CNN President Jon Klein, Lou Dobbs and the warped world of cable news
“Once these stories get out there, they’re hard to stamp out because our media do such a lousy job of speaking truth to stupid.” – Bill Maher, July 31, 2009, L.A. Times
Ugh. During the recent Lou Dobbs birther dust-up, CNN President Jon Klein confirmed a suspicion I’ve had that the cable news networks have fundamentally debased American journalism (cue laugh track).
King Birther Dobbs
Lou Dobbs should have stuck to business reporting. Instead, Dobbs has fashioned himself after someone more of his era, Father Coughlin. From Coughlin’s Wikipedia article:
He was one of the first political leaders to use radio to reach a mass audience, as more than forty million tuned to his weekly broadcasts during the 1930s. Coughlin used his radio program to promote Franklin D. Roosevelt and his early New Deal proposals, to issue antisemitic commentary, and later to rationalize some of the policies of National Socialist Adolf Hitler and Fascist Benito Mussolini. The broadcasts have been called “a variation of the Fascist agenda applied to American culture”. His chief topics were political and economic rather than religious, with his slogan being Social Justice, first with, and later against, the New Deal.
Dobbs as a modern-day Coughlin was evident with his alarmist xenophobic advocacy journalism on the subject of immigration. Now he enters the fracas as a light of hope for the “Birthers”, recently tying the two issues together to say Obama might be an illegal immigrant:
I’m starting to think we have a document issue. You suppose he’s un — no, I won’t even use the word undocumented, it wouldn’t be right.
The birthers are primarily composed of southern redneck Republicans (the party’s base, and Dobbs’ demographic):
The conspiracy has a regional flavor. Overall, even including Democrats and independents, only 47 percent of respondents in the South said they believed Obama was born in America, with 23 percent saying he was not and 30 percent saying they were unsure. In the Northeast and Midwest, the percentage of respondents who believe Obama was born in the U.S. was over 90 percent.
Ninety-three percent of Democrats say the president was born in the United States, as do 83 percent of independents.
Virtually nobody except for Lou Dobbs and America’s Backwater Republicans gives any serious consideration to the birthers. So why is Lou Dobbs on CNN promoting the tin hat redneck crowd’s most delusional hope to an international audience? Ratings – the only thing that matters in cable news.
After Dobbs first salvo on behalf of the birthers was aired on CNN, he continued giving fuel to the birthers on his radio show by stating that, “Obama should put his birth certificate out there. I’m still looking for validation.”
Important lesson via CNN President Jon Klein
The most important lesson to be learned here has nothing to do with the birthers, and everything to do with how cable news is operating. CNN’s President, Jon Klein, has had to defend Dobbs before, but his recent defense is illuminating:
We have no control over what he says on his radio show. It’s not a CNN radio program so he does what he does on the radio separate from what he does on our air. So we ask you and anyone writing about this, to look at what he says on CNN. It’s the only thing we control.
“It’s the only thing we control” is not correct. You control giving Dobbs a platform. You control what kinds of opinions you judge to be worthy of airing.
The defense Klein raises is problematic for the public interest, something that a news agency is supposed to hold supreme after “truth”. It tells people turning to CNN that the network could care less about the integrity of the people they want you to hear, as long as they do their nasty business off ‘their air’.
Yeah, but…Dobbs did say these things on ‘your air’, Mr. Klein, and continued with them on his radio show.
Lou Dobbs as Father Coughlin is one thing, but the debasement of cable news journalism is more evident at Fox News, where few standards are in place for the pedigrees of their pundits, as I wrote last week:
Whether it be foul-mouthed stalker Rachel Marsden; the scandal-fabricating Aaron Klein; former gay porn star and male escort Matt Sanchez; or the crazy racist Hillary supporter Harriet Christian; the number of bottom-feeders with few journalistic–or personal–ethics who are paraded before us by the mainstream media is startling. It’s not even a left-or-right issue.
With cable news thinking people like this are worth listening to, and people actually listening, there appears to be absolutely no way to fix this breakdown in our national discourse on cable news. When there are no standards for opinion-makers, the quality of Americans’ opinions suffers.
Thanks, Jon Klein, for confirming that your network could care less what your pundits do and say when they are not on ‘your air’. It logically follows that David Duke could have his own show on CNN, as long as he doesn’t talk about white supremacy on ‘your air’.
Or maybe even the white supremacy bit is okay, if you appear on Rachel Maddow.