These small stories of xenophobic Americans are transformed into vivid, storybook illustrations of Dobbs's own worldview. Former senior staffers at Dobbs's show told me the anchor specifically searches for local stories to support his positions. "He approaches stories with a partisan ax to grind," one former employee told me, asking not to be named out of fear of reprisal. "He runs the place as a tin-horn dictator. He's assembled correspondents who feel beholden to him. They are given the line on the story and told how to assemble it in his partisan manner before they're sent out to do the story." (A second former senior Dobbs staffer, who also declined to speak on the record, confirmed the accuracy of this description.)
That's led to blatant distortions of key facts. Dobbs searches high and low for statistics showing the negative impact of immigration on the US economy, and he conveniently leaves out contradictory information. In 2003, for example, a reporter on Dobbs's show announced that the National Academy of Sciences had reported that immigrants cost American taxpayers $20 billion a year. But the group's study actually concluded that immigrants add between $1 billion and $10 billion to the annual US gross domestic product. (Dobbs later debated the point on his show with Peter Hart, from the watchdog group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, who had noted the distortion; Dobbs insisted he was just reading the data differently.)
More recently, Dobbs reported that the much-debated Senate bill would increase immigration by 100 million people over the next twenty years, costing taxpayers some $54 billion, citing a Heritage Foundation report. But Dobbs didn't mention that the report has been attacked by independent analysts as wildly overstating the numbers. In another broadcast he cited the right-wing Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) for the statistic that "the net cost of illegal immigration to our economy, including social services, is now roughly $45 billion annually." Less partisan experts, such as Wayne Cornelius, say that's "grossly inaccurate."
In truth, the evidence is mixed on the impact of illegal immigration on American workers. While there's evidence that large numbers of illegal immigrants exert a slight downward pressure on wages in the lowest-paying industries, it's also clear that the influx of immigrants has expanded the national economy, creating many new jobs. Dobbs is correct that working-class wages have stagnated in recent decades, but most economists blame new technology and the loss of manufacturing jobs, not illegal immigration. As more than 500 independent economists, including five Nobel laureates, declared in an open letter to President Bush and Congress in June, "the gains from immigration outweigh the losses."
Such reasoned analysis and nuance are not Dobbs's forte. Dobbs does invite guests he disagrees with on his show--the better to ramp up the drama. But he quickly derides their arguments, scoffs at their data and interrupts their answers. When Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, tried explaining how making English the official language of the United States could endanger non-English speakers during a crisis, Dobbs ignored the point and commented: "Implicit in what Janet just said is some suggestion that this is not a warm or welcoming country." He dismissed that notion by saying that the United States is "littered with languages [that are] not English."
Not surprisingly, after such treatment, many "guests" have refused to appear on his show a second time. Former employees told me that Dobbs's producers are frequently turned down by reputable experts. One immigration expert I interviewed, who asked not to be named so as to avoid a public feud, said he refused to appear on CNN at all because of Dobbs.
Cornelius was on the show once, but he says he was "hoodwinked" and won't do it again. "The only part of the interview they used was me saying, 'Yes, enforcement has collapsed since the early 1990s, and there's no objective risk of an undocumented immigrant being apprehended at the workplace.' They left out that the reason is primarily because of the economic disruption it would cause. It's not just a matter of incompetence; the costs of enforcing the immigration laws to the economy and society generally are too high." Cornelius had added that strict enforcement wouldn't eliminate illegal employment, just drive it further underground. But that was all edited out, he says. "It made me look as if I were just another soldier in Lou's army."
Angelo Amador, immigration expert for the US Chamber of Commerce, has had similar experiences and now refuses to appear on taped segments. "When it's taped they use what they want to," he says. "After I said no, the producer called me back and said they couldn't get any business groups to go on the show. I wasn't surprised."