August 20, 2007, edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight -- on-screen text read: “Critics say SPP [Security & Prosperity Partnership] an Attempt to Create a N. Amer. Union.”

Criticism of Dobbs or his theories on other CNN programs

As indicated above, on several occasions, other CNN employees and guests have criticized Dobbs' program's content and the theories he has promoted. For example:

  • The debunking of Dobbs' and others' suggestion that short-term weather conditions undermine the case for human-caused global warming on CNN's American Morning;
  • Malveaux's dismissal of the North American Union conspiracy theory;
  • A CNN spokeswoman's expression of regret over the use of the Council of Conservative Citizens map on Dobbs' show; and
  • Blitzer's debunking of the suggestion that the plane Hastert used could consistently reach Pelosi's district from Washington, D.C., a suggestion Dobbs made the next day.

Additionally, on January 29, 2008, in reference to the issue of whether states should issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, CNN correspondent Carol Costello reported on The Situation Room that the issue of “driver's licenses for illegal immigrants ... literally drives some off the deep end, like Lou Dobbs.” Costello then aired a video clip of Dobbs stating: "[Y]ou have illegal aliens in this country demanding the rights and privileges of citizenship. It is the most, to me, arrogant thing they could possibly do."

Dobbs himself has disparaged views held by other CNN personalities. During the April 29 edition of his radio show, Dobbs said that some people are offended by the term “swine flu,” and that “we've got idiots referring to it now as H1N1 virus, or, the novel flu.” He added, “These people are out of their -- they're out of their cotton pickin' minds.” In fact, several of Dobbs' colleagues at CNN -- including chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta -- have used the term “H1N1” to describe the virus, with Gupta at one point saying H1N1 “is going to become the more appropriate nomenclature for this particular flu virus.”