Meet Jon Klein, Lou Dobbs’ Apologist-In-Chief

News Analysis
By Brian Frederick

If it wasn’t already dead, media accountability died this week.

While last week was about Lou Dobbs’ ridiculous refusal to relent on his promotion of conspiracy theories about President Obama’s birth certificate, this week was about CNN President Jon Klein’s ridiculous refusal to salvage his network’s credibility by reining in Dobbs. As Dobbs continues to destroy his career and drag down CNN with him, Klein has shamelessly tried to downplay Dobbs’ behavior and falsely suggest Dobbs is only reporting on the “phenomenon” of those who question Obama’s citizenship.

In fact, Dobbs has said he has questions about Obama’s birth certificate. That makes him part of the very “phenomenon” that Klein claims is the subject of Dobbs’ “reporting.”

Further, Klein absurdly told TV reporters on Tuesday that what Dobbs says on his radio show is “separate and apart” from what he says on CNN. As though Dobbs hasn’t questioned Obama’s birth certificate on CNN. And never mind that Dobbs promotes his radio show on CNN and vice versa, and that Dobbs’ CNN colleagues regularly appear on his radio show.

Indeed, Klein’s claim that what Dobbs “turns around and does on his radio show is not within our purview” is laughable.

Klein wants you to believe he can’t control what Dobbs says on his radio show. Really, it seems Klein either can’t — or chooses not to — control Dobbs.

Bernie Goldberg paid Klein — whom Goldberg said he “know[s] very well” — no favors when he spokecandidly about Klein’s motivations: “If Lou Dobbs talked about this every day of the week and ratings went up, Jon wouldn’t have a problem with that.”

While Dobbs’ ratings were already on the decline even before he waded into the birther business, they have reportedly dropped by 15 percent in the last two weeks and 27 percent in the 25-54 demographic.

(Dobbs has no doubt also driven away viewers with his fearmongering on two other obsessions of his —immigration and gun control. Two Media Matters for America reports this week found that Dobbs was way out of sync with the rest of the network in covering these issues.)

So the question is no longer how long will Dobbs continue to clutch his birth certificate baby. Thanks to his own ego and his penchant for playing the victim of what he calls the “left-wing media conspiracy,” it appears he will insist on talking about it every day until he is removed or forced to adhere to some sort of journalistic standard.

And the question is no longer how long will CNN’s president allow Dobbs to mainstream racist and fringe conspiracy theories about the president of the United States. Klein has become Dobbs’ chief apologist, and his fate is now married to Dobbs’.

The real question now is: What will Turner Broadcasting System’s board do about its Lou Dobbs problem (and its subsequent Jon Klein problem)?

(You can sign the petition here demanding that CNN take action.)

Dobbs kills the birther movement

As Media Matters senior fellow Eric Boehlert astutely pointed out this week, one of the consequences of Dobbs’ belaboring of the birth certificate nonsense was that the birther movement is now “officially kaput (like stick-a-fork-in-it-done).”

The media’s response to Dobbs (and the infamous woman from a Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) town hall event who wants her country back) was swift and overwhelming. Shock and awe. From conservatives and progressives alike.

This past week, even more media figures distanced themselves from Dobbs.

Fox News’ Chris Wallace said Dobbs is looking like a “grassy knoll nut” and asked if CNN would air flat-earth theories.

Bill O’Reilly said Dobbs was pushing a “patently absurd” story.

And in a shock to even the most casual observer, conservative commentator Ann Coulter said Dobbs was “wrong on this issue.” Coulter went on to explain that “every conservative publication from, you know, Human Events, the Sweetness & Light blog, American Spectator, dealt with this because it was raised as an issue and said, ‘There’s nothing to it.’ “

It’s not crazy enough for Ann Coulter or Human Events — just CNN’s prime-time programming.

Battle of the race-baiters: Beck vs. Limbaugh

Race-baiting opportunists Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck seized on the controversy surrounding the arrest of Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. to claim that it is Obama who has a problem with race.

Beck told the Fox & Friends crew on Tuesday:

This president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people, or the white culture — I don’t know what it is.

Seconds later, however, Beck said:

I’m not saying that he doesn’t like white people. I’m saying he has a problem.

And Beck’s coup de grace:

This guy is, I believe, a racist.

Surely, such a ridiculously absurd and offensive statement would not be tolerated on any respectable news network. Surely Fox News hasn’t mainstreamed so much lunacy (thanks in large part to Beck) that they are OK with one of their anchors calling the first African-American president — who was raised by a white mother and white grandparents — a “racist” and asserting he has a “deep-seated hatred for white people”? Right?

Well, Fox News senior vice president of programming Bill Shine put out the following statement later that day:

During Fox & Friends this morning, Glenn Beck expressed a personal opinion which represented his own views, not those of the Fox News Channel. And as with all commentators in the cable news arena, he is given the freedom to express his opinions.

Oy. Another network head shamelessly tries to claim that his anchor’s rhetoric is not reflective of the network itself.

At least some in the media called out Beck for his comments.

NBC News posted on its First Read blog Wednesday:

What’s most amazing about this episode is that what Beck said isn’t a fireable or even a SUSPENDABLE offense by his bosses. There was a time when outrageous rants like this would actually cost the ranters their jobs. But not anymore; if anything, it’s now encouraged.

MSNBC’s Donny Deutsch took a more pragmatic approach, listing Beck’s advertisers and encouraging viewers to write to those sponsors and demand that they pull advertising money from Beck’s show.

Even The View’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck — who often regurgitates conservative talking points from Fox News — said there was “danger” in Beck’s rhetoric. “Whenever you throw that word out at somebody, you better be able to back it up, and he’s not able to,” she said on Friday. (Flashback: Beck getsPWND by the View co-hosts and is forced to admit he “mischaracterized” a story about co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Walters.)

CNN contributor Roland Martin called Beck “the P.T. Barnum of television.”

And Stephen Colbert summed it up thusly: “Beck likes arguing but has a deep-seated hatred for logic.”

Although Beck may have stolen most of the headlines this week for his “racist” comment, Limbaugh’s comments this week about Obama’s response to the Gates controversy were merely the latest examples of his longstanding reliance on race-baiting.

In addition to calling Gates “an angry racist” and suggesting Obama is an “Oreo” and a “thug,” Limbaugh claimed “white policemen are under assault.”

Of the “beer summit” between Gates, Obama and Sgt. James Crowley, Limbaugh said it happened because “two guys with an attitude jumped all over a cop.”

And in the most ridiculous and tortured analogy of the week, Limbaugh repeatedly referred to Obama as “Barack Nifong,” a reference to the district attorney in the Duke lacrosse rape case. Don’t bother to try to figure it out.

As Chris Matthews observed, Limbaugh and Beck are in “competition” to “see who can be the more virulent” in attacking Obama on race.

We’re all gonna die!

If you are old, you will be killed under the Democrats’ health care plan.

Well, the conservative mythmakers might as well just come out and say that. Their fearmongering is only slightly more veiled.

Following serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey’s false claim a couple of weeks ago that the House health care reform bill will “absolutely require” end-of-life counseling for seniors “that will tell them how to end their life sooner,” conservative media figures have pushed various versions of this claim.

Not surprisingly, Limbaugh has been one of the loudest voices on this one:

People out of a certain age, with certain diseases, will be deemed not worth the investment and they will just — as Obama said, they’d give them some pain pills and let them loop out till they die, and they don’t even know it’s happened. It will be rationed — it’s — you’re not gonna be able to choose your doctor, probably after a while will not be able to hold on to your private insurance or your current insurance, which is all by design. But they’re gonna be able to regulate — you know, they call you a risk based on, do you smoke, do you not smoke, how far do you drive to work, do you wear polyester — it’s more flammable — I mean, it could get ridiculous.

Laura Ingraham also spent the week repeatedly referring to “hospice chutes” where the elderly will end up if they’re not careful:

I’m telling you, if you’re over the age of 65 and you have so much as a backache, I would keep it to yourself. All right? Keep the backache to yourself. If you’ve slept wrong on your neck, and, “Oh! I have a crick in my neck!” OK? Forget about it. Because you are about three steps away from the hospice chute. They’re going to push you down that chute. If they can save a buck and then channel the money toward — what? — bailing out Planned Parenthood, they’ll do that.

In fact, advance care planning is not mandatory in the House health care bill. The bill provides coverage for such counseling as a service through Medicare, and it is not required.

It shouldn’t come as a shock that the conservative media overlook the facts in their rush to scare people from supporting health care reform. But enough with the Soylent Green references already.

This week’s media columns

Eric Boehlert explains how, in one fell swoop, Lou Dobbs tarnished CNN’s credibility, killed the birther movement, and scared Rush Limbaugh off reporting birth certificate conspiracy theories. Jamison Foserexplains Howard Kurtz’s giant conflict of interest in light of his (lack of) coverage of the Dobbs/Klein story.

This weekly wrap-up was compiled by Brian Frederick, deputy editorial director at Media Matters for America. He holds a Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Colorado.