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10.07.10

Lou Dobbs' Household Hypocrisy

Why didn't America's leading anti-immigration advocate check the status of his domestic workers? Conor Friedersdorf sorts out whether Dobbs is naive, dishonest, or lacks common sense.

Lou Dobbs often rails against employers who are “shamelessly exploiting the illegal alien," going so far as to insist that "illegal employers" be prosecuted as felons. Says the outspoken immigration restrictionist: “The illegal employer is the central issue in this entire mess!" Thus the interest in an investigation just published by The Nation. It reports that “Dobbs has relied for years on undocumented labor for the upkeep of his multimillion-dollar estates and the horses he keeps for his 22-year-old daughter.”

Strident opponents of illegal immigration are surely wondering if he knows the meaning of the word illegal, whether he believes these were jobs Americans wouldn’t do, and why he doesn’t just use as his coat of arms the branded CNN graphics "Exporting America," "Broken Borders," and "War on the Middle Class."

On his radio program Thursday, Dobbs interviewed the reporter who wrote the exposé, Isabel Macdonald. "I am saying that for years, undocumented immigrants looked after your show jumping horses, and for years, they looked after the grounds at your West Palm Beach estate in Florida,” she said.

"I had been told that they were absolutely legal," Dobbs replied. "And you were told the same thing, and you didn't mention that in your piece."

Isn’t it amazing? The man ringing the alarm bells about illegal immigration in America didn’t suspect that the nine Latino immigrants landscaping his yard for below-market wages, caring for his horses, and living in a small apartment on his property might be undocumented—at least not enough to look into the matter with the gusto of a reporter from The Nation, who ably ferreted out the truth.

I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. For example, if I met a fashionista who insisted that the Louis Vuitton bag she bought after midnight from the back of an unmarked van wasn’t counterfeit or stolen, I wouldn’t immediately assume mendacity. It’s possible that she’s just naive, unintelligent, or some combination.

So it goes for Lou Dobbs.

I can’t prove that he’s an intellectually dishonest hypocrite who deliberately benefited financially from the very practice he says is destroying the country and exploiting its poor. It is possible he just isn’t very discerning.

An extreme absence of common sense, negligence in gathering facts, and self-deception that borders on pathology isn’t illegal. These qualities are nevertheless undesirable in a president or a senator—the offices in which Dobbs has expressed interest—or an opinion journalist, a job that requires skepticism and command of facts if it is to be done well.

The man ringing the alarm bells about illegal immigration in America didn’t suspect that the Latino immigrants landscaping his yard for below-market wages might be undocumented.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether Dobbs is a lying hypocrite or a naif when it comes to the realities of illegal immigration in America. The upshot is the same: It’s best to discount whatever one hears from a man who has been so discredited in his area of expertise. One high-profile case isn’t dispositive in the larger debate about immigration enforcement in America. But it does suggest that the restrictionists who make up the Dobbs’ audience aren’t very adept at knowing who to trust.

Conor Friedersdorf blogs at True/Slant and The American Scene. Follow him on Twitter at Conor64.