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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The Leonhardt column says that when reps from the SPLC went on Dobbs' program that they statee that he is "“one of the most popular people on the white supremacist Web sites.”

What a horrible thing to say. To paraphrase Mr. Leonhardt's conclusion....

"...if their arguments are so good, wouldn't they just stick to the relevant facts?"

Posted by: Laura | May 30, 2007 11:46:49 AM

Dobbs has said that if he reported it then it's a fact so don't expect a retraction from Dobbs.

Posted by: Justin | May 30, 2007 1:02:38 PM

Jump on it fellows, you've found the killer bee for the Lou Dobbs show, not! Do you really think that CNN will can him based on this insignificant dispute of the facts. I find it pitiful that you complain and complain about Lou, but can't seem to find the fatal flaws in his reporting and what you claim to be untruths. If this is the best you can do, then maybe Lou is right, and as Jack Nicholson said in "A Few Good Men", "You can't handle the truth!"

Posted by: Horace | May 31, 2007 4:52:38 PM

I saw the SPLC representatives on Lou's show, and frankly, they didn't impress me. One came off as a ugly little nome and the other a pathetic whimp. The SPLC could do much better in the way of spokesmen.

Posted by: Horace | May 31, 2007 4:58:29 PM

Actually, Leonhardt is guilty of far worse deception than Lou. When discussing the number of illegal immigrants in prison, Lou referred to the "federal prison" population while Leonhardt used the number for federal and state combined (6%). According to Leonhardt's own citation (Dept of Justice pdf linked in his article) the actual number for federal as of 2005 is 19%. 19% is not 6%. Why did Leonhardt decide to use the 6% number rather than the comparable 19%? Presumably because it’s more dramatic and makes Lou look crazy. Secondly, Lou made his statements in 2003 (follow Leonhardt’s link and check the date). If Leonhardt had to cite 2005 data in 2007 (as he did), we can assume that Lou had to cite 2001 data in 2003. Again, according to Leonhardt's own citations, the figure would be around 27% (check the side bar “Related Information” in the online NY Times article). This is not a defense of Lou Dobbs; I disagree with him on this and other issues. But I'm irritated that Leonhardt is so obviously misrepresenting reality and misleading readers. Check Leonhardt's data in the sidebar "Related Information" and the pdf file from the DOJ he linked to. The guy's intellectually dishonest.

Posted by: Craig | Jun 3, 2007 2:14:06 PM

Why don't you spend more time discussing the length of the Canadian border? Should we build a fence there? I do worry about the drug cartels coming thru the Mexican border...because they have found a market here. Doubt if a fence will help that.

Posted by: Stephanie | Jun 18, 2007 3:58:40 PM

Should offshore firms have the right to "import" their labour into the US in addition to "exporting" US jobs oversees? Vote now and have your say at

Posted by: Phil Fersht | Jul 15, 2007 8:38:28 AM

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