In April 2005, CNN’s Lou Dobbs aired a report by CNN correspondent Christine Romans about how the “invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health of many Americans.” Romans claimed, “There were about 900 cases of leprosy for 40 years. There have been 7,000 in the past three years.” Dobbs responded, “Incredible.”
CBS later found that there had actually been 7,000 cases in the past 30 years, and “nobody knows how many of those cases involve illegal immigrants.” When 60 Minutes host Lesley Stahl confronted him on this error, Dobbs simply replied, “If we reported it, it’s a fact.” Watch it:
Barely 24 hours after 60 Minutes exposed his leprosy figures as inaccurate, Dobbs reiterated his support for Romans’s report saying, “We don’t make up numbers, I stand 100 percent behind what you said” and invited her to report the freshly-debunked figures once more.
The New York Times found, however, that Dobbs’s reporting is still not based on facts. The Director of the National Hansen’s Disease Program, James Krahenbuhl, verified the 60 Minutes report:
The official leprosy statistics do show about 7,000 diagnosed cases — but that’s over the last 30 years, not the last three. [...]
“It is not a public health problem — that’s the bottom line,” Mr. Krahenbuhl told me. “You’ve got a country of 300 million people. This is not something for the public to get alarmed about.“
UPDATE: On Friday, the Southern Poverty Law Center will be hosting a live webchat about this controversy.
STAHL: Well, here’s what they say about you. That you distort the figures, that you exaggerate, and you aim to inflame just to get ratings.
DOBBS: Oh, really?
STAHL: Yes, really.
DOBBS: That’s fascinating, because what I can’t understand is why other journalists would not take on the issues of free trade, illegal immigration, outsourcing, all of these rather sexy topics… (CROSSTALK)
STAHL: I’ll tell — I’ll tell you why.
DOBBS: … which I’ve been covering for years.
STAHL: Reporters don’t take on issues, reporters report issues, and there’s a big difference there.
Do you think you’re a journalist?
DOBBS: Absolutely. I may be an advocacy journalist, but I’m a journalist.
STAHL (voice-over): 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.
DOBBS: Tuberculosis, leprosy, malaria?
STAHL: Following a report on illegals carrying diseases into the U.S., one of the correspondents on his show, Christine Romans, told Dobbs that there have been 7,000 cases of leprosy in the U.S. in the past three years.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Leprosy. In this country.
STAHL: We checked that and found a report issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, saying 7,000 is the number of leprosy cases over the last 30 years, not the past three. And nobody knows how many of those cases involve illegal immigrants.
(on camera): Now we went to try and check that number — 7,000. We can’t.
DOBBS: Well, I can tell you this. If we reported it, it’s a fact.
STAHL: You can’t tell me that. You did report it.
DOBBS: Well no, I just did.
STAHL: How can you guarantee that to me?
DOBBS: Because I’m the managing editor. And that’s the way we do business. We don’t make up numbers, Lesley, do we?
STAHL: I’m sitting here saying to myself, this man runs a news show?
L. DOBBS: I do.
STAHL: And you can just tell me you don’t like the president. Whoo.
L. DOBBS: I, matter of fact, insist that the audience know where I come from.
STAHL: What about fair and balanced?
L. DOBBS: I’ve never, Lesley, found the truth to be fair and balanced. I’ve found it to be…
STAHL: But, that’s — but wait, what’s the definition of journalism? That — that’s in there. That has to be part of what a journalist is, is fair and balanced.
L. DOBBS: I truly believe there’s a non-partisan independent reality…
STAHL: But it’s your reality.
L. DOBBS: It is my reality.
STAHL: But it’s not the reality.
L. DOBBS: Well, how so?