Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Lou Dobbs Makes Me Wonder: Does "CNN" Stand For "Coddling Nationalist Nutjobs"?

An article in today's New York Times contains some disturbing revelations about CNN anchor Lou Dobbs. But, to me, the story raises even bigger questions about CNN.

Dobbs, who was once known primarily as a business anchor, but he is now primarily thought of as "the guy that hates immigrants." I have to admit, when I saw Lou Dobbs on "Real Time With Bill Maher" a few months ago, I was a bit surprised. While I didn't agree with his ardent xenophobia, I did find him to be fairly smart and thoughtful in his remarks on non-immigration issues. I found it interesting that someone so seemingly in touch with reality could be so over-the-top on a single issue, especially immigration, with its history in U.S. culture. (Visiting Ellis Island is a standard stop for most New York City tourists, no?)

It's easy to dismiss an extremist who is obviously crazy, like, say, white supremacist and former serial Louisiana candidate David Duke. But, much of what Dobbs, who is a populist, stands for is in line with liberal principals. The Times article identifies Dobbs's primary enemies of the middle class (besides immigrants, of course) as "corporate lobbyists, greedy executives, wimpy journalists, and corrupt politicians." I am no fan of any of those four classes of people, and most politicians (on the right and on the left) would agree with Dobbs's assessment of those four groups.

That's what makes Dobbs's jihad-like attack on immigrants so perplexing, and it is also what makes it easy for CNN to close its eyes to what Dobbs is doing. According to the Times article, Dobbs said multiple times on his show and in a "60 Minutes" interview that 7,000 new cases of leprosy have been reported in the last three years. On his show, Dobbs had an on-air showdown with two officials from the Southern Poverty Law Center, and had his facts corroborated by an "expert," a woman named Dr. Madeleine Cosman, who CNN identified as a "medical lawyer." Finally, Dobbs insisted the leprosy number was accurate to the Times reporter, saying, "If we reported it, it’s a fact."

Only, it wasn't. The reporter contacted the director of a U.S. government health program, and he said that there had been 7,000 cases of leprosy in the last 30 years, not the last three. In fact, there were 137 cases last year, which represents a lower total than any year between 1975 and 1996. Oh, and Dr. Cosman, it turns out, was not a medical doctor or a leprosy expert. Her title came from her status as a Renaissance studies scholar. And here's the really fun kicker: According to the Times article, Cosman is a white supremacist sympathizer who has given speeches in which she claimed Mexican immigrants like to molest children because back at home, rape was not a serious crime.

It gets better. Cosman was not some kind of aberration on Dobbs's show. According to the article, Dobbs has such a penchant for giving air time to people like Cosman, the Southern Poverty Law Center maintains an online list of such guests.

To me, really, this is not even about Dobbs. It is not a secret that Dobbs has become obsessed with, and defined by, the immigration issue. No, to me, this is about CNN, which, at one time, was a respected news agency whose face was the respected anchor Bernard Shaw.

I took CNN to task in an April article called "Move Over Anna Nicole, Imus Is in the House!" for clogging its airwaves with stories of no significance. But the Dobbs story is worse. CNN has allowed a fringe nut job to repeatedly make false statements on the air to further a racist agenda. After Dobbs first reported the false figure of 7,000 leprosy cases in the last three years, the Southern Law Poverty Center took out ads in the Times and the USA Today demanding that CNN run a correction. You would think that such prompting would lead a responsible news organization to do an investigation to make sure one of its most well-known personalities wasn't vomiting crap on the air. Nope. CNN took no action. Why was it left to a New York Times reporter, weeks later, to make a simple phone call to a government health program to find out the facts?

A conservative friend of mine said over the weekend that CNN espouses liberal views and is every bit as biased as Fox News, calling CNN the "Communist News Network." I responded that CNN is not liberal, because it doesn't spend enough time on real issues to have an ideology. Stories about Anna Nicole, Paris, Britney, and natural disasters (I guess that last item includes the first three) are not liberal or conservative.

Days later, having read the Times story on Dobbs, the fluff issue seems quaint. Ironically, the "wimpy journalists" Dobbs despises include most of CNN, especially in the network's refusal to straighten out the facts of Dobbs's reports. With challenges facing the U.S. like global warming, the war in Iraq, tensions with a handful of other countries, and the fact that we're stuck with the Bush administration to address them (or not, as the case may be), having CNN abdicate its First Amendment role of checking the government is not just irresponsible, it's dangerous. But, of course, how can the network watch the government if it can't even ensure that it's own anchors aren't reporting racist lies?

Here's a tip, CNN. Click on the Southern Poverty Law Center link in the Times article. It might open your eyes a bit, assuming you can pull them away from Lindsay Lohan's rehab stint for a few seconds.