CNN "conspiracy theorist" Lou Dobbs discredits his network -- one wild claim at a time
Research ››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN & JOCELYN FONG
Lou Dobbs has repeatedly used his CNN show and his radio show to spread discredited theories and wild claims -- his attention to which jeopardizes CNN's credibility.
Lou Dobbs has repeatedly used his prime-time CNN show and his radio show to spread discredited theories and wild claims -- his attention to which jeopardizes CNN's credibility. Dobbs has promoted the fringe notions -- labeled "conspiracy theor[ies]" by his own CNN colleagues -- that President Obama has failed to produce a valid birth certificate and that the U.S. government is conspiring to merge the United States with Mexico and Canada in a "North American Union."
CNN had to express regret over Dobbs' program's use of a hate group's graphic to advance the idea that Mexican immigrants are plotting to retake the American Southwest. And Dobbs was criticized on CNN's Reliable Sources by both a liberal and a conservative guest for his refusal to correct his show's gross overstatement of the number of new leprosy cases in the U.S. (which he had attributed to undocumented immigration).
Obama's birth certificate
During the July 15 edition of his radio program, Dobbs devoted substantial airtime to the issue of Obama's birth certificate, asserting repeatedly that the president needs to "produce" it. Dobbs said that the birth certificate posted online by FactCheck.org "that everyone is purporting to validate the president" has "some issues ... I mean, it's peculiar," and stated that he wants to see a "long form" birth certificate, which he called "the real deal." Dobbs also mentioned the issue of Obama's birth certificate on the July 15 edition of his CNN show. Referring to the document that FactCheck.org posted, Dobbs said, "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."
Dobbs continued to repeat the "birther" claims on both CNN and his radio show, stating on the July 20 edition of his CNN program that the birth certificate questions offered by "passionate supporters" "won't go away because they haven't been dealt with, it seems possible to, straightforwardly and quickly," and saying on the July 21 edition of his CNN show, "We had people, including reporters from the LA Times, calling up because I referred to this. ... Instead of calling the White House to ask why they didn't do it, they're calling me to ask why I said I don't know what the reality is. No one does." Additionally, on the July 21 edition of his radio show, Dobbs criticized "certain quarters of the national liberal media that are just absolutely trying to knock down the issue of President Obama's birth certificate," stating that they are "focused on being subservient and servile to this presidency rather than being inquisitive and doing their jobs with, you know, the White House." On July 22, Dobbs again asserted on his radio show that Obama could "make the whole ... controversy disappear ... by simply releasing his original birth certificate."
By contrast, Dobbs' CNN colleagues have repeatedly debunked claims that Obama has yet to produce a valid birth certificate, calling them "total bull" and "a whack-job project" that is "more conspiratorial than factual," and have characterized those who make these claims as "nut jobs" and "conspiracy theorists" who wear "tin foil hat[s]." In a July 22 column published on CNN.com, CNN contributor Roland S. Martin stated, "The nut jobs that continue to promote this story are wacky, right-wing radio and TV talk shows hosts and no-credibility bloggers. They have latched onto this story like bloodsucking leeches, and actually want us to believe this story has legs."
"North American Union"
Dobbs' has also promoted conspiracy theories regarding purported government plans for 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 conducted at the time, the North American Union had been mentioned on 53 Lou Dobbs Tonight broadcasts prior 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."
Indeed, Dobbs has a long history of promoting this conspiracy theory. For instance, during the June 21, 2006, edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight, Dobbs stated that "the Bush administration is pushing ahead with a plan to create a North American union with Canada and Mexico" and later asked: "Do you think, our question is, maybe somebody should take a vote if we're going to merge Canada, Mexico and the United States as the leaders of the three countries are attempting to do with the security and prosperity partnership? Yes or no. Cast your vote at LouDobbs.com." Similarly, on the November 29, 2006, edition of his show, Dobbs asserted that "the Bush administration is determined to create a North American union without consultation or approval of the people of this country or our Congress." Following a report in which CNN correspondent Christine Romans stated, "[C]ritics say foreign policy elites are promoting a European-style union, erasing borders between the three countries and eventually moving to a single North American currency called the Amero" and cited a denial from the Commerce Department, Dobbs stated, "What they're doing is creating a brave new world, an Orwellian world, in which the will of the people is absolutely irrelevant."
Dobbs has also repeatedly linked immigration to fears that some Mexicans plan to take over the American Southwest for Mexico. On the March 31, 2006, edition of his show, Dobbs introduced a report by Romans by stating, "There are some Mexican citizens and some Mexican-Americans who want to see California, New Mexico and other parts of the Southwestern United States given over to Mexico. These groups call it the reconquista, Spanish for reconquest. And they view the millions of Mexican illegal aliens in particular entering the United States as potentially an army of invaders to achieve that takeover." Romans stated, "Long downplayed as a theory of the radical ethnic fringe, the la reconquista, the reconquest, the reclamation, the return, it's resonating with some on the streets," and went on to say, "A lot of open borders groups disavow it completely. But the growing street protests in favor of illegal immigration, Lou, are increasingly taking on the tone of that very radicalism."
On the May 23, 2006, edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight, 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 purportedly espouse the concept of "reconquista," a term associated with El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, a document drafted in the early formation of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (Chicano Student Movement of Aztalan, or MEChA), which critics claim outlines a plan for recapturing the southwestern United States for Mexico. 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."
Leprosy and Immigration
Dobbs also came under intense fire following his program's gross overstatement of the number of new leprosy cases in the U.S. 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 Romans stated that "the woman in our piece [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 -- including CBS's 60 Minutes and The New York Times -- 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. Cosman's claims were originally published in the journal of an organization that has, among other things, promoted conspiracy theories about the death of Vince Foster.
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 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 the falsehood, saying the comment was "eight seconds long and as I said, took place two and a half years ago."
On the June 3, 2007, edition of CNN's Reliable Sources, both Rachel Sklar of the progressive Huffington Post and Mary Katherine Ham of the conservative Townhall.com criticized Dobbs' refusal to correct the falsehood.