REPORT: Not just immigration: Dobbs out of step with his network on gun coverage

CNN's Lou Dobbs is obsessed with the issue of gun control, often fearmongering that the government will seize his audience's guns. Over a period of six months, his show devoted 11 times more words per broadcast hour to the topic than did CNN's The Situation Room.

Dobbs devoted far more coverage to gun control than The Situation Room

Dobbs devoted 11 times more words per hour than The Situation Room. A study of Lou Dobbs Tonight and The Situation Room Nexis transcripts reveals that from January 1 through July 23, the hour-long Lou Dobbs Tonight devoted a total of approximately 29,900 words to segments, discussions, and briefs about gun control over 140 total broadcast hours -- an average of 214 words per hour. By contrast, the three-hour-long Situation Room spent a total of approximately 8,400 words on the issue over 441 total broadcast hours -- an average of 19 words per hour.

Dobbs had almost three times as many broadcast hours with gun-control discussion. Forty-five of the 140 Dobbs broadcasts studied included at least one brief, segment, or discussion of the issue. Of the 441 broadcast hours of The Situation Room studied, 16 had at least one brief, segment, or discussion of the issue.

Studies belie CNN president's claim that Dobbs is now doing “more of a straight newscast”

CNN president Klein reportedly claimed Dobbs is “doing more of a straight newscast than he's ever done before.” In an April 26 article, The New York Times reported: “CNN argues that Mr. Dobbs's mix of opinion and news is grandfathered into his show. But Mr. [Jonathan] 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.' ”

Findings are consistent with study of Dobbs' coverage of immigration. An earlier Media Matters for America study found that from January 1 through July 23, Dobbs gave significantly more coverage -- roughly 13 times more words per hour -- to immigration than The Situation Room. The study found that over the same period, 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.

Dobbs' guest imbalance also endangers CNN's credibility. 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.

A pattern of fearmongering and misinformation

Dobbs' coverage frequently invokes fears of gun regulation. Below are some examples of Dobbs' coverage of gun control on his show:

DOBBS: Gun sales have simply soared since the election of President Obama. Gun owners all across this country are concerned, and many others are concerned, that the Obama administration will curtail second amendment rights to bear arms. This concern is based on the president's past record on gun rights and that of his nominee to be attorney general, who will be running the Justice Department, Eric Holder. [Lou Dobbs Tonight, 1/28/09, from the Nexis database]

DOBBS: Democrats tonight are facing strong and rising opposition to proposals to limit Americans' right to keep and bear arms. More than 50,000 gun owners attending the National Rifle Association's annual convention in Phoenix, which began today. Those gun owners are increasingly confident they will block the administration's efforts to restrict their Second Amendment rights. [Lou Dobbs Tonight, 5/15/09, from Nexis]

DOBBS: New concerns tonight about Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor and her rulings on our Second Amendment rights. Specifically can states and municipalities restrict our gun rights? That's the subject of our “Face Off” debate. [Lou Dobbs Tonight, 6/5/09, from Nexis]

Dobbs uses CNN, radio show to advance myths and falsehoods. Media Matters has noted that Dobbs has repeatedly used his prime-time CNN show and his radio show to spread discredited theories and false 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.


Media Matters searched all Lou Dobbs Tonight and Situation Room transcripts available in the Nexis database for the search terms “gun or second amendment or rifle or weapon or firearm or arms.” 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 gun control 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 gun control were included. Speaker identifiers and television directions in the transcript were also counted. In-show teasers were not counted. For Lou Dobbs Tonight, viewer mail on gun control was not included in the word count. For The Situation Room, viewer mail on gun control during “The Cafferty File” segment was included. Word counts were calculated using Microsoft Word's word count function.