In his penultimate broadcast, Lou Dobbs ran a story on White House communications director Anita Dunn's decision to leave the administration at the end of the month. In what now seems to be an ironic twist, much of the report ran over the caption, "QUIT OR PUSHED?" a question that today reporters must be asking about Dobbs himself.
It was a quintessential Dobbs report, featuring almost all the facets we have come to expect from his program. It was based on a conspiracy theory: At no point did Dobbs or reporter Lisa Sylvester present even the slightest bit of evidence that Dunn had left on anything other than her own volition, and neither mentioned that she was originally hired as communications director on only an interim basis, making her decision entirely expected. It included falsehoods: Dobbs, Sylvester, and Politico's Craig Gordon all mischaracterized comments Dunn made about Mao Zedong during a high school graduation speech earlier this year. It included a misleading claim intended to establish a pattern: Sylvester provided a list of four other "administration officials to leave recently," which included former WH communications director Ellen Moran -- whom Dunn replaced -- and Louis Caldera, the former director of the WH Military Office, both of whom left the White House in May.
If only the segment had included an attack on immigrants, we could have sent it straight to the Newseum as the absolute paragon of Dobbs reporting.
It's worth noting that there's significantly more evidence that Dobbs was pushed out than that Dunn was. Dunn had drawn fire from right-wing media figures like Glenn Beck who mischaracterized Dunn's remarks about Mao -- which were similar to comments numerous conservatives have made over the years; even Ann Coulter didn't think Dunn's statements were worth attacking. Dobbs, meanwhile, was criticized by two wide-ranging coalitions -- the DropDobbs campaign, which included Media Matters, NDN, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and NCLR, among other groups, and BastaDobbs.com, a network organized by Presente.org -- in response to his long history of using his CNN platform to spread hatred, fear, and conspiracy theories. Dunn leaving the White House was long-expected and doesn't take effect until the end of the month; Dobbs leaving CNN was unanticipated and effective almost immediately -- he announced he was leaving at the top of his final broadcast, and his staff was reportedly told he was on his way out only hours before yesterday's show.
And of course, there's this little tidbit from today's New York Times: "Months ago the president of CNN/U.S., Jonathan Klein, offered a choice to Lou Dobbs ... [he] could vent his opinions on radio and anchor an objective newscast on television, or he could leave CNN."
Luckily, CNN already has the graphics made up for its Reliable Sources segment on Dobbs leaving -- they just need to swap Dunn's head for Dobbs'
On last night's Hardball, MSNBC's Pat Buchanan relived his glory days while offering the Republicans some political advice:
BUCHANAN: Look at '65, Medicare, Medicaid, education, Voting Rights Act.
MATTHEWS: You guys won in '66.
BUCHANAN: We won 47 seats. We didn't do a thing but say no, no, no.
BUCHANAN: In 2010, we are the alternative. We are against them. That's all you need.
Most people, upon recalling their opposition to the Voting Rights Act, would probably express some remorse. But not Pat Buchanan, who complains that "Old heroes like ... Robert E. Lee are replaced by Dr. King."
Chris Matthews last night:
CHRIS MATTHEWS: You know what we learned from New Jersey? You are not going to win by calling the other guy fat.
PAT BUCHANAN: Of course.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: That is all they had. You're fat. What a ridiculous, pathetic, schoolyard thing that was. Pat Buchanan, Gene Robinson, great to be with the grown ups here.
Media criticism is serious business, and no one takes it more seriously than the crack bias sleuths over at NewsBusters. They take it so seriously, in fact, that they really don't like it when some Johnny-come-lately struts around pretending to be a big-time media critic. Take, for example, NewsBuster Jeff Poor's latest entry, in which he goes after New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's blog post this morning attacking Fox Business Network, calling it Krugman's "media critic impersonation."
I actually have to agree with Poor on this one. Krugman may be a Nobel Prize-winning economist and columnist, but he has no idea how difficult it is to critique the media, to pick out those stories that really matter and dissect them, pulling out the most important facts and explaining the subtle nuances that direct and color news coverage.
Just look at this entry Jeff Poor posted to NewsBusters this morning, less than two hours before attacking Krugman for impersonating a media critic:
Chuck Norris: Obama Wants 'To Create a One World Order' at Copenhagen Climate Talks
Are the upcoming Copenhagen climate talks really about nothing more than hammering out a world-wide agreement about carbon emissions to curb warming? Not according to martial arts professional and actor Chuck Norris.
Norris appeared on the Fox News Channel's Nov. 11 "Your World with Neil Cavuto" to promote his new book, "The Official Chuck Norris Fact Book: 101 of Chuck's Favorite Facts and Stories." He explained the upcoming Copenhagen talks in December were a push by President Barack Obama to form a "one world order."
"Definitely," Norris said. "I really think he is going over there to try to create a one world order."
That's similar to Lord Christopher Monckton's belief, who recently warned Obama was "poised to cede U.S. sovereignty" at Copenhagen. Norris' fear is that since some third-world countries have not caught up economically to the United States, this would be a backdoor way to help them catch up - by giving "our money" to them.
Take notes, Mr. Krugman. That's how you critique the media.
A post by RedState.com's Erick Erickson that Rush Limbaugh is hyping falsely claims that a memorandum from the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will "purge the federal government of Republican civil servants" and "forc[e]" former Bush administration political appointees who currently have positions in the federal civil service "out of their jobs."
In fact, the OPM memo does nothing of the sort. It merely beefs up current OPM rules aimed at preventing political appointees from "burrowing in" to the civil service, thereby receiving the job security benefits that civil servants -- but not political appointees -- receive. While the memo states that agencies must seek permission from OPM to hire people as civil servants if they have been political appointees "within the last five years," nothing in the memo creates authority for anyone to fire current federal employees. Therefore, the OPM memo does not "purge" anybody.
Irony, hypocrisy, call it whatever you want, but it clearly drives the conservative media movement in America, and specifically this notion being peddled by Weekly Standard writer Matthew Continetti, via his new Sarah Palin book, The Persecution of Sarah Palin, that it was crazy how quickly Palin became "hated" by her political enemies.
From American Spectator:
"It's not new for a prominent political figure to be hated," Continetti tells TAS. "But it is novel when a political figure becomes so hated so quickly, and for that hatred to be based on so little information."
Hmm, Continetti can't remember the last time a national politician became so hated so quickly, and for that hatred to be based on so little information; for it be be so darn irrational. I'm not sure if Continetti spent the 1990's in high school, and I'm not sure if Continetti has been so busy finishing his Palin book that he hasn't been able to gaze across the political landscape in 2009, and specifically the right-wing terrain, which views the current president as a racist/fascist/communist/Nazi/socialist.
But if Continetti is that oblivious, I'd like to suggest that two Democrats by the name of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, immediately after being inaugurated, became the subject of sweeping, hysterical hatred that infected the conservative movement, and conservative media; hatred that makes the Palin situation look quite tame in comparison.
Also, I think Continetti fails to acknowledge that many of Palin's critics simply mock her failed attempt to step up to national politics. Laughing at a politician is much different that hating one.
UPDATED: See Eric Alterman's take on Continetti's Palin apology book, here.
Even a casual student of American politics will notice some rather odd omissions. For instance, in an entire book dedicated to the proposition than an evil conspiracy sought to brainwash the American people to believe that Palin was unready for office, I found no mention of the postelection admission by McCain campaign manager Rick Davis that his choice didn't have anything to do with Palin's qualifications for office because, as he said, "You've got to win first." Second, did you know that to this day Sarah Palin has never held a single full-fledged national press conference with actual professional political reporters?
UPDATED: Of course, don't forget Continetti's book compares Palin to Tina Fey, or actually with Tina Fey's TV character. Or something.
UPDATED: I haven't seen the book yet, but I wonder if Continetti recycles the glaring Palin error he was pushing this summer.
From Fox Business anchor Liz Claman's Twitter:
Previously / Related:
Dobbs attacks "cowardly liar" Geraldo Rivera, LaRaza and MALDEF for "nasty nonsense"
"Fuming" Dobbs rants about "vile stupidity" of "annoying" Geraldo, who "wouldn't know a fact if it hit him in the rear"
Defending Fox News, Geraldo says "we don't have" Dobbs, "who has done more to slander Latinos in this country than anyone"
Geraldo Rivera: "Lou Dobbs has done more to slander Latin people in this country than any other human being"
So, what really happened to Lou Dobbs? According to The New York Times: "Months ago the president of CNN/U.S., Jonathan Klein, offered a choice to Lou Dobbs ... [he] could vent his opinions on radio and anchor an objective newscast on television, or he could leave CNN." This after months of intense pressure from those concerned with the content broadcast nightly on Dobbs' CNN program -- leading some in the press to describe the host as a "publicity nightmare" for the network. It is in that environment, that Dobbs announced last night his immediate departure from CNN, his cable news home for nearly 30 years.
"For too long, CNN provided Lou Dobbs with its stamp of approval as he pursued a dangerous, one-sided and all too often false conspiracy tinged crusade against immigrants," said Eric Burns, president of Media Matters. "This is a happy day for all those who care about this nation of immigrants and believe in the power of media to elevate the political discourse."
Since CNN's Lou Dobbs first began spreading false, racially charged conspiracy theories about President Obama's birth certificate in July of this year, Media Matters for America has published 299 research items, video/audio clips, column, and blog posts about his misinformation and hate speech. Below are some of the most significant examples of work Media Matters has done -- this year and in the past -- to combat Dobbs' pernicious influence on the national dialogue.
The Drop Dobbs campaign and other efforts. Media Matters played a leading role in the Drop Dobbs Coalition (DropDobbs.com), which was launched to call attention to Dobbs' incendiary hate speech and falsehoods. Through this coalition, Media Matters worked successfully behind the scenes to persuade major corporations to stop advertising on Lou Dobbs Tonight. The coalition includes numerous national civil rights and other groups concerned about the kind of hate promoted daily by Dobbs on his television and radio programs. In addition to Media Matters in partnership with NDN, the coalition, representing over 2 million people, includes the National Council of La Raza, LULAC, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, America's Voice Education Fund, The Hispanic Institute, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Netroots Nation, Voto Latino, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, the Center for New Community, Reform Immigration for America, the Dolores Huerta Foundation, the National Puerto Rican Coalition and the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials. There were also many others around the country involved in complementary efforts including the amazing grassroots organizing and activism conducted by Presente.org through their BastaDobbs campaign.
Media Matters released ads -- which CNN refused to run -- calling for Dobbs to be held accountable. In August, CNN refused to air a Media Mattes ad calling on the network to credibly address Dobbs' continued promotion of birther conspiracy theories. In October, CNN refused to air an ad produced by America's Voice and Media Matters calling out the network for giving Dobbs a prominent platform. Both ads ultimately ran on competing cable networks.
Dobbs repeatedly advanced false conspiracy theories about Obama's birth certificate. As Media Matters extensively documented, Dobbs suggested on his July 15, 2009, CNN show that the birth certificate Obama provided to FactCheck.org was not "the real document" and suggested on his radio show that day that it was not "the real deal." After asking if Obama should be "more forthcoming" about his birth certificate, Dobbs added: "One of our callers, by the way, pointed out that he didn't release -- he didn't release his medical records, either. Now isn't that interesting? And hasn't produced some other documents. What's the deal? What is the deal here? I'm starting to think we have a -- we have a document issue. Do you suppose he's un -- no, I won't even use the word undocumented. It wouldn't be right." On his July 21, 2009, radio show, Dobbs faulted "certain quarters of the national liberal media" for "absolutely trying to knock down the issue of President Obama's birth certificate." On his July 23, 2009, radio show, Dobbs addressed media reports on his conspiracy theories by declaring, "I do believe in a national left-wing media conspiracy in which they work in concert and attack like hell."
Dobbs used CNN to engage in wild conspiracy theories and legitimize hate groups. Dobbs' birth certificate obsession wasn't the first outrageous theory that he promoted on CNN. As Media Matters documented, Dobbs has repeatedly accused the U.S. government of secretly plotting with the governments of Mexico and Canada to merge the three countries into a "North American Union" -- a charge his own CNN colleagues labeled a "conspiracy theor[y]." Dobbs has promoted the smear that Mexican immigrants are conspiring to reclaim the U.S. Southwest for Mexico and at one point illustrated this theory by using a graphic sourced to the Council of Conservative Citizens, a hate group that "oppose[s] all efforts to mix the races of mankind." Dobbs famously aired a false report about a purported spike in leprosy cases linked to illegal immigration and repeatedly defended his show's reporting even after it had been proven wrong.
Dobbs had close ties to "hate group" FAIR. In September, Dobbs helped lead the annual "Hold Their Feet to the Fire" radio host rally organized by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) -- an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated a "hate group." On August 28, Media Matters president Eric Burns wrote an open letter to CNN president Jonathan Klein urging him to prohibit Dobbs from participating in the FAIR event. Media Matters also documented that Dobbs used his CNN show to report on the FAIR rally without disclosing during those reports that he was helping lead it. A year earlier, Dobbs had broadcast his CNN show from the FAIR rally. In addition, the group has given Dobbs an award for "his continued efforts in leading the immigration reform movement through both his talk radio show and his television show." In the past year, Dobbs has cited FAIR as a credible source on immigration issues at least six times and has routinely failed to disclose his close association with the group.
Dobbs smeared U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce as sympathetic to "Mexico's export of drugs and illegal aliens." On March 10, 2009, Dobbs criticized Obama for delivering a speech on education to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Dobbs accused Obama of "pandering to the pro-amnesty open-borders lobby" and aired a clip of a FAIR spokesman saying, "We don't want the president to make it appear as if he's favoring one particular group in the disposition of public benefits." Dobbs also said, "Making a decision to talk about a national initiative on education from the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which is effectively an organization that is interested in the export of American capital and production to Mexico, and Mexico's export of drugs and illegal aliens to the United States. This is crazy stuff." On March 17, 2009, Dobbs said he "made a mistake," explaining, "I, of course, do not believe that the chamber supports or condones either drug or human trafficking. My apologies to the ... U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and I hope that they will forgive me for that misspeaking."
Report: CNN's Lou Dobbs problem and the immigration debate. In September, Media Matters released a report on the most egregious conspiracy theories, hate speech, and undisclosed conflicts of interest in Dobbs' immigration reporting. Among other things, Media Matters documented that Dobbs used his CNN show to report on and praise a Hazleton, Pennsylvania, ordinance targeting undocumented immigrants without disclosing that he had been helping to fundraise for the town's legal defense fund.
Report: "Dobbs' immigration obsession out of step with CNN's news coverage." In July, Media Matters released a report documenting the extent to which Dobbs' broadcast was consumed by the topic of immigration, and undocumented immigrants specifically. Media Matters showed that over a period of six months, Dobbs had more than three times as many broadcast hours that included briefs, segments, and panel discussions on immigration -- often focusing on undocumented immigrants -- as The Situation Room, which is three times as long as Dobbs. In word count, the difference was even starker, with Dobbs devoting about 528 words per hour to discussions of immigration -- 13 times more than The Situation Room's 40 words-per-hour average.
Report: Conservative guests outnumber progressives on Lou Dobbs Tonight. In May, Media Matters released a report documenting that in the first four months of 2009, 52 percent more Republicans and conservatives appeared as guests on Lou Dobbs Tonight than Democrats and progressives. These results were consistent with a 2006 Media Matters study on Dobbs' guest lineup.
Lou Dobbs' right-wing war on health care reform. In August, Media Matters released a report documenting Dobbs' repeated use of discredited right-wing smears about health care reform efforts, including the notions that end-of-life counseling could lead to "euthanasia" and that Obama said he "doesn't even know what's in" the House health care bill. Dobbs also touted GOP Sen. John Barrasso as "one of the leading experts on ... health care" and provided a forum for serial misinformer Betsy McCaughey to falsely claim that the economic recovery package would allow the federal government to eliminate "whatever" it deems to be "unnecessary" health care.
Dobbs declared, "Mexico has become our enemy." As Media Matters documented, Dobbs complained on his March 3, 2009, radio show that there are people "trying to control our political agendas" and "social agendas with political correctness, trying to control thought, and, of course, speech through political correctness." He added that while it may be "politically incorrect," it is "absolutely factually correct" that "Mexico has become our enemy."
Online videos used to boost campaign against Dobbs. Media Matters effectively used its official YouTube channel to generate pressure against Dobbs through new media outlets. The ad addressing Dobbs' continued promotion of birther conspiracy theories that CNN refused to air in August generated nearly 168,000 views online, and at the same time, led to a huge media presence both in the traditional and new media. Moreover, a mini-documentary Media Matters produced for DropDobbs.com received more than 60,000 views since the launch of that site. In late July, when Dobbs was repeatedly advancing false conspiracy theories about Obama's birth certificate, Media Matters was able to expose his efforts through rapid response videos, releasing four videos from July 27 through July 30 on its YouTube channel exposing CNN's Dobbs problem; the videos generated well over 80,000 views. All together, Media Matters' special rapid response videos exposing Dobbs have generated well over 300,000 views.
So, what's next for Dobbs? In October, The New York Times reported that "Dobbs ... met for dinner with Roger E. Ailes, the chairman of Fox News, last month, according to two people with direct knowledge of the meeting" and that one of those sources "said Mr. Dobbs is a potential hire for the Fox Business Network." Well, that move may be a bit tough to pull off. Fox News' Geraldo Rivera recently ripped Dobbs for his Latino-bashing rhetoric saying he "is not coming to Fox News." Following news of Dobbs' resignation, Fox Business anchor Liz Claman tweeted, "Clearly Geraldo won." Rivera is by no means Dobbs' only obstacle. Dobbs had recently been involved in an on-air spat with new Fox Business hire John Stossel. After the former reporter of ABC's 20/20 said "I don't subscribe to Lou Dobbs-kind of rants about immigrants wrecking America," Dobbs went on the attack, calling Stossell a "self important ass" and his criticism, "myopic idiocy."
Consider for a moment the circumstances surrounding Lou Dobbs' abrupt departure from CNN, announced last night and effective immediately. Dobbs had been going increasingly far afield in his programming, from spinning North American Union conspiracy theories, to indulging the Birther nonsense, to claiming that his opponents had taken to shooting at his house (the police said it was likely an errant bullet from a hunter's rifle). Notably, CNN itself debunked each of these stories. According to the New York Times write-up of Dobbs' exit, Dobbs' on-air behavior was apparently too much for the network to bear: "Months ago the president of CNN/U.S., Jonathan Klein, offered a choice to Lou Dobbs, the channel's most outspoken anchor. Mr. Dobbs could vent his opinions on radio and anchor an objective newscast on television, or he could leave CNN."
Now, contrast CNN's Dobbs situation to Fox News and its handling of Glenn Beck. In terms of delusional conspiracy-mongering and spittle-flecked invective, Dobbs is a stripling compared to Beck. Fox News' steady transition from untrustworthy cable news network to conservative political action committee can largely be attributed to Beck, whose 9-12 Project is wrapped up with the Tea Party movement. Except for those that buy into his fevered shtick, Beck is an embarrassment, an embodiment of everything that is wrong with cable news, and there is no greater example of this than when he called the President of the United States a "racist" who has "a deep-seated hatred for white people." The network lost scores of advertisers over that remark, and, as NBC's First Read pointed out, "[t]here was a time when outrageous rants like this would actually cost the ranters their jobs."
But what happened to Beck? He got a pat on the head from NewsCorp president Rupert Murdoch, who said Beck "was right" to call the president a "racist."
CNN's movement on Dobbs was long overdue, but they eventually decided that their credibility as a news network outweighed Dobbs' (rapidly dwindling) ratings. Fox News, on the other hand, shows no such concern with Beck, maybe because they didn't have a whole lot of credibility to sacrifice in the first place.
The Hannity Video Fiasco raises an awful lot of interesting questions, none of which Hannity answered last night when he confirmed his program had "screwed up" when it inserted video clip of the much larger Sept. 12, D.C. Tea Party rally crowd, for a story on the much smaller anti-health care rally last week in D.C. (See Jon Stewart's take-down below.)
The journalism questions in play remain obvious: Who did pulled the misleading video clips from the archives, who inserted them in the wrong story, and which producers OKed it? What Hannity and nobody else at Fox News will discuss is, how did this happen? And what steps will Fox News take to make sure it never happens again?
That's what news organizations usually do when embarrassing episodes like this crop up. But since Fox News doesn't really function as a news outlet any more, I sort of doubt that kind of introspection will take place.
But still, it seems telling that there exists a culture inside Fox News where staffers think it's OK to insert wildly misleading videotape into a primetime program. Just like it seemed telling that during the actual Tea Party coverage back on Sept. 12, one producer thought it was OK to cheer on the crowd prior to a news report; to treat the partisan Tea Party crowd as if it were an in-studio Fox News one.
My point is that these two embarrassing episodes seem to highlight what Media Matters has been stressing all year, which is that Fox News no longer even pretends to follow the traditional guidelines of journalism. And there seems to be a culture within Fox News where everyday staffers have decided there are no rules left. That they don't actually work for a "news" organization.