Thursday, May 31, 2007

Lou Dobbs Disgraces Himself And CNN

Since the Fox News Network, with its strong Republican bias, emerged as the leading cable news network in terms of numbers of viewers, CNN has scrambled to try to catch up. Gradually, it too, has become biased in certain ways, although different ones.

Nowhere is this clearer than in its presentation of Lou Dobbs, a man so put off by Latino immigration that he has become a literal Father Coughlin on the subject, broadcasting repeated demagogic reports.

Dobbs devotes parts of nearly every broadcast to the subject he has obsessed on, and gradually he has accumulated quite an audience. Like Fox, CNN doesn't care if it sensationalizes. Anything to gain in the ratings. Not only Dobbs, but its Headline News has become an exemplary of yellow journalism. (Wolf Blitzer and some of CNN's other broadcasters, such as the outstanding Christine Amanpour, retain their high standards).

Wednesday, the New York Times ran a column by the respected David Leonhardt in its Business section detailing several instances of Dobbs purveying statistics that are both alarming and wrong, inviting extremist commentators to appear on his show and then seeking to respond to critics with obfuscation and further dishonesty.

The Leonhardt column should be must reading for all Americans who care about honorable journalism, and it is to be hoped that CNN management will pay attention as well. At least, they should rein Dobbs in and demand that he cease distortions and falsifications.

Illegal immigration is a subject that gives itself to sensationalistic charges. Many people feel strongly about it, and Congress is presently in a major debate about the provisions of a new proposed law on immigration, which both would put controls on it and allow many of those immigrants already here to obtain citizenship in time through rather complicated bureaucratic procedures. Fees for making the proper applications would be dramatically increased.

Dobbs is not really contributing to that worthwhile debate, because he mainly seems to be determined to scare people.

Leonhardt's main example of this is Dobbs' repeated statements that illegal immigrants have caused a surge in the numbers of leprosy cases in the United States. This is a dread disease, but Dobbs' claims that there have been 7,000 cases in recent years are a demonstrable falsehood. The best authorities simply deny it. The actual number of leprosy cases are so negligible as to not be a major public health concern.

Dobbs' statistics on the number of illegal aliens in U.S. prisons also turn out to be wildly exaggerated, and his habit of browbeating critics, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, is reminiscent of the late senator Joseph McCarthy, who screamed Communist as often as Dobbs does illegal alien.

Patriotism, it has been said, is all too often the "last refuge of a scoundrel," and the louder Dobbs shouts about all his left-wing enemies, the more the suspicion has to be that he has little determination to correct mistakes and be truthful.

In a statement responding to the Leonhardt column, Dobbs states, the column subjects him to a "scurrilous personal attack" and he lumps the New York Times, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Nation magazine, MALDEF and MEChA as "left wing." These are all respected exponents of liberal and/or Latino views. They are not "left wing."

As U.S. difficulties in today's fractious world have grown, many Americans are looking for simple explanations of the nation's problems. Lou Dobbs is among those giving them to them, and, as I say, CNN must take care not to allow him to railroad the American public, or itself as a network be railroaded by him as a commentator.

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It is certainly understandable that the L.A. Times would run the issues pertaining to Kobe Bryant, the Lakers' basketball star who is now demanding to be traded, or Lindsay Lohan, the Hollywood actress who has been having drinking and drug problems, on Page 1. Both are major public personalities in Los Angeles, and there is substantial public interest in reading about them.

But at the same time, the Times must beware of giving itself overly to celebrity journalism. Just this week, Nancy Cleeland, the Business reporter who lost her labor beat and then took the buyout, warned that the paper's decision to hire a new celebrity beat reporter, instead of a new reporter to cover very important economic inequalities in this area, is not the most responsible journalism.

I think the Times is big enough to cover both kinds of stories. But certain sections, such as the relatively new Envelope section, are a waste of space. The one yesterday had nothing of real value, except, perhaps, a few nice pictures.

The paper cannot overcome its circulation problems by giving readers pap like Envelope.

According to a memo by the usurping publisher, David Hiller, that I will examine tomorrow, the inept Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons is arriving in Los Angeles on a business trip, I suppose to further muck around with the L.A. Times. FitzSimons, an enemy of Los Angeles and all Californians, is not welcome in this city, and should get out immediately. The new owner of the Tribune, Sam Zell, if he wants to succeed, will remove FitzSimons from his position. In the meantime, if you see FitzSimons, throw an egg in his face, if you have one.

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