Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Lou Dobbs' "truthiness"

Today, David Leonhardt's column in the NYTimes raises significant questions about Lou Dobbs' reporting on immigration.  He started out with an inquiry into a massively inflated leprosy statistic.  Mr. Dobbs claimed that there were 7000 cases of leprosy (naturally, caused by immigration) over the last three years, when in fact there were 7000 cases over the past 30 years, and the number of cases peaked in 1983.

But as he looked deeper Leonhardt discovered more systematic factual manipulation in Dobbs' immigration reporting.  For example, Leonhardt writes:

[Dobbs] has said, for example, that one-third of the inmates in the federal prison system are illegal immigrants. That’s wrong, too. According to the Justice Department, 6 percent of prisoners in this country are noncitizens (compared with 7 percent of the population). For a variety of reasons, the crime rate is actually lower among immigrants than natives.

The larger problem, of course, is that this "one-third" number, and other fictions have entered the national debate over immigration and spurred increasingly harsh rhetoric over the criminality of immigrants.  These claims fuel irrational fear of immigrants and unjustifiably harsh policy responses.

Or, as Leonhardt goes on to write:

The most common complaint about [Dobbs], at least from other journalists, is that his program combines factual reporting with editorializing. But I think this misses the point. Americans, as a rule, are smart enough to handle a program that mixes opinion and facts. The problem with Mr. Dobbs is that he mixes opinion and untruths. He is the heir to the nativist tradition that has long used fiction and conspiracy theories as a weapon against the Irish, the Italians, the Chinese, the Jews and, now, the Mexicans.

The rest of Leonhardt's column is here.  His column also called to mind Daphne Eviatar's scathing August 2006 article on Dobbs in The Nation.

Dobbs has yet to acknowledge the inaccuracy of his leprosy claims on air.  Important debates about our nation's immigration policy should not be driven by stereotype and factual distortion.  And we should demand better from the purported purveyors of national news.


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