(Editor's Note: After Lou Dobbs told Lesley Stahl about a meeting he had with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Joe Baca, the Chair of the Caucus, wrote this letter, responding to Dobbs' characterization of the meeting.)to 60 Minutes, and Rep. Luis V. Guitierrez, a member of the Caucus,
For over 20 years, as the host of "Moneyline" on CNN, Lou Dobbs all but created television business reporting. He was seen as a booster of capitalism, and of the corporate executives he covered.
But today, that mild-mannered friend of CEOs has morphed into an anti-business champion of the middle class – and a "Johnny One Note" on the evils of illegal immigration.
The more he rails, the more his audience grows; his ratings have nearly doubled in the last two years.
As correspondent Lesley Stahl reports, his supporters want him to run for president, his critics want CNN to fire him, and some in Congress just want him to be quiet.
If you're looking for your traditional, detached, impartial news show, do not come knocking on Lou Dobbs' door. His show on CNN has become a nightly rage fest.
If you had to describe Dobbs today, you'd say he's a mad-as-hell anti-establishmentarian. But didn't he used to be exactly the opposite?
When he was the popular anchor of CNN's "Moneyline" in the 1980s and 90s, he was one of the reasons CEOs became celebrities. But when the corporate corruption scandals broke in 2001, Dobbs says he felt betrayed and began attacking those CEOs for, their "greed" and for selling out American workers by outsourcing jobs overseas.
"Think about the words we don't hear any longer in this from corporate America: 'corporate citizenship,' 'empowerment of employees,' 'doing good for the community,'" Dobbs tells Stahl.
"This was a big, huge transformation," Stahl remarks. "It's like somebody invaded you."
"Well, I hope not," Dobbs says.
"Well, here's what they say about you: that you distort the figures, that you exaggerate and that you aim to inflame just to get ratings," Stahl says.
"Oh, really?" Dobbs replies. "That's fascinating, because what I can't understand is why other journalists would not take on the issues of free trade, illegal immigration, outsourcing—all of these rather sexy topics … which I've been covering for years."
"Reporters don't 'take on' issues. Reporters 'report' issues, and there's a big difference there," Stahl says. "Do you think you're a journalist?"
"Absolutely," Dobbs says. "I may be an advocacy journalist, but I'm a journalist."
One of the issues he tackles relentlessly is illegal immigration. And on that, his critics say, his advocacy can get in the way of the facts.
Following a report on illegal immigrants carrying diseases into the U.S., one of the correspondents on his show, Christine Romans, told Dobbs that there have been 7,000 cases of leprosy in the U.S. in the past three years.
60 Minutes checked that and found a report issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, saying that 7,000 is the number of leprosy cases over the last 30 years, not the past three. The report also says that nobody knows how many of those cases involve illegal immigrants.
"We went to try and check that number, 7,000. We can't…," Stahl says.
"Well, I can tell you this. If we reported it, it's a fact," Dobbs replies.
"You can't tell me that. You did report it," Stahl says.
"I just did," Dobbs says.
"How can you guarantee that to me?" Stahl asks.
Says Dobbs, "Because I'm the managing editor. And that's the way we do business. We don't make up numbers, Lesley."
"That's a strange attitude for a reporter to have, 'I don't need anymore facts. I know what the truth is,'" says Mark Potok, who monitors hate groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Potok charges that Dobbs is a fear monger. "The impression you get, pretty strongly I think, day after day, is that sort of all 11 million illegal aliens are bringing leprosy, they're bringing crime, they're bringing all these terrible things to the United States," he explains.
"If these people have come into this country illegally, what is so wrong with somebody taking it up as an advocate?" Stahl asks.
"But that does not sort of give one the go-ahead to say that, you know, 'These are a group of rapists and disease-carrying people who are coming to, you know, essentially destroy the culture of this country.' You know, I think that's a long leap," Potok says.