REPORT: Dobbs' immigration obsession out of step with CNN's news coverage

CNN's Lou Dobbs is consumed by the topic of immigration, and undocumented immigrants specifically. Over a period of six months, his show devoted many more segments to immigration than did CNN's The Situation Room, and 13 times the number of words per hour to the topic.

In yet another example of the degree to which CNN host Lou Dobbs is out of step with his network, a Media Matters for America analysis has found that since the beginning of the year, CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight has devoted far more coverage to the topic of immigration than CNN news program and Dobbs lead-in The Situation Room. A study of Lou Dobbs Tonight and The Situation Room transcripts from the Nexis database reveals that from January 1 through July 23, Dobbs had more than three times as many broadcast hours that included briefs, segments, and panel discussions on immigration -- often focusing on undocumented immigrants -- as The Situation Room, which is three times as long as Dobbs. In word count, the difference is even starker, with Dobbs devoting about 528 words per hour to discussions of immigration -- 13 times more than The Situation Room's 40 words-per-hour average. These findings undermine CNN/U.S. president Jonathan Klein's claim reported in an April 26 New York Times article that Dobbs is “doing more of a straight newscast than he's ever done before.”

As Media Matters has noted, Dobbs' coverage of immigration-related issues has been marked by discredited theories and wild claims. In recent days, Dobbs has also helped advance the repeatedly debunked myth that President Obama has yet to produce a valid birth certificate, resulting in criticism from his CNN colleagues and other media figures. An earlier Media Matters study found that significantly more Republicans and conservatives than Democrats and progressives appeared on Lou Dobbs Tonight during the first four months of 2009 -- yet another finding that called attention to the danger Dobbs poses to CNN's credibility.

Media Matters' analysis of Dobbs' show found that from January 1 through July 23, the program has spent a total of approximately 74,000 words on discussions of immigration. In a total of 140 broadcast hours found on Nexis, Lou Dobbs Tonight has had 77 broadcast hours that included briefs, segments, and panel discussions on the topic of immigration. The show has devoted about 528 words per broadcast hour to the subject.

Meanwhile, The Situation Room has featured a total of approximately 17,800 words on immigration during that period. In a total of 441 broadcast hours, The Situation Room has aired 24 broadcast hours that included briefs, segments, and panel discussions on the subject, with an average of about 40 words per broadcast hour:


Media Matters searched all Lou Dobbs Tonight and The Situation Room transcripts available on the Nexis database for the search terms “immigr! or alien or undocumented or amnesty.” The date range for the search was January 1 through July 23. Only transcripts of weekday broadcasts were included. Every brief, segment, and panel discussion about immigration in those transcripts was included in the word count. For panel discussions, which can range over several topics, only portions that included a substantive exchange on immigration were included. Topics that are sometimes associated with immigration, such as drug violence along the Mexican border, were included only when they specifically invoked any of the search terms we used. Speaker identifiers and television directions in the transcript were also included in the word count. In-show teasers were not counted. For Lou Dobbs Tonight, viewer mail on immigration was not included in the word count. For The Situation Room, viewer mail on immigration during “The Cafferty File” segment was included. Word counts were calculated using Microsoft Word's word count function.