UPDATE 2:30 PM, July 25 MSNBC president Phil Griffin called the claim that President Obama is a foreigner, which has received significant media coverage over the last few days, "racist." From the NY Times:
"It's racist," said Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC. "It's racist. Just call it for what it is."
Mr. Griffin said the cable news coverage was set off by two back-to-back events: the introduction of a bill that would require presidential candidates to provide a copy of their original birth certificate (it has nine co-sponsors in the House and one in the Senate) and the video of a town hall held by a Republican Congressman that turned into a hearing on Mr. Obama's citizenship.
The Lou Dobbs "Birthers" saga continues.
This morning, the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a major civil rights group, wrote a letter calling on CNN President Jon Klein to remove CNN host Lou Dobbs from the air. The request stems from a segment on Dobbs' radio show this past Tuesday where Dobbs did his part to keep alive the conspiracy theory that President Obama is not an American citizen (AKA the "birther" theory). On air, he speculated: "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."
Here is the letter sent by SPLC president Richard Cohen to CNN's Klein:
Dear Mr. Klein,
As an important and respected news organization, CNN has a special responsibility to ensure the accuracy of its reporting. We have written to you before about our concern that Lou Dobbs repeatedly fails to live up to this standard in his reporting on immigration. Now, Mr. Dobbs is again trading in falsehoods and racist conspiracy theories, questioning President Obama's American citizenship.
On the July 15 edition of "Lou Dobbs Tonight," Mr. Dobbs questioned the official certificate provided by the president and the State of Hawaii and complained that President Obama has not made public the "original document." On his radio program, Mr. Dobbs has repeatedly questioned the president's fitness for office, demanding he "show the documents" and, at one point, jokingly suggesting President Obama may be "undocumented."
The truth about the president's birth is not in dispute. It has been verified by Factcheck.org, among many other serious news organizations, and his official birth documents have been made public. CNN itself has repeatedly reported on the falsity of the claims of the "birthers," and the network's esteemed legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, recently called those claims "a joke." As you know, even Mr. Dobbs' frequent fill-in anchor, Kitty Pilgrim, debunked the birthers on the July 17 edition of Mr. Dobbs' own CNN show. The fact that Mr. Dobbs suggests otherwise on CNN -- while real CNN reporters tell the truth -- is both deplorable and an embarrassment to all serious journalists.
As he has in several other instances, Mr. Dobbs, in taking up the birthers' claims, is adopting an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that originated on the radical racist right. As Gawker.com has reported, this particular conspiracy theory was first developed by an open anti-Semite and circulated by right-wing extremists who cannot accept the fact that a black man has been elected president of the United States. Among its adherents was neo-Nazi James von Brunn, the alleged murderer of a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., this June. Von Brunn had helped spread the birthers' claims on the Internet and attacked the "dishonest & conspiratorial Media" for not taking them up.
This is not the first time Mr. Dobbs has pushed racist conspiracy theories or defamatory falsehoods about immigrants. We wrote you in 2007 to bring to your attention his utterly false claim that 7,000 new cases of leprosy had appeared in the United States in a recent three-year period, due at least in part to immigrants. (The real number, according to official statistics, was about 400. Mr. Dobbs took his spurious information from the late right-wing extremist, Madeleine Cosman.) In addition, Mr. Dobbs has reported as fact the so-called Aztlan conspiracy, which claims that undocumented Mexican immigrants are part of a plot to "reconquer" the American Southwest. He has suggested there is something to a related conspiracy theory that claims the governments of Mexico, the United States and Canada are secretly planning to merge into the "North American Union." He has falsely claimed that "illegal aliens" fill one third of American prison and jail cells. And Mr. Dobbs has routinely disparaged, on CNN's air, those who have had the integrity to point out the falsity of these and similar claims.
Respectable news organizations should not employ reporters willing to peddle racist conspiracy theories and false propaganda. It's time for CNN to remove Mr. Dobbs from the airwaves.
J. Richard Cohen
The SPLC isn't the first group to have demanded the removal of Dobbs. Yesterday, the progressive watchdog group Media Matters blasted out a press release to reporters charging that "CNN has a very serious Lou Dobbs problem."
And it seemed as though the message was starting to sink in. TVNewser reported today that Jon Klein sent a memo to a group of Dobbs' staffers explaining in no uncertain terms that the whole "birthers" story is "dead."
In part, Klein writes, "It seems this story is dead- because anyone who still is not convinced doesn't really have a legitimate beef." Klein asked CNN researchers to dig into the question of why Obama couldn't produce the original birth certificate. The researchers contacted the Hawaii Health Dept. and confirmed that paper documents were discarded in 2001 when the department went paperless. That reportedly includes Pres. Obama's original birth certificate.
However, in an interview with Greg Sargent this afternoon, Klein backtracked and brushed off the criticism. "Look, Lou's his own show, and CNN in general has repeatedly and thoroughly reported on the facts behind this situation."
He also took a dig at his critics, suggesting that they were politically motivated.
Asked if CNN is concerned that Dobbs' repeated granting of airtime to theories the network has conclusively debunked amounts to overkill and could harm CNN's credibility, Klein brushed off the possibility. "We respect our viewers enough to present them the facts and let them make up their own minds," he said, adding that what Dobbs does is "his editorial decision to make."
Read the full interview here.