Conflicting reports about a bullet that hit the top of Lou Dobbs' house in Sussex, New Jersey, are raising new and serious questions about the credibility of Lou Dobbs, CNN and its President, Jon Klein. Reports in the New York Post and here on the Huffington Post now indicate that the bullet was likely a hunter's errant shot. Yet Dobbs and CNN have rushed onto the airwaves, treating the incident as a de-facto murder attempt against the news host and his wife.
During Monday"s broadcast on his radio show, Dobbs declared in the most urgent tone that "Three weeks ago this morning a shot was fired at my house," and that the shots "followed weeks and weeks of threatening phone calls." Dobbs went on to link the alleged attack to a vast Latino conspiracy made up of Fox News' Geraldo Rivera, LULAC, the National Council of La Raza and other "ethnocentric interest groups," groups that he says are "creating an atmosphere" that led to the alleged phone threats and supposed attack.
Spreading conspiracy theories about immigrants and Latinos is, of course, nothing new to Dobbs. With minimal evidence and maximum bluster, he insinuates that his serious critics -- none of whom endorse violence of any sort -- are somehow linked to a supposedly violent attack on his home. Sadly, such a leap is all too believable to some, like one irate Twitterer who commented "Looks like the Mexican hate groups shooting up Lou Dobbs home" or another who added "Better watch them America. These people are out of control."
To anyone familiar with the growing chorus of religious leaders, national organizations, community groups, Latinos and others demanding CNN cancel Dobbs' show, the timing of Dobbs' announcement is, at best, suspect. Last week, to coincide with the launch of CNN's "Latino in America" series, Latino groups held events across the country demanding the end of Dobb's program on CNN, attracting considerable national press, including an article in the New York Times. Then, on the following Monday, just days before MSNBC was scheduled to air an ad critical of him and CNN (an ad CNN refused to air), Dobbs suddenly unveils that his house has been fired on 3 weeks ago, and that his critics are somehow linked to the incident.
At this point, we expect this kind of faulty reporting from Dobbs. His show has increasingly given space to conspiracy theories--like the so-called "Birthers"story--and he has never been one to let facts get in the way of a good argument. But some of the most disturbing questions about the incident are about how CNN and Jon Klein are dealing with it.
Yesterday, Wolf Blitzer helped fan the Twitter fire with a much re-tweeted post: "Shocking news about a gun shot at Lou Dobbs' home in NJ -- while his wife was there. She is OK but a police investigation continues." Blitzer then had Dobbs on The Situation Room, where Dobbs told a "shocked" Blitzer that the alleged threatening phone calls-were "tied to the positions I've taken on illegal immigration." Rather than play the role of serious journalist by asking Dobbs how he links an incident the New Jersey State Police considers not "unusual" to alleged death threats caused by his positions on immigration issues, Blitzer simply let pass these assumptions without question and declared, "I hope they find out who's responsible for this."
By allowing Dobbs to use the incident to continue and expand his attacks on his critics without corroboration from New Jersey police or gaming authorities that the gunfire was anything more than a stray hunting bullet, Dobbs, Klein and CNN are taking potentially dangerous deviation from journalistic norms for "the most trusted name in news."
The move is especially concerning given that the struggling network is being forced by popular demand to reconsider their commitment to someone who has regularly dragged its journalistic credibility into the mud, as Dobbs has for many years. Viewed from this perspective, Klein and CNN's uncritical and unprofessional response to the alleged gunfire incident appears to indicate that it is closing ranks behind Dobbs, whose questionable behavior often brings it ratings and dollars--and angry viewers ready to join the prime time host in his war on immigrants and Latinos.
It's time for CNN and Jon Klein to take a hard look in the mirror. That they should fire Lou Dobbs is, at this point, without question. But CNN now has to manage the fallout from this latest journalistic black eye, or risk further damaging their credibility.
In the event that the NJSP and other law enforcement officials alter course and turn the incident into an investigation of an assassination attempt, Dobbs and CNN must cease and desist from making links between the incident and immigration issues. Those links should first be made by law enforcement, not Dobbs or CNN. But, if it turns out that the incident was but another from among the many hunting accidents in the exclusive area in Sussex County, then Wolf Blitzer should retract his reporting, and other CNN shows should cover the confusion to make sure the public is aware of the truth. CNN viewers deserve better than what they are getting. And if Jon Klein can't deliver a network with real news, maybe it's time for him to step aside too.