Fictional Facts

Hosted by

For KCRW, I’m Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

Ever wonder about all those facts and figures Lou Dobbs trots out on CNN to support his mission of "protecting" the U.S. from immigrants?

How about those 7,000 new cases of leprosy in this country in just three years, and those undocumented migrants who were responsible?

"The invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health of many Americans," Dobbs said two years ago, when the leprosy allegation first aired on his show.

On 60 Minutes recently, Lesley Stahl told Dobbs there didn't seem to be much evidence for the claim about the lepers.

"Well, I can tell you this," he replied. "If we reported it, it's a fact."

No, it isn't, Dobbs.

He even said that the 7,000 number is probably an underestimate.

Dobbs used as his initial source a lawyer named Madeleine Cosman, who is now deceased but who was never a medical doctor or a leprosy expert. In the New York Times last week, business columnist David Leonhardt said Cosman had given speeches saying that Mexican immigrants had a habit of molesting children. Back in their home villages, she said, rape was not as serious a crime as stealing cows.

Cosman said that while there were about 900 cases of leprosy over four decades, 7,000 had been detected in the last three years alone.

"Incredible," Dobbs said.

That's right. Not credible at all.

Leonhardt called the director of the National Hansen's Disease Program, an arm of the federal government, who said there have been about 7,000 diagnosed cases in the last 30 years, not in the last three.

Leprosy, he was told, is not a public health problem in the U.S., contrary to Dobbs's rantings.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has often criticized Dobbs for his obsession with immigrants, took out advertisements in the New York Times and USA Today demanding that CNN run a correction.

It hasn’t.

Dobbs "has never acknowledged on the air that his program presented false information twice," wrote Leonhardt, whose piece was headlined Truth, Fiction and Lou Dobbs.

Last week, Leonhardt called Dobbs with the official numbers. In response, Dobbs spent much of their conversation talking about the 7,000 cases in the leprosy database.

Dobbs "has a somewhat flexible relationship with reality," said Leonhardt, who also took Dobbs to task for saying that one-third of the inmates in the federal prison system are illegal immigrants (not true) and for giving "airtime to white supremacy sympathizers."

The day Leonhardt's story ran, Dobbs acted mightily offended on the air. He accused the Times of "kicking me" and for having "the temerity to attack me."

"We'll tell you who's really telling the truth and who the commies are and who the fascists are," he said, without ever actually identifying any commies or fascists. (Commies?! Dobbs must be channeling Joseph McCarthy.)

Dobbs said, almost proudly, that he and his show have been attacked over the years "because of our reporting on controversial issues and my strongly held beliefs on those issues" by both "the left wing and the right wing" media.

And not, I suppose, because he might have been inaccurate.

Dobbs did acknowledge that he is fallible.

"We do make mistakes," he said. "Not often, mind you."

Dobbs reassured his viewers that he would "continue to report on the nonpartisan independent reality that is too often overwhelmed by the ideologues in our national media."

I'm assuming he wasn't speaking about himself.

On, Mark Oppenheimer, an author and a former editor of the New Haven Advocate, wrote that he had enjoyed Leonhardt's column for its "long overdue takedown of Lou Dobbs, who is not just a blowhard but, as Leonhardt points out, a liar."

But, Oppenheimer added, "what really hit home was that CNN continues to provide a platform for such lies."

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.



Nick Madigan