Media Matters Report Further Debunks Dobbsian Myths

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.