The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Media Matters Report Further Debunks Dobbsian Myths

By David Holthouse on May 30, 2008 - 2:41 pm, Posted in Anti-Immigrant, Media Extremism

Undocumented immigrants:

  • Commit a disproportionate number of crimes throughout the country.
  • Rely heavily on taxpayer-funded services while paying no taxes themselves.
  • Bring to America rare and nasty diseases, such as leprosy.

Sound familiar?

That could be because you’ve heard it all before on cable news, where derogatory myths about immigrants are regularly presented as fact.

Last summer the Intelligence Report revealed that several major cable news hosts, most notably CNN’s Lou Dobbs, were broadcasting discredited information as part of their ratings-grabbing anti-immigration polemics, in some cases relaying falsehoods that originated with white supremacists.

Now, a new report from the Media Matters Action Network further debunks the most pernicious of these rumors with statistics from respected sources, and offers a blistering criticism of three cable programs whose hosts — Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs — never seem to tire of blaming illegal immigrants for various societal ills or demonstrating a reckless disregard for the truth.

“When it comes to this issue [of anti-immigrant rhetoric], cable news overflows not just with vitriol, but also with a series of myths that feed viewers’ resentment and fears, seemingly geared toward creating anti-immigrant hysteria,” states the introduction to Fear & Loathing in Prime Time.

The 21-page report, which was released May 23, goes on to quantify just how often O’Reilly, Beck and Dobbs rail against undocumented immigrants: “Dobbs is the one most obsessed with the topic; indeed, instead of Lou Dobbs Tonight, his program might be more properly called Lou Dobbs Crusades Against Illegal Immigration Tonight. Fully 70 percent of the 2007 episodes of Lou Dobbs Tonight contained discussion of illegal immigration. The O’Reilly Factor is not far behind; 56 percent of 2007 episodes discussed illegal immigration. And though Glenn Beck was less consumed with the issue (28 percent of his 2007 programs discussed it), his show is the one on which viewers often find the most inflammatory claims.”

The most widespread damaging misperceptions, spouted as gospel by these commentators, are that undocumented immigrants are responsible for a “crime wave,” and that they drain government coffers by consuming social services without paying taxes.

The Media Matters report points out that both these assertions are untrue. Citing a Harvard study, Justice Department statistics, and a study from the Public Policy Institute of California, the report concludes that “there is no evidence to indicate that undocumented immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than American citizens; indeed, the evidence strongly suggests that immigrants in general are less likely to commit crimes.”

Another anti-immigrant myth that refuses to die, even though it was thoroughly debunked by the Intelligence Report last year, is one that blames Mexican and Central American immigrants for a supposed dramatic upsurge in leprosy. The Media Matters report highlights the repeated assertion on Lou Dobbs Tonight that 7,000 cases of leprosy were documented in the United States between 2002 and 2004. In fact, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), there were only 398 cases of leprosy recorded during that period.

Fear & Loathing in Prime Time also shows up urban legends that falsely claim plans are afoot to build a “NAFTA superhighway,” to merge Mexico, the United States and Canada into the “North American Union,” or to re-conquer parts of the Southwest for Mexico, falsehoods the Intelligence Report first examined and countered last summer.

In defending his show’s ridiculous leprosy story, Lou Dobbs infamously assured 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl that, “If we reported it, it’s a fact.” But as Fear & Loathing in Prime Time makes all the more clear, when it comes to the national immigration debate, facts are secondary to ideology where Dobbs and company are concerned.

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  • RB

    Should be obvious by now what’s really behind the push to rid this country of “undocumented” workers. Racism and scapegoating. Racial and cultural profiling make it easier to label and isolate undesirable “others” – after all, they often look and sound different. Scapegoating is a huge factor because it removes the focus from real issues such as an unpredictable economy, and a social structure on the verge of collapse. What better way to unify a nation then to dump all the blame on the group that is least likely to defend themselves? Hey, it worked for Hitler…

    As the pages of history turn, the races, countries of origin, and national backdrops may change, but the negative aspects of human nature remains the exactly same. Prideful, arrogant, hateful, and willfully ignorant (my mind is already made up, so don’t confuse me with the facts!).

    Each wave of immigration has generated yet another wave of hatred and intolerance. The Irish, Chinese, Italians, Poles, Jews, and so on. Lazy! Criminals! Barbaric! Dirty and rife with disease! Even cartoons such as the one (c. late 19th century) that compared the Irish to apes. Most immigrants have been forced to endure unjust comparisons and dehumanizing generalizations. Why? The myth of Anglo superiority started the ball rolling, then as immigrants gradually became Americanized new immigrants became convenient targets – a way for former targets to feel more like accepted members of society.

    Those in favor of tougher legislation this time around argue that immigrants from bygone eras were a cut above because they came here legally. What they aren’t taking into consideration is the fact that immigration laws have changed drastically since many of our grandparents, or great grandparents came here in search of a better life. My grandmother worked 14 hour days in a sweat shop and never complained because at least she had a job, a place to live, and food to eat. Both of my grandparents worked very hard at jobs that most naturalized Americans didn’t want (sound familiar?) and never became U.S. citizens. They lived here legally up until they died (60+ years later) and no one questioned their status. They came here to work, and that’s all that mattered back then.

    I am not so naive as to be unaware that different regions of the country are facing unique problems in this regard. It’s true that some may be entering this country illegally for the wrong reasons, but where I live this is most definitely not the case. There has been a long standing relationship between fruit growers, local agricultural concerns, industry, and the seasonal workers. Many workers have settled here, and purchased homes or businesses (so let’s finally lose the “they’re only coming here to collect welfare myth”). It is evident, to any who are willing to look past the prejudice, that our Hispanic neighbors have made a substantial contribution to this community. I often see Moms and Dads walking their well-groomed and obviously well-cared for children around the neighborhood – more often than many of my white neighbors. Why is that? The immigrants who have come here to work are typically from rural areas and have strong family values. If any of you could see what I’ve seen, it would (or should) put many Americans to shame.

    Some of the arguments seem extremely silly, especially that Mexicans are taking jobs away from American workers. How many American workers are eager to make a career of picking and processing the food we eat? How many are willing to spend ten hour shifts packing salads in a cold room, or standing ankle deep in turkey guts and blood? Let’s face the truth – most Americans, even the poorest, are spoiled. Such would rather collect food stamps, and then curse the very people who’ve labored long and hard to bring the produce to market. Ironic or ridiculously hypocritical? Wake up America, we’ve become absurd in our prejudices and assumptions. So eager to cut of the laboring hands that have been feeding us all these years.

    No one should enter the country illegally, but why do we have to make it next to impossible for people to come here to work? How many years would any of us want to wait if our families were hungry? If any still insist that such must forever remain on their side of the border, then why not offer to support rural development and sustainable agriculture projects in Mexico? After all, doesn’t it make sense to tackle some of the problems behind the desperate rush to cross the border illegally? When the needs are finally satisfied, we Americans will be free to pick our own fruit and vegetables, and gut our own turkeys.

  • Natavists Equals Neanderthals

    Being a Natavists is more like having a social disease, which plaques mostly Caucasians of the Neo-Con middle and lower class. Usually in rural and small towns USA where the epidemic has struck the most. Remember what Obama said?? He said something like this–“instead they become bitter by clinging to their guns and faith” quote/unquote. And this disease is called Xenophobia, usually combined with elements that comes with that terriritory such as Bigotry, Racism, and Hate. Lou Dobbs fits this criteria and should seek help and training rather than going on the air to regurgitate all kinds of demonizing filth when it comes to Hispanic Americans and Legal Immigrants. I don’t really understand why anyone in their own right mind would actually believe in such hogwash that Lou Dobbs says about the Hispanic peopke. People need to remember that Lou Dobbs has married a Hispanic woman. Because the way I see it, the vile things he says about Hispanics in general whether they’re legal or illegal, that means he’s also mocking and insulting his own wife. Only in coded terms though as if he’s only speaking about illegal immigrants but truth is, he’s speaking about the Hispanic people in general. Very sad situation for him.

    So when it comes down to being a “Natavists”. There is absolutely nothing patriotic about it, but instead there is barbaric savagery, fear, and hatred of Hispanic Americans. Its just another term of a modern day hatemonger. A redneck whose appearances are often times disgusting and loathsome more like a Neanderthal.

  • Dave Anderson

    There are numerous ways in which to word or structure a simple statement. Most will sound similar but many people will not hear the difference.

    For example a typical statement might be:

    “Illegal immigrants, I believe, are taking jobs away from Americans, and that’s the truth!”

    Now, what was said? Thrown into the fast patter of hate-radio or hate-TV, one heard the speaker say it was the truth that illegal immigrants werr taking jobs from Americans. But what was actually said was it was a fact that the speaker believed it. I’ve heard O’Reilly do this several times.

    Purposefully misleading.

    El Gringote

  • IludiumPhosdex

    Stan Freberg had this rather worthwhile idea when dealing with minorities on his radio show 51 years ago this summer.

  • 88`s Jeno-side

    So in other words, I assume that also means, that any talk show host such as Lou Dobbs, who obviously cannot seem to tell the truth to the American audience, then he must be an idiot.
    If they can’t speak the truth, then they make s**t up to keep the loathing Natavists entertained. Evidently Lou Dobbs knows very well, that if he actually did spoke the truth, chances are, that it wil hurt him and his ratings as a legit news source.

  • Armenian Genocide

    Thank you for this informative article.

  • Rural Potter

    I am competely baffled as to why people believe what they see from cable news. I am not sure if people know it, but cable news is not legally required to follow the standards that are legally set for the three networks. This is why we see blatant lies from the cable guys, but the networks feel abliged to report the slightest error. It is the law. I suggest that we lobby for laws to require that “news” shows to either be held to high standards of known “truthfullness” that the networks are required to do OR to require them to advertise the truth of what they are; an entertainment show pretending to be news. I believe that this is important, because it is important to have a populace that has access to a free press that is honest about what it is.
    Editorials are an inportant part of our discourse, but it should not be allowed to take the place of news journalism.

    Interestingly, the two fake news shows that admit that is what they are (The Daily Show and The Colbert Report) are more truthful than these cable shows who pretend that they are the REAL news.

  • White Owl

    I guess some people are really afraid of the truth. And many of them belong to the estreme right.
    Only the weak-minded will fall prey to that Lou Dobbs reports. Because what truly lurks behind that sissy looking Janus faced talk show host is pure sinister evil. I know looks can be decieving, but there’s nothing more decieving than false reporting such as CNN`s Lou Dobbs. That’s why more Americans get their political news from MSNBC.

  • M

    Mary, what exactly are they twisting? They just did a point by point refutation of Dobbs. I noticed when Dobbs talks about his critics, he tends to ‘shoot the messenger’ rather than actually cite evidence other than the one that has been debunked.

  • 88`s Jeno-side

    Again here’s another “reason” why Lou Dobbs` reporting is a travesty.
    According to this link which is unbiased yet, accurate states that “Illegal aliens are {indeed} paying a lot more taxes than you think.”–
    Which was reported in 2006.
    But today, where states such as mine(AZ) has some of the most toughest anti-illegal immigrations bills ever passed nationwide before other states followed our lead. Its twice as more difficult for illegal aliens to make a living in my state. But documented workers here on visas pay more in taxes and receive less governmental benifits(due to the latest laws) than the Natavists.
    The Natavists on the otherhand and yes–many of them are unemployed(which is why you see them protesting Macehaulli workcenter everyday or at other locations where legal labor workers gather) DO NOT pay much taxes but drain the system such as FS, Medicare, Cash Assistance Programs etc. Many of them are becoming criminals because they refused to go back to work or take up jobs where the illegals left off.
    Its a shame and I’m proud not to be a Natavists but an American.

  • Carl B

    “The 21-page report, which was released May 23, goes on to quantify just how often O’Reilly, Beck and Dobbs rail against undocumented immigrants: ”

    Oreilly WAS on the SPLC support wagon, but has since joined others in condemning them as biased and far left, after hit pieces like this one maligned him for simply reporting the facts.

    At this rate, the only cable networks SPLC will have that will even tolerate them is MSNBC, and their ratings are so low they can hardly draw enough sponsors to stay up and running.

    CNN and FOX have been alienated by SPLC hate rhetoric.

  • 88`s Jeno-side

    Lou Dobbs is by far, the worst of all 3 amigos. As a matter of fact, he’s worst than any other media news cable outlet currently on air. I give that nut-job a BIG CERO!! That’s zero to you en espenol!! (Sorry I’m not Hispanic)

    Fortunately for all us true Americans sided with Freedom, are grateful for the very fact, that good ol Louie is not running for the President of the U.S. According to ALIPAC. To say, if that were to happened, then we`re all doomed for a bloody end as a Nation.

    Moreover, only those dentally challenged natavists will lap up everything Lou Dobbs burps out. Because the way I see it, this lousy talk show host is a complete sham!!
    Despite his facts, which are none other than myths and HORSE MANURE–thats right–horse manure!! We know better than not to believe him as a Freedom loving American like myself.

    But the good news is, his ratings is beginning to fall, just like a Fee Fie Foe Fum Giant in a fairy tale, telling those masses of retrograded Neo-ConservaTARDS his bedtime stories.
    Everything he spits out is hogwash!!

  • Mary Warren

    I watch Lou Dobbs every evening I believe you are not sticking to the facts. You are twisting things around to make your point. I expected better from this organization. I guess everyone has their agenda. Please try to be objective; I for one will be more skeptical of anything you say.