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Fact-Checking Dobbs: CNN Anchor Lou Dobbs Challenged on Immigration Issues

A 2005 report on Lou Dobbs Tonight claimed there had been 7,000 new cases of leprosy in the U.S. over the past three years. In fact, there have been 7,000 cases reported over the past 30 years 


Lou Dobbs, anchor and managing editor of CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight. His latest book is “Independents Day: Awakening the American Spirit.

JUAN GONZALEZ: “CNN anchor Lou Dobbs may be the most important person in the 2008 presidential election aside from the candidates themselves.” That’s the opening line of a recent column by Christopher Gacek on the website Politico. Gacek goes on to write, “The bundle of concerns that Dobbs and his audience have about globalization, trade, diminished American sovereignty and immigration will be ignored by politicians at their own peril.”

As anchorman and managing editor of the show Lou Dobbs Tonight, Dobbs has used his nightly program on CNN to help make immigration one of the most discussed issues of the 2008 campaign. Dobbs describes himself as an independent populist. He titled his latest book Independents Day: Awakening the American Spirit. His previous book was titled War on the Middle Class: How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back.


also has his detractors, especially when it comes to immigration. He has been called the most influential spokesperson for the anti-immigration movement, and he’s been accused of being a fearmonger who vilifies immigrants and promotes xenophobia.

But Lou Dobbs’s message has struck a chord with many viewers. Lou Dobbs Tonight is the second-most-watched program on CNN, and there’s even talk that Dobbs might make a possible run for the White House. Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund reported last month friends of Dobbs say he’s seriously contemplating running for president as an independent.

Lou Dobbs joins us today in our firehouse studio for the hour. Welcome to Democracy Now!

LOU DOBBS: Great to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you running?

LOU DOBBS: Absolutely not. It’s the last thing I could imagine. If I were a candidate, I can assure both of you that I would be the candidate of last resort in this country. That’s about 300 million people in line ahead of me.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you’ve written the book Independents Day. That’s with a “ts” at the end of “Independents.”


AMY GOODMAN: What is the main thesis of this book?

LOU DOBBS: The main thesis is that both political parties—the Republican Party, Democratic Party—have failed the American people, have, rather than held up our central fundamental national values as the standard to which all of our public policies should repair, has submerged them in trivia, wedge issues, and partisan blather and nonsense that is ultimately destructive to the American dream.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think are the most important issues today?

LOU DOBBS: The most important issue in this country today is representation of the American people in Washington, D.C., which is being denied right now by corporate America, special interest, group and identity politics that are submerging the will of the majority in this country. The fundamental tenet of any democracy is representation of the will of the majority, and that is being denied through elitists in both business and government and politics. And we have to fundamentally examine where we are and where we want to be going over the course of this next century. And that is not happening, not in the presidential campaigns of both parties. It’s not happening in Washington, D.C., even though we have a government in which the Democratic Party is leading the Congress, and the Republican Party, the White House.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, Lou, you’ve been well known for years now, especially dealing with the issue of American corporations exporting jobs and criticizing that whole process of exporting American jobs overseas.


JUAN GONZALEZ: And your—but also the criticism of it, that as I’ve seen it as, oftentimes does not deal with the impact so much of what this globalization on those countries themselves. In other words, you criticize NAFTA for sending so many jobs overseas, but not with the impact so much that it’s having on Mexico and on these other countries that are the other end of this free trade.

LOU DOBBS: Juan, that may be because I’m a television journalist, limited in my intellect, as well as my time.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, on this show, we don’t have commercials, so we have a lot of time to get into the issues.

LOU DOBBS: The reality is that, of course, NAFTA is, in my judgment, at least deleterious to the interests of the Mexican people and to the state of Mexico. One only has to look at the empty villages in particularly southern Mexico to examine the impact of the agricultural policies within NAFTA. One only has to look at the maquiladoras across northern Mexico to see the impact on a society that is already 50% impoverished, education levels still where they were thirty years ago in Mexico.

But my perspective is an American one. And I won’t presume to speak for Mexico, as Felipe Calderon does presume to speak to the United States for Americans on American policy. The reality is that NAFTA doesn’t work for this country. It doesn’t work for Mexico.

But I am not one of those people—as Amy was talking about, my detractors. The suggestion I’m anti-immigrant, for example, is absurd. I would support an increase in lawful immigration and have said so repeatedly and have no problem whatsoever with current levels of immigration, which, by the way, are the highest levels of immigration in the world—in fact, more than the rest of the world combined. We bring in more than two million people. But the issue is one that the United States does not have a foreign policy toward Mexico. We’re paternalistic and condescending toward Mexico in our dealings with Mexico, both corporately and politically. And it’s time for that to change.

AMY GOODMAN: In the beginning of the broadcast, we played a clip—


AMY GOODMAN: —of you talking about various concerns that you have around immigrants.


AMY GOODMAN: The last part of that clip—and maybe we can play it again—

LOU DOBBS: Illegal immigrants, if I may, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Illegal immigrants.

LOU DOBBS: Only illegal immigrants.

AMY GOODMAN: Maybe we can play a last part of this clip that we played, just to go through it again. We’ll see if our folks have that clip ready. And this is the clip that we played in the billboard. It’s—

LOU DOBBS: Well, I can recall what was said if it’s at all helpful. I said that according to a study—I didn’t use the attribution, but according to a study that Jorge Borjas at Harvard University had completed, that the cost of excess immigration into this country amounts to $200 billion a year in wages, that the cost of incarceration, medical care, social services approximates $50 billion in this country per year. And the reality is that about a third of the crimes that are of those in state prisons—federal prisons, excuse me, federal prisons, are—I’m sorry.


LOU DOBBS: Are those who are in this country illegally.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s play it.


AMY GOODMAN: And then let’s talk about it.

    LOU DOBBS: Let’s say the number is eleven million, although some studies put the number as high as twenty million illegal aliens in this country. That not only amounts to a shift of six to ten congressional seats among the states based on the population of illegal immigration. The fact is, those illegal aliens are costing our economy $200 billion in depressed wages for working Americans. It is costing $50 billion a year in social and medical costs. And it’s costing us, no one knows precisely how much, to incarcerate what is about a third of our prison population who are illegal aliens.


AMY GOODMAN: So, Lou, you said a third of the prison population are illegal aliens.


AMY GOODMAN: The fact is, it’s something like 6% of prisoners in this country are non-citizens, not even illegal, just non-citizens.


AMY GOODMAN: And then a percentage of that would not be documented.

LOU DOBBS: Well, it’s actually—I think it’s 26% in federal prison.

AMY GOODMAN: But you said of all prisoners.

LOU DOBBS: I said about—yes, but I—and I misspoke, without question. I was referring to federal prisoners.

AMY GOODMAN: But you didn’t say that, and so it leaves people with the impression—

LOU DOBBS: Well, I didn’t, but then I just explained it to you.

AMY GOODMAN: But you have a very large audience on CNN.

LOU DOBBS: I have a very large audience and a very bright audience.

AMY GOODMAN: And you told them that a third of the population of this country are illegal immigrants. 6% , which is under the population of immigrants—

LOU DOBBS: 6% , right.

AMY GOODMAN: —in this country, of prisoners—

LOU DOBBS: In state prisons.

AMY GOODMAN: —are immigrants.

LOU DOBBS: In state prisons. In state prisons.

AMY GOODMAN: No, 6% overall are immigrants. You said 30% are illegal.

LOU DOBBS: Well, I think we’ve established—we could sit here and say this all day, Amy. The fact is, the number is 26% in federal prisons. That’s what I was referring to. I did not—I misspoke when I said “prisons.” I was referring to the federal prisons, because that’s the federal crime: immigration. And that—

AMY GOODMAN: Have you made a correction on your show to say that 30% of—?

LOU DOBBS: I’m sure we have. We’ve reported—absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: We didn’t see it.

LOU DOBBS: Do you know how many reports we’ve done on illegal immigration in this country?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, many.

LOU DOBBS: I mean, my god.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, but I’d like to get into this issue—I mean, aside from the fact that the GAO report—

LOU DOBBS: Excuse me, just one second.


LOU DOBBS: I mean, what if I were to sit here and just hound you because you said I was anti-immigrant, when I am, point of fact, I’m anti-illegal immigrant, and it’s absolutely a matter of fact. We could quarrel over the terminology, if you want. But why should people of good faith and intelligence sit there and be so absurd about it?

JUAN GONZALEZ: No, we agree on that. But this is precisely the lumping of illegal or undocumented immigrants and legal immigrants in one category that’s a problem—


JUAN GONZALEZ: —because, for instance—

LOU DOBBS: Right, I agree with you.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —the total percentage of the non-citizen population of the United States right now is about thirty-five million, 12% of the population.

LOU DOBBS: Do you know this?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, this is Census Bureau—

LOU DOBBS: I was just—I was just—

JUAN GONZALEZ: Wait, wait, Lou. Let me finish. Let me finish, Lou.

LOU DOBBS: I have to say, I was laughing about the NIE, because, as you heard Steve Hadley talk about—

JUAN GONZALEZ: Lou, let me finish.

LOU DOBBS: —high confidence levels in those estimates,—

JUAN GONZALEZ: Right, but let me—

LOU DOBBS: What do you suppose the confidence level is of the United States government in the number of people in this country illegally, the number of people—

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re assuming now—the legal population is pretty well documented, right? But the—

LOU DOBBS: Documented, undocumented.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The legal immigrant population is pretty well documented. It’s about twenty-three million. And then you add maybe another eleven to twelve million of the undocumented population, and you get thirty-five million. The point is—my point is this: if 12% of the non-citizen population of the United States—non-citizens comprise 12% of the population. They comprise 6% of the prison population. That suggests to me that crime rates are far lower among non-citizen immigrants—legal and illegal—than they are among the general population of the United States.

LOU DOBBS: Can I ask you a question?

JUAN GONZALEZ: You have raised the issue of crime—you’ve raised the issue of crime in relationship to immigrants.

LOU DOBBS: Well, silly me, silly me. MS-13, all sorts of gangs. You know, the fact that Mexico is the largest source of methamphetamines, heroin, cocaine, marijuana entering the United States. Silly me for bringing up crack.


LOU DOBBS: But may I ask you a question?

AMY GOODMAN: I think you agree—

LOU DOBBS: May I ask this question—

AMY GOODMAN: I think you would agree—

LOU DOBBS: May I ask this question—

AMY GOODMAN: —that facts matter.

LOU DOBBS: Of course, they do. Absolutely.


LOU DOBBS: I am an empericist to the bone.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, if 6% of prisoners are immigrants—documented and undocumented—and you said 30% of prisoners, a third of the population of prisons in this country, are prisoners, it conveys a very different sense.

LOU DOBBS: Different meaning.

AMY GOODMAN: And as you’ve pointed out—

LOU DOBBS: I agree.

AMY GOODMAN: —you’ve done hundreds of shows on these issues.

LOU DOBBS: More than that. More like thousands.

AMY GOODMAN: And that reinforces the feeling that people have, who watch the show—

LOU DOBBS: So, your point is?

AMY GOODMAN: —either they believe you or—either they don’t believe you, or they believe you and are being fed wrong information.

LOU DOBBS: Well, I don’t—you know, I think it’s important for all of us, because, as you say, I’m—we’re all interested in the facts. So let me ask both of you, please, a question that seeks a fact: Does the United States government and do state governments inquire of their prisoners as to whether they are legal or illegal, and can they under the law? Or are these estimates that we’re talking about?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, if the government doesn’t know, how do you know?

LOU DOBBS: No, that’s as straightforward question.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you know?

LOU DOBBS: Well, because in the federal prisons, they are permitted to make a decision as to whether or not they can ask if they’re citizens or non-citizens, but cannot ask if they’re legal or illegal. So it is, at best, a projection. When Juan says eleven million to twelve million illegal aliens, you and I both know that the Bear Stearns study suggests twenty million people. There is no one in this country today—that’s why I referred to the National Intelligence—

AMY GOODMAN: And the Bear Stearns study has been critiqued over and over again—

LOU DOBBS: By whom?

AMY GOODMAN: —by the top economists.

LOU DOBBS: Oh, come on!

AMY GOODMAN: Bear Stearns study, saying it is wildly exaggerated, that their—

LOU DOBBS: The National Intelligence Estimate is closer probably on Iran today than it is on the makeup of the US population today. I mean, if you want to talk about this nonsense, I mean, that’s what it is.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to break, and we’ll come back.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Lou Dobbs. He is the well-known anchor of CNN Lou Dobbs Tonight and has written a new book called Independents Day. We’ll be back with him in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guest for the hour is Lou Dobbs, well known as the CNN anchor of Lou Dobbs Tonight. In May, the New York Times published a critical article about you, Lou.

LOU DOBBS: [inaudible]

AMY GOODMAN: It was called “Truth, Fiction and Lou Dobbs.” Columnist David Leonhardt wrote, “Mr. Dobbs has a somewhat flexible relationship with reality.” Leonhardt highlighted this profile about you that aired on CBS’s 60 Minutes.

    LESLEY STAHL: One of the issues he tackles relentlessly is illegal immigration. And on that, his critics say his advocacy can get in the way of the facts.

    LOU DOBBS: Tuberculosis, leprosy, malaria?

    LESLEY STAHL: Following a report on illegals carrying diseases into the US, one of the correspondents on his show, Christine Romans, told Dobbs that there had been 7,000 cases of leprosy in the US in the past three years.

    CHRISTINE ROMANS: Leprosy, in this country

    LOU DOBBS: Incredible.

    LESLEY STAHL: We checked that and found a report issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services saying 7,000 is the number of leprosy cases over the last thirty years, not the past three, and nobody knows how many of those cases involve illegal immigrants.

    [interviewing Dobbs] Now, went to try and check that number, 7,000—we can’t. Just so you know—

    LOU DOBBS: I can tell you this: if we reported it, it’s a fact.

    LESLEY STAHL: You can’t tell me that. You did report it—

    LOU DOBBS: No, I just did.

    LESLEY STAHL: How can you guarantee that to me?

    LOU DOBBS: Because I’m the managing editor, and that’s the way we do business. We don’t make up numbers, Lesley, do we?


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