Back in the late 1970s, the news director at KING5 News asked me to mentor a new street reporter. There wasn’t a lot of mentoring to do. The new kid came in knowing more about reporting than we expected from someone sporting a big hat and cowboy boots.
He was a ranch kid from Idaho, Lou Dobbs explained, who’d been lucky enough to go to Harvard and study economics. He didn’t take much to street reporting, but before long KING-5 made Dobbs the station’s business reporter. He was good at it, never mind a discomforting reverence for the wisdom of bankers, brokers and oil company execs.
In 1980 Dobbs was one of Ted Turner’s first and best hires for an outfit in Atlanta called Cable News Network. In more than 30 years with CNN, Dobbs became rich and famous as the media’s fiercest critic of illegal immigration. His flammable rhetoric on the subject may be what cost him his job in 2009; CNN said only that his contract was cancelled.
Dobbs was all over television Thursday, angry and eloquent and declaring, “I have done nothing illegal,” repeating the phrase and repeating it, as though someone had accused him of doing something illegal. What they’ve accused him of — "The Nation" magazine and MSNBC’s Larry O’Donnell, among others — is hypocrisy. A problem if you’re pondering a race for the U.S. Senate or the White House, as Dobbs appears to be.
It’s the immigration thing. Day after day, year after year, Dobbs has demanded that the federal government close the nation’s borders to illegal immigrants and crack down on employers who hire them. In 2006, Nation Magazine points out, Dobbs proposed that “illegal employers who hire illegal aliens be charged with a felony.”
The magazine's Isabel MacDonald spent a year talking to landscape gardeners and stable hands who worked on Dobbs’ 300-acre New Jersey horse farm, and who told her they were in the country illegally. Print, broadcast, and internet media all over the country have picked up the story from Thursday’s edition of the magazine. The flap comes just ahead of Dobbs’ scheduled speech at a Tea Party convention in Richmond, Virginia.
Dobbs went on MSNBC Thursday for a long and loud dispute with MacDonald and O’Donnell. You can watch the video here. They never laid a glove on him. While MacDonald’s research makes a good magazine read, she lacks the experience and muscle for the sport of television shouting. O’Donnell has the combative chops for it, but relied on MacDonald for material.
Dobbs asserted in a how-dare-you tone that he has never hired an illegal immigrant and that no company he owns has ever hired an illegal immigrant. If any were hired, he insisted, it was done by contractors who were hired by his contractors, and he couldn’t have been expected to know about it.
On skill and volume, I would give this round to Dobbs, but there seems likely to be more to come. The news business and its consumers love exposing someone who condemns in public what he or she practices in private. (See Meg Whitman, candidate for governor of Californi
Can’t help but think Lou could have avoided all this in a way that would have been no sweat for the Idaho ranch kid, but is probably out of the question for a multi-millionaire celebrity on a 300-acre horse farm in Sussex County, New Jersey; he could have cut his own lawn and hauled his own horse manure.