Below is an open letter I wrote, last week, to CNN news commentator Lou Dobbs which appeared on The Huffington Post, and the Atlantic Free Press. One of those who read the post, at HuffPo,made an astute, and important observation which is that Lou Dobbs has the courage to take on a difficult subject matter, the 800 lb. gorilla in the room, which no one else wishes to tackle. For this, Mr. Dobbs is to be commended. For his obstinate insistence on sticking to "facts" of his own invention, however, he is entitled only to censure. Indeed, we need to see more, and greater forays into the arena of intelligent, informed discourse on illegal immigration, and soon. We don't need petulance from either side of the debate, but pertinence and, more importantly, accuracy, as well as respect for truth..
My Dear Mr. Dobbs:
Please allow me to begin by saying that I have the utmost respect for you, and think that you're a highly intelligent, and knowledgeable fellow. Any self-made individual holds a special place in my heart, particularly one who attended a prestigious, and demanding school like Harvard.
Having said that, I must express my dismay, and disappointment, at your failure to acknowledge, and take responsibility for, some dubious numbers that you used to assert that illegal immigrants have crossed the border with 7,000 new cases of leprosy just iin the past three years when, in fact, statistics show that the new cases have evolved over thirty years not three. Moreover, there is no hard evidence showing just how many o f those with the disease were illegal immigrants, as you suggested.
At a time when the government is using a program called "Operation Return to Sender" in order to detain illegal immigrants, as well as seeking to deport them in unprecedented numbers, it is flat out irresponsible journalism to foster a climate of hysteria, and fan the flames of the kind of neanderthal ban which recently passed, in a suburb of Dallas, that prohibits landlords from renting to illegals, one that is unconstitutional. Anyone who fans this kind of fire is promoting tabloid journalism, and one unworthy of any major network.
When, during last week's broadcast of "60 Minutes," reporter Lesley Stahl (no relation) called this egregious error to your attention, your response was something considerably less than one might expect from someone literate, and educated, let alone the son of a farmer who managed to go to an ivy league college. You said something like "I'm the managing editor, and if I said the number is accurate, then it is."
Such defensive posturing is strongly reminiscent of the kind of argument that "commander guy," President Bush, is so fond of making, as well as the failed attempt to validate weapons of mass destruction. To suggest that illegal immigrants carry a pernicious, and dreaded disease across the border without solid, and incontravertible evidence is not only irresponsible, it is dangerous for one at the helm of what purports to be a news show. . You recall, I'm sure, the program "Truth or Consequences." One shudders to th ink of what will come from the kind of distortions that are legitimatized by your failure to acknowledge factual error.
While it may fail to deliver, on occasion, journalism aims to tell the truth, and not engage in the kind of sensationalism that may result in high ratings, yes, but will no doubt set a dangerous precedent one in which hysteria rules, and cultural xenophobia is confused with scientific fact.. To refuse to back down when shown that your facts are less than authentic is nothing short of hubris, and thanks to fellows like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, we have enough hubris to last us through the next millenium. So, I, for one, ask that you carefully inspect what you bring to the table, and not add to the ruffage. Everybody makes mistakes. Surely, you don't want, as your legacy, an inability to acknowledge erroneous information, especially when the environment which you're fostering is one in which accurate facts are what distinguish it from the tabloids.
I'm sure your viewers, as well as those who occupy your air time a generation from now, will want to think of you not only as as a self-made man of intellect, but one who has the courage to admit that he made a mistake.