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."
From a Los Angeles Times transcript of reporters' questions for CNN/U.S. President Jonathan Klein after the July 28 Television Critics Association press tour, and his responses:
Q: If Dobbs wanted to explore whether the British had won the Revolutionary War, would that be a legitimate topic?
A: It would not be legitimate for Lou or anyone else at CNN to explore whether Barack Obama is an American citizen. That's why he hasn't done that. And I think the people who are making noise about that have to look at closely what the discussions have been. It's all about the phenomenon of doubters.
Q: Are you distinguishing from what he said on his radio show?
A: Oh, yes, absolutely. We have no control over what he says on his radio show. It's not a CNN radio program so he does what he does on the radio separate from what he does on our air. So we ask you and anyone writing about this, to look at what he says on CNN. It's the only thing we control.
Q: Are you concerned, though, that it will damage your credibility?
A: I hope not. All we can do is do great reporting about the facts on this and every other story that we cover.
Q: But if he goes on his radio show and contradicts your reporting and then raises the same issue on the air, isn't there some need for somebody to balance that?
A: What he does on the radio is separate and apart from what he does on our air. On our air, he has said very clearly and repeatedly that Barack Obama is an American citizen. Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. Of that there is no doubt. He must have said it 10 times the last time he did the story. So he couldn't be clearer about that. Now, a couple of times he's hosted panel discussions about this phenomenon: Why do some people doubt it still? That's what those discussions are about. There's a real distinction. Does that make sense?
Q: But he also asks: Why haven't they produced the documents when they have, in fact, produced the documents?
A: That's why I sent that note the other day -- to clarify. We had our guys ask that question. It turns out, he can't. It's not up to him. It's not the president's choice. Lou has now stated that. What he then turns around and does on his radio show is not within our purview.
Q: Is it a topic you'd rather see him drop at this point?
A: I would rather all of our leading journalists rely on their best judgments and instincts and our guidance about them. We believe in the editorial compass of all of our people. It's going to be different according to the individual. But that just makes us a more interesting and vibrant place. Lou is listening to a certain segment of the population all day long on his radio show so naturally that's going to inform some of the decisions that he makes. But, again, to be clear: He is not exploring the question of whether Barack Obama is an American citizen. That is settled. It is a dead issue as far as CNN is concerned.
Apparently contradicting a statement he reportedly made the day before pronouncing the birther story seemingly "dead," CNN president Jonathan Klein has reportedly said that CNN would allow Lou Dobbs to continue airing conspiracy theories about President Obama's birth certificate.