Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Lou Dobbs: Charlatan

Over the past few years possibly no public figure has been more closely linked with the issues of immigration, glaobalization and corporate malfeasance than CNN anchor Lou Dobbs. The once staid and reliable source of business related news has managed to reinvent his persona, becoming a self proclaimed populist messiah for the American middle and working-classes. With fiery rhetoric and self-righteous indignation that often borders on the megalomaniacal, Dobbs as Howard Beale, nightly exhorts his watchers to howl at the moon shouting "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore."

Whether it be "The War on the Middle Class", "Exporting America", or "Broken Borders", each Dobbs segment portrays a familiar cast of villains, working in concert to destroy the American dream for the average working man and women. Big corporate boogiemen, swarthy immigrant hordes, and corrupt or incompetent politicians populate Dobbs' narrative of the fall of modern American civilization.

These are not new villains; we've seen them before throughout American history in politics and popular culture. And this familiarity is part of the key to Dobb's success; he manages to distill complex and sometimes contradictory issues down to basic pulp fiction novellas filled with simplistic villains and easy solutions. One can almost see in their minds eye the cartoon caricatures of JD Rockefeller, or JP Morgan from a long forgotten eight-grade history book as he riles against the "business interests" orchestrating our national downfall.

Yet, one problem with Dobbs, as opposed to previous generations of muckrakers, is that when facts become too complicated or cumbersome for his narrative, they are either ignored or just plain fudged to make his story more compelling.

Another problem is he's simply an out and out charlatan. While publicly preaching his gospel of anti-globalization and opposition to free trade to a mesmerized audience of disenchanted, white, working and middle-class Americans, privately, his personal business profits greatly by catering to the wealthy investment classes, willing to pony up big big bucks for his "expert" investment advise, that often touts the merits of the very same corporate giants he skewers on a nightly basis.

Dobbs' problem with the truth: How many undocumented immigrants are there Lou?

In regards to Dobbs' on again, off again relationship with the truth, he seems to rely on two very familiar tactics used in propaganda dissemination. The first is the use of the "big lie," where one creates a falsehood so large no one would believe anyone would have the audacity to just make it up, and then repeat it until it's accepted as fact. The other is to cherry-pick facts from sources that run contrary to all other available information so long as they support your point of view. In some cases Dobbs does both, as in the case of his much touted 20 million "illegal aliens" living in the US.

While nearly all evidence from the government, academia, and public policy experts estimate the current undocumented population at between 11 and 12 million, Lou likes a 20 million number better …almost twice the accepted estimate…so that's the one he uses.

Tonight, lawmakers and their allies in corporate America have launched their latest attempt to force an amnesty bill for up to 20 million illegal aliens through Congress
Lou Dobbs Tonight, March 22, 2007

A year earlier he was qualifying that number somewhat by saying "By some estimates."
By some estimates as many as 20 million live in the United States right now. Those illegal aliens are, among other things, depressing wages for U.S. citizens and draining local and state and federal budgets of much-needed funds for the education and the healthcare and social services of and for Americans.
Lou Dobbs Tonight,Oct 26,2006

But we must go back another year to see what some estimates really means…it means ONE estimate.

After Dobbs' sidekick, Lisa Sylvester, completed a story on March 21, 2005 about a recently released Pew study showing once again that the undocumented population was somewhere between 11 and 12 million, Dobbs ended the segment by introducing the 20 million number, quoting from a study done by Bears Stearns in the spring of that year that estimated the undocumented population at 20 million.

And we should point out, as you suggest, Lisa, that other estimates range as high as 20 million, most recently a Bear Stearns study showing 20 million illegal aliens in this country
Lou Dobbs Tonight,March 21, 05

That one Bear Sterns study then became the basis for Dobbs' claim about "20 million illegal aliens" for the next two years. In one swoop, he nearly doubled the number of undocumented immigrants in the general debate for millions of his viewers. Over time, with constant repetition, his 20mil number has become an accepted fact and is often quoted as the definitive number by other sources. This, in spite of the fact that all the other evidence points in a different direction. So much is the power of Dobbs' propaganda machine to shape and frame the debate.

Dobbs' problem with the truth: Opposition to "Amnesty"

Another case of Lou's use of the repetitive lie will be quite familiar to any regular viewer…although they may not be aware of it.

Dobbs consistently refers to any plan to legalize the status of the 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants as "amnesty." And any regular viewer will know that "amnesty" goes directly against the wishes of the majority of the American people. ..Dobbs continually tells them so. Congress, according to Dobbs, continually entertains this "insane" idea despite the "wishes of the American people" who need to "send a message to those in Washington", in hopes that they "will finally listen" to the "majority of Americans" who oppose "this utterly preposterous idea."

The only problem …it's just not true. Poll after poll show that Americans favor some sort of plan to legalize those already here who are working and keeping their noses clean. The most recent poll comes from USA Today/ Gallup.

A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken last weekend found that 78% of respondents feel people now in the country illegally should be given a chance at citizenship
USA Today April 18, 2007

And that support has been relatively constant for the last few years. In March of 2006, following the massive immigration marches in many cities, Pew Research found 58% of people supported some path to legalization. In recent polls taken since the 2006 election most show the same general results.

Washington Post/ABC News (April 12 – 15, 2007)
A survey of 1,141 adults, including an oversample of African Americans (MoE ± 3%)
• 62% – Respondents in this poll were asked whether “illegal immigrants who are living and working in the United States now (should be offered a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status),” or should they “be deported back to their native country?” 62% said they should be offered a chance to stay, verses 35% who thought they should be deported.

CNN/Opinion Research (April 10 – 12, 2007)
A survey of 1,218 adults (MoE ± 3)
• 77% – 77% of respondents favored a program that would allow “illegal immigrants already living in the United States for a number of years to stay in this country and apply for U.S. citizenship if they had a job and paid back taxes." 21% opposed such a program.

University of Iowa Poll (March 19 – 31, 2007)
A survey of 1,290 Iowa registered voters (MoE ± 3%)
• 57% – Given four options—1) deport all undocumented immigrants, 2) allow undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. to work for a limited amount of time (a guest worker program), 3) allow undocumented immigrants to become U.S. citizens if they meet certain requirements like learning English and paying back taxes (earned citizenship), or 4) allow undocumented immigrants to become permanent residents with no requirements (amnesty)— 57.2% of Iowa voters state-wide favored earned citizenship. Less than one-quarter—
22.6%—thought that all undocumented immigrants should be deported.
The Field Poll (March 20-31, 2007)
A survey of 570 California registered voters (MoE ± 4.5%)
• 83% – A large majority of Californians (83%) favor the creation of a program that would allow undocumented immigrants “who have been living in the U.S. for a number of years an opportunity to stay in this country and apply for citizenship if they have a job, learned English and paid back taxes.”

New York Times/CBS News Poll (March 7-11, 2007)
A national survey of 1,362 voters (698 Republican voters)
• 59% – A majority of respondents (59%) believe that “illegal immigrants who have lived and worked in the United States for at least two years” should be “given a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status.

Gallup/USA Today (March 2-4, 2007)
A national survey of 1,010 adults (MoE ± 3%)
• 59% – A majority of Americans (59%) believe that the government should “allow illegal immigrants to remain in the United States and become U.S. citizens, but only if they meet certain requirements over a period of time.”
• Less than a quarter (24%) believe the government should “deport all illegal immigrants back
to their home country.”

Pew Research Center For People & The Press (December 16, 2006 – January 9, 2007)
A national survey of 2,007 adults (MoE ± 2.5%)
• 59% – A majority of Americans (59%) continues to favor a proposal to allow undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for several years to gain legal working status and the possibility of future citizenship.
• Opinion on providing a path to citizenship for long-term undocumented immigrants has not changed in the past year; in April 2006, 58% supported this idea.

Quinnipiac University Poll (Nov. 13-19, 2006)
A national survey of 1,623 registered voters (MoE ± 2.4%)
• 65% – A majority of voters (65%) said that they support “creation of a guest worker program that would allow illegal immigrants to register for temporary legal status and employment.”
There is even more support—69%—for offering undocumented immigrants “the ability to
work toward citizenship over a period of several years.”


Are there some polls by other sources that show more support for Dobbs' position?…of course there are. Polling as anyone who follows politics, and particularly issues politics knows is all about framing questions.

The Republican spinmiester, Frank Luntz, recently proved this on a recent episode of Showtimes' "Penn & Teller." He asked the same man-on-the-street two questions. The first was something to the effect of "Should undocumented immigrants receive any free government or social services" …the man answered back vehemently "no". Luntz then asked the same question only this time highlighting specific programs like public education for undocumented children and emergency health care…the man again answered back just as vehemently …but this time just the opposite, saying they should of course receive those services….it's all about the framing.

Dobbs often cherry-picks poll numbers just as cherry-picked his 20mil "illegal alien" number, but in general, it's quite obvious from the majority of the polling that Dobbs' position is quite far from universally accepted by the majority of the American people as he continually claims.

Dobbs' problem with "Exporting America": He Loves the Companies he Hates

While Dobbs' anti-immigration, anti-Mexican rhetoric has garnered him a following with the minuteman and right-wing crowd, it's been his war on globalization, outsourcing, and attacks on those "Exporting America" that have made him a favorite with a new group of "Dobbs Democrats."

Many of these new converts see him giving voice to their concerns about globalization and opposition to free-trade agreements and look to Dobbs as a leader … like he'll be leading the charge at the next WTO demonstration.They also see Dobbs as champion of the working man, a populist standing up to the corporate giants. An O'Rielly for those with some IQ, and a spokesman for the downtrodden everyman.

But what Lou really is, is an Infotainer…one who has carefully crafted a public persona that has the greatest entertainment appeal.

But when he removes his stage make-up at the end of his nightly rant, he returns to the real-life Lou Dobbs, a man who made his name in the world of investments, finance and markets.

As a financial-advisor for hire Lou still retains long list of those willing to shell out nearly $400 to subscribe to his monthly newsletter containing investment recommendations. Each issue of "Lou Dobbs Money Letter" features one highlighted company that Lou encourages his subscribers to invest in.

The picks would be familiar to anyone who watches Lou's show with any regularity. Many are the very same companies he has chastised and listed on his website on the "Exporting America" list of the worst outsourcers of American jobs.

In the March 2004 issue Dobbs told subscribers that lawnmower and landscaping equipment giant Toro
was a "long-term wealth-builder," and praised Toro's "formal code of ethics, something I think is sorely needed at more of America's companies," and its "...exemplary corporate governance structure, which aligns the interests of shareholders, employees, and customers." He concluded his interview with Toro CEO Kendrick Melrose by frankly telling him, "I like the way you treat your shareholders, employees, and customers."

One wonders whether Dobbs' admiration extends to Toro's 2002 decision to move 15% of its workforce -- about 800 jobs -- to Juarez, Mexico. Indeed, CEO Kendrick Melrose might be interested to know that Toro appears on Dobbs' own list of companies that are "exporting America."
Columbia Journalism Review

After starting his private newsletter in 2003, of the first fourteen companies highlighted by Dobbs, eight were on his Exporting America list. Companies such as Boeing, ITT, Office Depot, Washington Mutual, Bank One, all highlighted in his newsletter as excellent investment opportunities…all outsourcing American jobs to various degrees.

When Dobbs features a company in his newsletter, he tends to stand by them, no matter what information subsequently comes to light. In December 2003, Boeing CEO Phil Condit was forced to resign amidst an ethics scandal. Dobbs had interviewed Condit for the newsletter back in June, and wrote at the time: "Boeing ranks Number 35 on Fortune's list of most admired companies. I think Phil has a lot to do with that."

After Condit's resignation, Dobbs ran a "Special Boeing Update" in the December edition of the newsletter, in which he told subscribers: "In the face of adversity, the company is being up-front and honest abut its problems...Boeing has just proven that its priorities are in the right place."

But according to the Communications Workers of America (CWA), Boeing has sent 5000 U.S. jobs overseas in recent years. And Dobbs' assurances that Boeing's priorities are in the right place don't seem to square with his inclusion of the company on the "exporting America" list.
Columbia Journalism Review

And the list goes on. Apparently what's good for Dobbs' well-heeled investors and what's good for the "struggling middle class" don't need to coincide when it comes to Lou's financial advice for hire.

(Dobbs) sees no contradiction in fingering outsourcers with one hand, while recommending the same companies as investment opportunities with the other: "[Y]ou seem to be suggesting that one cannot criticize corporate America without calling for its destruction," he told us. "Or because one believes a company to be well-managed that's its beyond criticism...Surely, you don't believe that your readers or my viewers are incapable of abhorring a business practice, and at the same time acknowledging the success of a corporation?" He makes a distinction, he said, between bad practices and those who practice them.

But Dobbs' newsletter doesn't just "acknowledge" successful corporation. He goes further, painting his featured companies as good corporate citizens -- and encourages readers to invest in them partly on that basis -- without mentioning that they conduct business practices that, by his own admission, he "detests."

Most of Dobbs's CNN viewers don't have access to the information in "Money Letter," his investment guide. So the larger public sees only one Lou Dobbs: the outspoken anti-outsourcing crusader. The other Lou Dobbs is available only for that $398 fee. And that's the Lou Dobbs who doesn't appear to be putting his money where his mouth is.

Columbia Journalism Review

Like a phony preacher selling healing miracles to a tent load of the faithful, or a snake oil salesman promising cures for all that ails you, Dobbs offers up a nightly tonic for the angry and disenfranchised. It matters not that his show is just that...a show, and he is no more than showman. He'll continue to stir the pot of discontent all the way to the bank as he winks and nods at his investor friends and says ...don't worry it's all just an act, don't you know.

After the original article in the CJR was published in July of 2004 it was later highlighted in the WSJ, Dobbs reacted to the WSJ article by saying he would change his newsletter to include mention of highlighted business's offshoring record …but he'd still recommend them

Lou Dobbs: Unfair and Unbalanced at CNN
The Secret Life of Lou Dobbs
Two Faces of Lou Dobbs

tags: , , , ,


Anonymous said...

Lou Dobbs at least brings the truth. Something none of our elected officials have bothered to do. No he can't tell you how many Illegal Aliens are here. No one can and thats sad, this country has laws and citizens are required to follow them unless your an Illegal Alien than there is a seperate set of laws. American's have more faith in Lou Dobbs than the people they elected into office another sad truth. If you as Americans any number of Illegal Aliens in America is more than there should be.

I am an independant voter and would vote in a heart beat for Lou Dobbs.

Can you do better? Do you listen to a majority of Americans and write how they feel? Thought not.

kyledeb said...

Anonymous above,

You are way off. The fact that you can have faith in Lou Dobbs even after his lies have been exposed like that is disconcerting. The fact that he calls out companies on his show and invests in them in back rooms really should make you question your faith in Dobbs. I understand you probably like the viewpoint he expresses on TV, but as Duke has pointed out, that is just a facade for the viewers.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I really enjoyed (in a sick and twisted way) reading his where his hypocritical financial decisions lie...

Anonymous said...

Dobbs, to my knowledge, has never stated or even implied that the Bear Stearns Robert Justich 20 million figure is definitive. If he is so wrong, critique his methodology as inferior to that which produced approximatley 12 million rather than just dismiss his figure out of hand because it doesn't fit your agenda. In the example you cited, did you not notice the two little words 'up to'? Dobbs and his reporters mention your preferred 12 million figure all the time and often point out that no one really knows. Attacking Dobbs on this issue strikes me as nitpicking.

Your litany of polls mostly have one thing in common--the mass deportation straw man. It is true that Americans are against mass deportations for various reasons. Of course, no legislative proposals even call for that. Even the most immigration restrictive presidential candidate, Tom Tancredo, favors gradual 'self-deportation'. So why is 'immediately deport them all!' so often in polls? Could it be because it will result in results which can be spun as pro-amnesty?

Dobbs couldn't possibly believe what he's saying, he's just an entertainer who found a ratings winner is thrown around a lot. I don't consider this mere speculation over someone's motives and not a true argument. On the flip side, I think it's just as unfair to assume Tamar Jacoby has to be a CFR shill who couldn't possibly believe all of their open borders dogma.

In my view, your strongest point is hypocrisy of anti-corporatism on TV while at the same time touting stocks. That is walking an ethical tightrope.

Anonymous said...

It's an insult to the history of American muckraking to include Dobbs sorry ass amongst their ranks. He is more in the Father Coughlin family I would say. Spare the righteous memory and tradition of muckraking!

Anonymous said...

A little on Coughlin, the racist reactionary in populist garb:
Dobbs is his successor.

Anonymous said...

CNN will never curtail the xenophobia and racism pervasive on the Lou Dobbs show until more Americans express our disapproval of Lou Dobb's antics by boycotting Lou Dobb's advertisers!