The sinister pro-Trump propaganda of Lou Dobbs

Tune in to Lou Dobbs Tonight for creepy adulation of Donald Trump and routine calls to imprison the president’s opponents

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

At his New Year’s Eve celebration at Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump grabbed a microphone and gave thanks to the guests who paid him several hundred dollars each for the privilege of attending. As he spoke, the president singled out one attendee for some especially fulsome praise: Fox Business Network host Lou Dobbs. “The great Lou Dobbs is here, by the way,” Trump said. “Boy, I tell you, I’ve loved him for years, but now I really love him. And you know what? It’s not about me. It’s about -- he is saying what he believes.” To applause and cheers, the president heaped his admiration on the cable news personality: “I just want to tell you, you are fantastic, and we appreciate it. Everybody in this room appreciates it.”

If you know anything about Donald Trump then you can probably guess why he loves and appreciates Lou Dobbs so much: Dobbs is a committed and shameless sycophant to the president. Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson and the other pro-Trump mercenaries who turn Fox News into de facto state television get the lion’s share of attention and criticism, but Dobbs’ Fox Business show is a bluntly propagandistic farce that treats Trump less as a president than a cult leader.

The running theme of Lou Dobbs Tonight is easy to suss out: Trump is single-handedly restoring American glory despite the subversive opposition of his many internal enemies. The president’s adversaries include Hillary Clinton, Democrats, Republican congressional leaders, the “deep state,” the left-wing media, and countless other supposed malefactors. For Dobbs, one critical word aimed at the president is enough to make you a “subversive” and an enemy of the American people.

There are a wealth of examples one could choose from to illustrate this dynamic, but Dobbs’ reaction to Trump’s reported denigration of Haiti and “shithole” African nations offers an apt data point. Dobbs kicked off his January 12 show with a defense of the president’s “colorful language” and a swipe at “duplicitous Dems” who were “claiming offense.” Without actually describing what the president is supposed to have said, Dobbs explained Trump’s “fundamental point” in insulting poorer nations and their citizens: something about the misuse of international aid.

“What has happened to all of the aid that the U.S. government has sent to Haiti over the past quarter century?” Dobbs demanded. “Why should any president, but particularly this one, have to put up with the self-serving ignorance of the Dems and the left who call Mr. Trump a racist because he questioned why all that aid hasn't been enough to diminish if not eliminate horribly persistent poverty?”

No reporting anywhere has linked Trump’s remarks to international aid or poverty alleviation. Not even the White House has tried floating that defense. Dobbs just conjured it up on his own and presented it as an obvious truth that the president, in his serene majesty, stated plainly only to be viciously and unjustly attacked. “President Trump shouldn’t put up with that disrespect, that ignorance, in my opinion,” Dobbs added.

It was insane, counterfactual propaganda delivered with maximum outrage and designed to portray Donald Trump as a near-infallible demigod.

Every episode of Lou Dobbs Tonight is pretty much exactly like this.

Loved by Lou

By Lou Dobbs’ reckoning, Trump is owed undiluted respect and deference at all times, and even the slightest hint of insolence should not be tolerated.

This goes for everyone, including people who praise Trump but don’t do it quite hard enough to satisfy Dobbs. On December 19, Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union lauded the president for his “good gut” in negotiating the tax cut package. For Dobbs, celebrating Trump’s “gut” was almost an insult. “You said ‘a good gut.’ I understand the praise of intuitive success,” Dobbs said, “but I think it’s time for people to start talking about the man’s intellect, about his judgment, and suggesting he’s intuiting all of this, I think, is a disservice to him.”

Dobbs also expects Trump’s judicial nominees to maintain unfailing respect for the president or face harsh consequences. Back in February, then-Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch told Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) that Trump’s relentless attacks on the judiciary were “disheartening” and “demoralizing.” For this mild rebuke of the president, Dobbs demanded Gorsuch withdraw his own nomination immediately. “Gorsuch has really demonstrated a lack of honor,” Dobbs said on February 9, 2017, “and if he has honor, he should withdraw his name out of just the pure disrespect he’s shown our president, his lack of grace.”

It’s all about “respect,” and Dobbs throws as much as he can at the president regardless of what Trump says or does. Since the first days of the Trump administration, he’s demonstrated a talent for lyrical suck-uppery, using florid language to describe everything Trump does as a history-making success.

On January 25, 2017, while speaking to White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, Dobbs marveled at “a presidency that is moving at breakneck speed. … I don't think anyone's has seen the like of this certainly in modern history.” At that point, the Trump administration had burned two days -- roughly half its existence -- fighting with reporters about the size of the president’s inaugural crowd and his loss of the popular vote. But Dobbs was incredulous that anyone could see anything but success. “Those who find darkness in this explosion of light in Washington, D.C., have to be in a far corner of the left, I think, to be making that -- coming to that conclusion.”

On May 22, 2017, as he was providing live coverage of a suicide bomb attack on an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, Dobbs offered his gratitude to Trump for running for office. “I have to tell you, I am so thrilled that this man decided to run for president,” he said. “He could have done lots of other things with his time that would have taken far less of his stomach lining and his patience ... no matter how strong -- and he is plenty strong.”

Then Dobbs offered his theory for why the Manchester attack happened: Terrorists worldwide were cowering in fear of Trump following his brief trip through the Middle East. “I really believe that it is an expression tonight that we’re watching, that they -- the Islamic State and radical Islamists at large -- so fear this president with what he’s achieved,” Dobbs ventured. “I think they’re so afraid of him that they don’t know what to do and this was the best that they could do to take attention away from what has been an immensely successful period of negotiation and success on the part of this president in so many ways, in such short order.”

Dobbs has reaped rewards from his cringe-inducing obsequiousness in the form of White House access. Top-level White House staffers are regular guests on his program, where they are given free license to spout the administration line, often with the host’s encouragement and participation. Dobbs also managed to snag an interview with Trump himself in October 2017 and was savagely mocked for his sycophantic questioning. The president rhetorically wandered throughout the interview and was unable to coherently answer even the softest of questions, but Dobbs was there to either supply the answer for him or redirect the interview to another topic.

Since then, Dobbs’ adulation of Trump has only grown more fervent. “This president and his family have sacrificed so much to serve this nation, and for their trouble they are attacked from all sides,” Dobbs said on January 3, his first show since Trump’s Mar-a-Lago shout-out. The attacks on Trump are “unprecedented, utterly unfair, and wrong according to every American value and standard,” he said, because “this president has worked wonders, and he’s worked hard, tirelessly, and more than anyone else in Washington.”

Enemies of the state

Over-the-top hosannas to the massively unpopular president aren’t enough to fill an entire hour of programming. Nor do they adequately stimulate the overdeveloped rage centers of your average cable news viewer’s brain. So, to complement his fawning adoration of the president, Dobbs sprays hot venom at anyone and everyone who he believes has committed the figurative -- or, as we’ll see in a moment, literal -- crime of showing insufficient deference to Donald Trump.

There are a lot of people Dobbs wants to see sanctioned by law enforcement and/or thrown in prison, and the most prominent among them is former President Barack Obama. Last November, Obama went on an overseas trip and, while in Paris, obliquely criticized Trump for backing out of the international climate accord that bears that city’s name. Dobbs, as you might imagine, was not happy about this.

“This is just bad manners. It's boorish, it's absurd. He doesn't realize how foolish he looks,” Dobbs observed on December 1, 2017. “I think the U.S. Marshals should follow [Obama],” he added. “He should be brought back by the Marshals. Isn’t there some law that says presidents shouldn’t be attacking sitting presidents?”

There is no law preventing former presidents from being rude, even when they’re in France. Nor is there a law against presidents making foreign policy decisions that cable news hosts disagree with, but Dobbs thinks there should be. “I think we’ve got some pretty clear criminal acts, or at least apparent criminal acts,” Dobbs opined on December 1, referring to “an administration, in this instance, that waits until it has less than a month left in office before President Obama decides to retaliate against the Russians for their intervention in our elections.” Obama did “absolutely nothing about Crimea -- what would you call that?” Dobbs angrily asked, adding: “Shouldn’t there be a statute that covers that kind of wrong-headedness and absolutely absurd actions in the foreign policy?”

A few days prior to that, Dobbs tore into Richard Cordray, former director of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for designating Deputy Director Leandra English as acting head of the agency prior to his resignation. Shortly after Cordray elevated English, the Trump administration moved to install White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney as director, and English took the matter to court in an attempt to block Mulvaney’s appointment. A federal judge ruled in the White House’s favor, but Dobbs felt more stringent measures were warranted for “lowlifes” Cordray and English. “Why didn’t that judge throw them both in jail for being frivolous and actually subversive,” Dobbs wondered on November 28.

As special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump campaign activities started producing more indictments and guilty pleas, Dobbs became more adamant that pretty much everyone involved with the investigation be criminally prosecuted and imprisoned. “A call for the firing of Robert Mueller no longer really truly satisfies any call for accountability,” Dobbs said on December 4, arguing that Mueller, FBI agent Peter Strzok, and former FBI Director James Comey “should be the subjects of criminal investigations and held fully accountable for crimes against the sitting president and the voters who supported them.”

On December 13, Dobbs called for a grand jury to investigate Strzok’s text messages, saying he was “really very tired of political accountability” and “I much prefer to see jail sentences for violating the trust of the American people, and working against the constitution and yes, the president of the United States.” On December 14, Dobbs said the Russia investigation showed that the Justice Department is “rancid” and the FBI is “riddled with corruption” that “has to be rooted out, people have to go to jail.” On December 15, while discussing the Russia investigation with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Dobbs said “I think it’s time to think about who should be put in jail for dishonoring their oath of office, for violating our constitution and subverting this president and subverting this government.”

On January 22, Dobbs once again called for the U.S. Marshals to spring into action and “take into custody the top people” at the Justice Department and the FBI over some missing text messages between Stzrok and attorney Lisa Page. The following day, Dobbs allowed himself a little more hyperbolic flourish, declaring that “it may be time to declare war outright against the deep state, and clear out the rot in the upper levels of the FBI and the Justice Department.”

All these arrests and jail sentences would be for “crimes” that either don’t actually exist or which Dobbs can’t demonstrate proof of beyond asserting that they happened. The only consistent theme in all this is that each person Dobbs wants to have prosecuted and locked up is, in his mind, a political enemy of President Trump’s.

Creepy propaganda

There’s no complicated secret to understanding why Dobbs is such a Trump devotee. He’s been a hardline anti-immigration agitator for years: In the mid-2000s, he started injecting anti-immigrant commentary into his CNN program, and he famously (and wrongly) blamed a non-existent spike in leprosy on undocumented immigrants. His televised persona evolved from well-heeled, stentorian headline reader to self-made populist hero and perpetually aggrieved scourge of “elites” -- a conversion that, coupled with his increasingly inflammatory and inaccurate opinion segments, precipitated his departure from CNN in 2009. Dobbs pegged the market for Trumpism long before Trumpism had Trump.

It’s easy to laugh at a perpetually overwrought fanatic like Dobbs as he loses himself nightly to the imagined glory of a widely disliked demagogue. But it’s important to remember that Dobbs represents a broader corruption of conservative media in the age of Trump. Much of Fox News’ programming is similarly devoted to glorifying the president and whipping up as much anger as possible at his opponents. What sets Lou Dobbs Tonight apart from the rest is how intensely and creepily propagandistic the show is.

This propaganda gets frequent endorsements from the president, who regularly tweets his gratitude for Dobbs’ histrionic coverage of his administration. This feedback loop creates an impenetrable sphere of disinformation -- a bizarre unreality in which the beneficent and virtuous president does not fail but is consistently frustrated by criminals and subversives in his self-sacrificial quest to save the country. It’s all scummy and bizarre and dangerous, and it happens every evening on Lou Dobbs Tonight.


Following the publication of this piece, Dobbs blocked me on Twitter. 

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