More on Dobbs

A reader suggests that Lou Dobbs was “sloppy” but more or less right in substance.

A reader sympathetic to Lou Dobbs’s anti-immigration postion writes:

Looks like Dobbs was sloppy but it looks as if the biggest mistake was by the NYT, unless all 7,000 leprosy cases are still alive today.

Also Dobbs’ basic point is right &#8212 there’s more leprosy now than there used to be, no?

To which I replied:

“Sloppy”? Yes, I guess you could call it that. I’d use a stronger word. But that applies to the original error. Insisting you were right because you’re the managing editor and you never make mistakes is a hell of a lot worse than “sloppy.” This wasn’t hard fact-checking to do, either by Googling, by calling CDC, or by visiting one of the leprosy clinics Dobbs mentioned.

And “Dobbs’s basic point is right,” no. (Putting aside the question of whether you’d say that Dan Rather’s “basic point” &#8212 that GWB had shirked Air National Guard Service &#8212 was “right.”) There isn’t more leprosy than there used to be.

From the CDC:

The number of reported cases of Hansen disease (HD) in the United States peaked at 361 in 1985 and has declined since 1988.

Full historical table here

The data in the table don’t precisely match those in the CDC report, but the pattern is the same. There’s an uptrend from double digits to triple digits in the 1960s, then a surge of cases peaking at 450 in 1985 (the year before Simpson-Mazzoli) and then falling sharply back to double digits until 2000. There has been a bounceback from there, but still to lower levels than we’d otherwise seen since the 70s. The 2005 number is a jump from the 2002-2004 level, but Dobbs made his claim in April of 2005. The long-term trend looks even better if you put it in population-incidence terms rather than just raw case counts.

Dobbs’s basic point, as always, was that all of the country’s growing problems result from illegal immigration. But there’s no evidence whatever that any part of this problem is due to illegal immigration, and it isn’t growing. Of the places we currently get immigrants from, only India and Brazil have significant leprosy problems; the article in the pseudo-journal mentions Mexico and the Carribean, but there seems to be no actual source for that claim.

So: Dobbs is wrong, he’s grossly wrong, he’s wrong about a claim that excites the lizard-brain, he’s wrong in favor of his passionately-held position, and when he’s confronted with the facts he just shouts louder.

Anyone who thinks that the “netroots” part of Blue Blogistan is unduly powerful, or unreasonably harsh about the right-wing bias much of the “mainstream” media displays in paractice (as opposed to the subjective opinions of reporters), ought to take a hard look at the Dobbs case.

Update: Here’s some video of the “distinguished medical historian” Dobbs and Roman relied on.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: