Lying Lou

Lou Dobbs that is. Daniel Drezner points to New York Times op-ed that looks at some of Lou Dobbs claims, and the results aren’t pretty.

The [60 Minutes] segment was a profile of Mr. Dobbs, and while doing background research for it, a “60 Minutes” producer came across a 2005 news report from Mr. Dobbs’s CNN program on contagious diseases. In the report, one of Mr. Dobbs’s correspondents said there had been 7,000 cases of leprosy in this country over the previous three years, far more than in the past.

When Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” sat down to interview Mr. Dobbs on camera, she mentioned the report and told him that there didn’t seem to be much evidence for it.

“Well, I can tell you this,” he replied. “If we reported it, it’s a fact.”

Paging George Orwell, would Mr. Orwell please pick up the white courtesy phone?

But despite the Orwellian nature of that final comment by Dobbs is the claim that there have been 7,000 cases of leprosy in the last three years accurate? No.

To sort through all this, I called James L. Krahenbuhl, the director of the National Hansen’s Disease Program, an arm of the federal government. Leprosy in the United States is indeed largely a disease of immigrants who have come from Asia and Latin America. And the official leprosy statistics do show about 7,000 diagnosed cases — but that’s over the last 30 years, not the last three.

The peak year was 1983, when there were 456 cases. After that, reported cases dropped steadily, falling to just 76 in 2000. Last year, there were 137.

Whoopsies. But more importantly what did Dobbs do with this new information? Not much really.

So Mr. Dobbs was flat-out wrong. And when I spoke to him yesterday, he admitted as much, sort of. I read him Ms. Romans’s comment — the one with the word “suddenly” in it — and he replied, “I think that is wrong.” He then went on to say that as far as he was concerned, he had corrected the mistake by later broadcasting another report, on the same night as his on-air confrontation with the Southern Poverty Law Center officials. This report mentioned that leprosy had peaked in 1983.

Of course, he has never acknowledged on the air that his program presented false information twice. Instead, he lambasted the officials from the law center for saying he had. Even yesterday, he spent much of our conversation emphasizing that there really were 7,000 cases in the leprosy registry, the government’s 30-year database. Mr. Dobbs is trying to have it both ways.

In other words, he did mention there was a peak (which is true) but he never admitted that the 3 year claim was false and that the 7,000 number comes from over a 30 year time period. Owning up to one’s mistakes is a sign of good character, running away from them and pretending to have already owned up to them is not. And it doesn’t stop there.

For one thing, Mr. Dobbs has a somewhat flexible relationship with reality. He 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.

Gee, what a shock. And apparently his guest list isn’t…well all that appealing.

Second, Mr. Dobbs really does give airtime to white supremacy sympathizers. Ms. Cosman, who is now deceased, was a lawyer and Renaissance studies scholar, never a medical doctor or a leprosy expert. She gave speeches in which she said that Mexican immigrants had a habit of molesting children. Back in their home villages, she would explain, rape was not as serious a crime as cow stealing. The Southern Poverty Law Center keeps a list of other such guests from “Lou Dobbs Tonight.”

Hmmm, seems like there are quite a few people who spend quite a bit of time giving speeches to the Council of Conservative Citizens. Not exactly a good thing to put on one’s resume when one is trying to dodge the claim of being…well…a racist.

The most common complaint about him [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.

There is no denying that this country’s immigration system is broken. But it defies belief — and a whole lot of economic research — to suggest that the problems of the middle class stem from illegal immigrants. Those immigrants, remember, are largely non-English speakers without a high school diploma. They have probably hurt the wages of native-born high school dropouts and made everyone else better off.

More to the point, if Mr. Dobbs’s arguments were really so good, don’t you think he would be able to stick to the facts? And if CNN were serious about being “the most trusted name in news,” as it claims to be, don’t you think it would be big enough to issue an actual correction?

That pretty much sums it up. If the claims that immigration is a grave threat to the American Way of Life then why resort to such bogus numbers? Why not stick with just the facts? Could it be that the facts just aren’t on Mr. Dobbs’ side?

Dobbs provides a response here.

Now, no one hates making a mistake, I assure you, more than I do. And on this broadcast, we do make mistakes — not often, mind you — but certainly enough to frustrate me mightily, and with barely tolerable frequency.

Well so much for the “if we reported it, then its a fact,” claim. I guess the new standard is, “if we reported it, then it could be fact, it could be opinion, or it could be complete bullsh*t.”

Dobbs tries to defend his claim about illegal immigrants in the federal prison system,

He wrote that I said that “One third of the inmates in the federal prison system are illegal immigrants.” That isn’t what I said. I didn’t say anything close to it.

We reported that one-third of the federal prison population three and a half years ago were “non-citizens.” The columnist said the number was 6 percent. The exact number of the year in question was 29.3 percent for fiscal year 2001. And by the way, we’re putting up links on our Web site,, so you can check the numbers for yourself.

To an extent this is the truth. However, it is a bit misleading in that it doesn’t give a complete picture. Federal prisoners don’t amount to a very large part of the population residing in some sort of prison. Further, one of the reasons you end up in Federal prison is immigration violations, it isn’t the only way to end up in a Federal prision, but it is indeed one way. So the number of non-citizens in Federal prison are going to probably be higher based on this alone. Further, the number has been declining, as is the number of non-citizens who are in prison in general. And Dobb’s claim that illegals are causing an increasing problem in terms of prison populations is dubious since non-citizens incorporates both legal and illegal aliens.

Daniel Drezner also points to this article at Reason’s Hit & Run by David Weigel. The title is pretty good, “Lou Dobbs Cures Leprosy”.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Latin America, Media, Race and Politics, US Politics, World Politics, , , , , , , , ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.


  1. floyd says:

    Talk about lying bogus numbers; how about “there’s only 12,000,000 criminal immigrants in the U.S.” or… No amnesty is being offered!

  2. ffloyd,

    You tried that when I posted on Dobbs the other day.

    A few things

    -The issue of “amnesty” is a debate over semantics, not about matters of fact.

    -Any serious person will admit that we don’t have a hard and fast figure on the number of illegal immigrants in the country.

    However, neither of those thing gets to the issue of Dobbs and the way he runs his show and it certainly has nothing to do with his bogus claims about leprosy which can be firmly established, as I noted here.

  3. floyd says:

    It does go to the point that Lou Dobbs doesn’t even mar the surface when compared to the organized policy of ofuscation demonstrated by the rest of the media.
    Intentional misrepresentation of the facts has certainly become S.O.P.
    BTW,my point was not tried,it was made. [to paraphrase Yoda]

    The point was not to support Lou Dobbs,or to deny the factual nature of your article, but rather to point out that he is certainly no more guilty than the general media.
    In fact, to now make a point in his defense,he appears to value the truth slightly more than average.
    I do applaud your efforts to alert us to [??journalistic??]dishonesty, what ever the source.
    Thank you!