PASADENA, Calif. — The president of CNN/US is quick to trumpet his network as the real-news alternative to right-wing Fox News and left-wing MSNBC.
But his message was lost behind his disingenuous answer to a question about CNN's resident loose cannon, Lou Dobbs. And Dobbs' involvement in fanning the flames of the long-settled "controversy" over President Barack Obama's citizenship.
Jonathan Klein sought to deflect criticism by obfuscating. Clearly, despite the fact that even CNN is convinced that there's a legitimate Obama birth certificate in Hawaii, Dobbs kept the story going.
On CNN, Dobbs repeatedly made comments like, "There are questions here, folks. Questions that could be easily resolved if only the president would produce a copy of his birth certificate, a copy other than the one he already released."
What? As CNN itself reported, Hawaii's health department went paperless in 2001; all birth records from 1908 on were put into electronic files. Including Obama's. The proof is there; Dobbs just refused to admit it.
Let's not forget that Dobbs has a history of making unfounded charges on CNN.
Three years ago, without any sort of documentation, Dobbs told viewers that the LDS Church was encouraging Mexican Mormons to immigrate to Utah "irrespective of the cost to taxpayers."
"I was just struck by the idea that The Church of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon Church, seems to be looking south just as avidly and aggressively as the Catholic Church to add to a few folks to those pews," Dobbs said.
He was irresponsible then; he's irresponsible now. And irresponsible is a polite way of saying he's a nutcase.
Dobbs did what nutcases always do. He misrepresented reality and attacked those who dared question him.
"The left-wing media has attacked me because I simply asked the question," he said on the air.
That's baloney. He was criticized because he kept a non-story alive. Because, in the face of indisputable evidence that he was wrong, he continued to question and criticize.
Klein himself sent out a memo to Dobbs' staff that read, in part, "It seems this story is dead — because anyone who still is not convinced doesn't really have a legitimate beef."
But that didn't stop him from defending Dobbs' indefensible behavior.
"You know, there are two strands to this story. There are the facts and then there (is) the flap, right? And what Lou and everybody else at CNN has done is very clearly report and run down the facts," Klein told TV critics. "There is no doubt, according to the State of Hawaii, that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. And Lou Dobbs himself has repeated that over and over and over again."
And Lou Dobbs has questioned Obama's birth over and over and over again, which Klein conveniently ignored.
Klein was absolutely right when he said there's some legitimacy in reporting that there is a lunatic fringe that questions Obama's citizenship.
News organizations report on people who wear hats made of aluminum foil to keep aliens from hearing their thoughts sometimes, too — but the anchormen and/or reporters generally don't express editorial opinions agreeing with the foil-hat crowd.
"There is a phenomenon of people who don't believe it anyway," Klein said. "And they are offering up news pegs, or have been over the last couple of weeks. You've had a military guy who refused to go to Afghanistan. You've had the woman waving the piece of paper at the congressperson in Delaware. And what Lou's done is hosted panel discussions that offer a range of points of view about those episodes. So he's exploring the flap.
"But the facts are a settled matter and a dead issue, as I said in the memo that went around last week."
Again, clearly that's not ALL Dobbs has done.
And, rather than defend the fact that Dobbs has been incredibly irresponsible, Klein tried to refocus the discussion on how much time Dobbs had done so. He called it a "misimpression" that Dobbs and CNN had devoted a lot of airtime to the non-issue.
"We have probably devoted 100 times more time on the air to health care, to Afghanistan, to Iraq than we have to this." Klein said.
"What provoked the initial outrage was Lou literally spent two minutes talking about it in one of his panel discussions."
Again, not true. On his radio show, Dobbs told a birth certificate conspiracy theorist, "Certainly, your view can't be discounted."
And he has repeatedly said things such as, "I don't understand why (Obama) shouldn't produce a birth certificate."
I don't understand how CNN can continue to employ Dobbs. If I acted the way he has, I would have been fired long ago.
Actually, I do understand it. It's all about ratings and revenue and not about legitimate journalism.
And Dobbs' continued presence on the network makes a mockery of Klein's assertions about CNN.
"The cable news landscape has never been cast in as stark contrast as it is today," he told critics.
"You've got one network that is based on partisan right-wing opinion. You've got another network that is based on partisan left-wing opinion. And you've got one network, and one network only, that is based on reporting. And that's really working for us.
"Our journalistic quality is higher than it's ever been."
Not as long as Dobbs is still employed at CNN.
Today on TV
Southland (7 p.m., Ch. 5): NBC repeats the pilot of this good police show.
Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? (7 p.m., Ch. 13): Dean Cain is the celebrity contestant; Jeff Foxworthy hosts.
Whale Wars (7 and 9 p.m., Animal Planet): The Sea Shepherds argue over what strategy to use to stop the whalers.
The Goode Family (7:30 p.m., Ch 4): There's good news here — this is the last episode ever of this really terrible animated show.
Mental (8 p.m., Ch. 13): A construction worker suffers from psychological and physiological symptoms after an accident.