Lou Dobbs, Harmful Populist

Matt Cooper makes

an interesting point today: none of the presidential candidates in the US has

what you might call populist credentials. John Edwards probably

comes closest, but his rhetoric is still miles away from what one hears from

Lou Dobbs on a daily basis.

I don’t share Cooper’s happiness with Dobbs’s show: I think that he’s a rabble-rouser,

who causes far more harm than good. But at the same time I think the 60 Minutes

where Dobbs was interviewed by Leslie Stahl attacked

entirely the wrong thing: not his opinions, but rather the fact that he has

opinions at all.

He admits he is not a fan of President George W. Bush. "Whether it’s

outsourcing, the war in Iraq, just disregard for our middle class…,"

Dobbs says.

"I’m sitting here saying to myself, ‘This man runs a news show? …

And you can just tell me you don’t like the president. Woo," Stahl


"I, matter of fact, insist that the audience know where I come from,"

Dobbs says.

"What about fair and balanced?" Stahl asks.

"I’ve never, Lesley, found the truth to be fair and balanced. I’ve

found it to be…," Dobbs remarks.

"But, that’s, but wait, what’s the definition of ‘journalism?’

That that’s in there. That has to be part of what a journalist is, is

fair and balanced," Stahl remarks.

"I truly believe there’s a non-partisan, independent reality,"

Dobbs says.

"But, it’s your reality," Stahl remarks.

"It is my reality," Dobbs acknowledges.

"But, it’s not ‘the’ reality," Stahl says.

"Well, how so?" Dobbs says.

Dobbs scoffs at suggestions that his "advocacy" tarnishes his credentials

as a journalist. "The idea that a reporter should be disqualified because

he or she actually cares, actually isn’t neutral about the well-being of the

country and its people, that’s absurd," he says.

Dobbs clearly wins this fight. Journalists, believe it or not, actually do

have opinions. And one of the most corrosive forces in US journalism is the

idea that journalists should always report "both sides of the story",

even when one side is true and the other side is false. That’s the way that

things like the Swift Boat attack ads get currency: journalists feel that they

have to find someone to defend them if they’re also quoting someone attacking

them. And heaven forfend that they should actually attack the ads themselves,

rather than finding a mouthpiece to do the attacking for them.

Brad DeLong has a great piece up on this subject at Project

Syndicate. The US press, falling over itself to be "fair" to the

Bush Administration, ended up giving it a pass for the first five years. A bit

more attitude, and a bit less "objectivity", would have gone a very

long way. Dobbs is right that there is a non-partisan, independent reality,

and that it is the job of journalists to report it. It’s just a pity that Lou

Dobbs is one of the few journalists to think that way, given that he is more

than a little nutty. The best way to deal with Lou Dobbs is not to attack his

right to broadcast forthright journalism. It’s to ensure that many other forthright

journalists join him on the airwaves.

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