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Lou Dobbs and leprosy:

A good column today about Lou Dobbs' latest whopper, that "invading" immigrants are bringing an epidemic of leprosy to the U.S.:

"The invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health of many Americans," Mr. Dobbs said on his April 14, 2005, program. From there, he introduced his original report that mentioned leprosy, the flesh-destroying disease — technically known as Hansen's disease — that has inspired fear for centuries.

According to a woman CNN identified as a medical lawyer named Dr. Madeleine Cosman, leprosy was on the march. As Ms. Romans, the CNN correspondent, relayed: "There were about 900 cases of leprosy for 40 years. There have been 7,000 in the past three years."

"Incredible," Mr. Dobbs replied.

Mr. Dobbs and Ms. Romans engaged in a nearly identical conversation a few weeks ago, when he was defending himself the night after the "60 Minutes" segment. "Suddenly, in the past three years, America has more than 7,000 cases of leprosy," she said, again attributing the number to Ms. Cosman.

To sort through all this, I called James L. Krahenbuhl, the director of the National Hansen's Disease Program, an arm of the federal government. Leprosy in the United States is indeed largely a disease of immigrants who have come from Asia and Latin America. And the official leprosy statistics do show about 7,000 diagnosed cases — but that's over the last 30 years, not the last three.

The peak year was 1983, when there were 456 cases. After that, reported cases dropped steadily, falling to just 76 in 2000. Last year, there were 137. . . .

So Mr. Dobbs was flat-out wrong. And when I spoke to him yesterday, he admitted as much, sort of. I read him Ms. Romans's comment — the one with the word "suddenly" in it — and he replied, "I think that is wrong." He then went on to say that as far as he was concerned, he had corrected the mistake by later broadcasting another report, on the same night as his on-air confrontation with the Southern Poverty Law Center officials. This report mentioned that leprosy had peaked in 1983.

Of course, he has never acknowledged on the air that his program presented false information twice. . . .

I have been somewhat taken aback about how shameless he has been during the whole dispute, so I spent some time reading transcripts from old episodes of "Lou Dobbs Tonight." The way he handled leprosy, it turns out, is not all that unusual. . . .

The most common complaint about him, at least from other journalists, is that his program combines factual reporting with editorializing. But I think this misses the point. Americans, as a rule, are smart enough to handle a program that mixes opinion and facts. The problem with Mr. Dobbs is that he mixes opinion and untruths. He is the heir to the nativist tradition that has long used fiction and conspiracy theories as a weapon against the Irish, the Italians, the Chinese, the Jews and, now, the Mexicans. . . .

More to the point, if Mr. Dobbs's arguments were really so good, don't you think he would be able to stick to the facts? And if CNN were serious about being "the most trusted name in news," as it claims to be, don't you think it would be big enough to issue an actual correction?

That's a very good question. What does CNN have to say?

Davebo (mail):
CNN looks at the increase in Lou's ratings and decides nothing can be said.
5.30.2007 2:53pm
WHOI Jacket:
Thanks, Dobbs. There is a public health arguement to be made, but you've just thrown it out the window.

Was the MSM supposed to be "better than the blogs" because of fact-checking?

Also, this is from 2005? What happend to bring this up now?
5.30.2007 3:21pm
EvanH:
Also, this is from 2005? What happend to bring this up now?

There's an immigration bill pending and supporters are interested in discrediting critics.
5.30.2007 3:23pm
Crust (mail):
Well, the tagline "the most trusted name in news" doesn't say that CNN is a trustworthy name in news. So maybe they just hope to fool people ("trusted" versus "trustworthy"). Or maybe it's just a relative statement ("most") compared to Fox, etc. Or both.
5.30.2007 3:23pm
Mac (mail):
Well, I would be surprised if CNN ever cared about the truth.

That said, we have had a cure for leprosy since 1969 so it is unlikely to become a major health problem anyway, unlike the new form of TB which seem to be very tough to cure.

Also, we now know tht you have to have a genetic predisposition to get leprosy, so many would not get it even if they were in direct, repeated contact. I don't recall the % of the population with the genetic factor for getting leprosy. I don't think it is huge, but I could be wrong.

We have a lot more to worry about with MRSA and VRE, among other things, that are killing many, many Americans every year mostly by their just going to the hospital. (Although, it is getting into the general population more and more esp. among athletes, which is a cause for grave concern.)

Next time you hear about the evil drug companies, just remember, they are losing the battle against these bugs and it will take us back to the time before penicillin if they don't figure out how to win. Before you want to go after their profits, be aware that they are all that stands between us and some very horrific casualties from infectious diseases and that could easily be you.

It would be so much better if the media would focus on the things that are really likely to kill us as opposed to remote and unlikely scenarios. Government, also. As in lowering arsenic levels to 10ppb from 50 ppb with no sollid study to show that it will make more than an iota of difference, if that. and it is costing billions of dollars to accomplish that could be going into fights of far greater gravity. The Eropeans and every other first world country are quite comfortable with 50 ppb and have no intention of accepting our EPA's flawed study to change their requirements.

I fear though, that we can keep on wishing for Lou Dobbs. CNN, our government and the rest of the media to properly analyze the science as opposed to fear mongering and playing politics.
5.30.2007 3:25pm
Crust (mail):
Opening sentence of the article published today:
The whole controversy involving Lou Dobbs and leprosy started with a "60 Minutes" segment a few weeks ago.

WHOI Jacket:
[T]his is from 2005? What happend to bring this up now?

Say what?
5.30.2007 3:26pm
Crust (mail):
Ignore my last comment, sorry.
5.30.2007 3:30pm
Steve:
What happend to bring this up now?

Mr. Dobbs and Ms. Romans engaged in a nearly identical conversation a few weeks ago, when he was defending himself the night after the "60 Minutes" segment.
5.30.2007 3:35pm
WHOI Jacket:
ok, missed that part. Thanks
5.30.2007 3:50pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
We know the meme is false. We know where it originated. We have tools like google alerts to track how the meme propagates and thrives, if it does. 1 person in 20 can catch hansen's disease
5.30.2007 4:18pm
Waldensian (mail):
I'm glad Dobbs is sounding the alarm. I think people just don't realize how serious Hanson's disease really can be. Just take a look at these poor souls.
5.30.2007 4:25pm
Hattio (mail):
I nominate Waldensian for best comment of the day award.
5.30.2007 4:50pm
Bobbie (mail):
How do these "news" people keep their jobs?
5.30.2007 4:53pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
So if I understand this correctly, Lou Dobbs had on a CNN correspondent, Ms. Romans, who incorrectly stated the number of leprosy cases in the United States (gave the 30 year number as the 3 year number) attributing it to Dr. Madeleine Cosman who CNN identified as a medical lawyer. In a second broadcast, Ms. Romans again repeated the incorrect information again attributing it to Dr. Cosman. Later Dobbs learned the number was incorrect and in a third show he corrected the information given by Ms. Romans.

I'm sure now that Dale Carpenter realizes that contrary to the title of his post, the "whopper" didn't -- based on the editorial he's citing -- either originate from Lou Dobbs nor was it was even repeated by Lou Dobbs. It came from a CNN correspondent.

Come to think of it, the author of this editorial probably needs to issue a correction as well.

DC: Dobbs allowed the statistic to be aired on his program, without correction, two years ago. Next, after he was challenged about it on 60 Minutes, he allowed the false claim to be repeated by a CNN correspondent. He has never corrected the error he twice allowed to be aired on his program.
5.30.2007 5:30pm
rarango (mail):
High five Waldensian! and second Hattio's comment.

Remember: the MSM has layers of editors and fact checkers so these kinds of things just can't happen--you all are imagining it.
5.30.2007 5:32pm
rarango (mail):
This is a basic web site for public health data--easily accessible:
5.30.2007 5:34pm
rarango (mail):
phooey: http://wonder.cdc.gov/
5.30.2007 5:35pm
jww17:
You left out the best line from the article which, in my opinion, sums up Lou Dobbs...

"Mr. Dobbs has a somewhat flexible relationship with reality."
5.30.2007 5:40pm
Maureen001 (mail):
Dobbs and CNN do a great disservice with their inaccurate reporting and rabble-rousing techniques. There is a serious health problem associated with the influx of illegal aliens into the country. Yes, we have medications that treat Hansen's Disease successfully, rendering it noncontagious, but we are also beginning to see the emergence of drug-resistant strains of the disease. There's a news article today about a man (not an illegal alien) who potentially contaminated people in at least 6 countries because he has been diagnosed with XDR-TB, which is not only drug-resistant to the two primarily most effective drugs used in treatment, but is also resistant to three of the six secondary drugs used when the primary ones don't work. TB is dramatically on the rise in this country and the cause is directly related to the number of illegals coming here. When the numbers go up, so does the percentage of drug-resistant forms of the disease. Dengue Fever and Dengue Hemmorhagic Fever was once typical only in tropical and subtropical regions, but has been diagnosed in the mostly desert regions along the US/Mexico border since at least 1999. Because it may be caused by four different viruses and because exposure to one form of the disease tends to make the patient far more susceptible to the other three forms, coming up with a viable treatment has been largely unsuccessful. It's not the sniffles and owwies that have been overwhelming big city and southwestern ERs that will critically impact us, it will be (and is) the increase in exotic and untreatable diseases introduced en masse by a transient population. There is a reason why we have an immigration procedure that includes health screening. It's part of the protection the federal government is supposed to provide its citizens.
5.30.2007 5:45pm
acroso:
"This is looking more and more like the Bush administration's domestic version of Iraq: a big risky gamble, based on wishful thinking and nonexistent administrative competence that will end in disaster?"

-May16th Kausfiles from slate magazine.

Dead on analogy for this debacle. The only way Bush can cement his legacy as the dumbest president in history is with Domestic Iraq. He wants to mess up our country like he has messed up our foreign policy.

We have to secure the borders over there so we don't have to secure em over here. Where can I sign up to secure Iraq's borders??

http://www.slate.com/id/2166678/
5.30.2007 5:48pm
Mac (mail):
Maureen,

Thanks you for an excellent rendering of facts. Too bad Lou Dobbs does not have someone on his staff with your knowledge. Of course, he would have to care about accuracy first.

Acroso,

Democrats have NO desire to secure the border, in case you missed that in your hatred of Bush. Bush and the Dem's are on the same side of this one as have been all of our past Presidents and Congresses.
Also, you can easily sign up to secure Iraq's borders. It is called the US Military. Please avoid the Marines. Accurate and quick assessment of data is necessary to protect and defend one's life and those of a Marine's comrades. My son is one and I would not want his life depending on you.
5.30.2007 6:18pm
Allen G.:
Actually, the danger of Mexican immigrants carrying leprosy was real in the past! About a century and half ago, armadillos, which are especially susceptible to leprosy because of their low body temperatures, began migrating over the border into Texas. Now they've spread throughout the south and southwest.

In recent decades, we Texans have had to deal with terrorist fire ants and africanized honey bees illegally crossing the border. The need for better border security is obvious!
5.30.2007 7:08pm
frankcross (mail):
Thorley, I think you are missing the point. After his interviewee gave the false information, Dobbs later said it was a "fact" even though it clearly was not a fact and its falsity had been amply vented by that time. It plainly was reaffirmed by Dobbs in the Stahl interview. So why did you say otherwise.
5.30.2007 9:19pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
This idiocy of Dobbs' has been circulating on libertarian blogs for a few weeks; another one is that his 'expert' upon which relied - 'Dr.' Cosman - has no medical training at all. Her doctorate is a PhD in literature. After this was first noted, she started being described as a "medical lawyer," which is a phrase that has no meaning, any more than "medical janitor" does.
5.30.2007 10:19pm
Brian K (mail):

Next time you hear about the evil drug companies, just remember, they are losing the battle against these bugs and it will take us back to the time before penicillin if they don't figure out how to win. Before you want to go after their profits, be aware that they are all that stands between us and some very horrific casualties from infectious diseases and that could easily be you.


Before you decide to get down on your knees again for the pharm industry, you might want to realize that they also are part of the problem. pharmaceutical companies have resisted attempts to withhold drugs from the market and take older drugs off of the market. Both help contribute to the formation of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Both of these would be great for the patient but would hurt the drug companies bottom line.
5.30.2007 10:53pm
neurodoc:
This idiocy of Dobbs' has been circulating on libertarian blogs for a few weeks; another one is that his 'expert' upon which relied - 'Dr.' Cosman - has no medical training at all. Her doctorate is a PhD in literature.

Sounds not unlike that whack job Judith Reisman, a woman with a PhD in "communications" who has been held up some on the Right as an expert on neuropsychology. To her we owe the novel pseudoscientific concept of brain damage from "erototoxins" after exposure to pornography.
5.30.2007 11:37pm
Christopher Nordby (mail) (www):
Hansen's Disease (the PC and accurate name for Leprosy) is caused by a mycobacterium. It exists in the soil in the American South and about 98% of the world's population is immune to it. As a matter of fact, if you contract it, you probably have a compromised immune system.

During the course of my medical training in the Army, I spent a week at the US Hansen's Disease center in Louisiana in 1991. It was one of only two "leper colonies" left in the US at that time. Most of the patients were diagnosed years before and some were living out their days there, relics of an era reminiscent of Dobb's hysteria. One patient in particular stands out as she had been dropped off at the gate by her father when she was 16 years old and had never lived anywhere else since. In 1991 she was 108 years old!

The other "colony" was in Hawaii.

By now the inpatient population at the Hansen's Disease Center has either passed on or moved out and the facility is an infirmary for the Federal Penal System now.

Interestingly, TB is also a mycobacterium. They are, in essence, cousins. However, Hansen's is not as virulent as TB and is not contagious unless you are already susecptible or have it surgically implanted a la human experiments conducted on convict volunteers about 100 years ago.

The drug-resistant forms of TB, as well as malaria, VSE, MRSA, etc are becoming more dangerous every year. As articulated above, we have a dearth of effective medications for many of these organisms to begin with...patient noncompliance (that is, when a patient either cannot or refuses to comply with the doctor/pharmacist's recommendations for taking an anti-infective) is the leading factor in many, if not all, of these resistant organisms. (Some, like MRSA, probably mutate in hospitals where a few survive sterilization regimens and exposure to environmental antibiotics to produce resistant progeny.)

We do need new pharmaceuticals to combat new microorganisms as well as "old" germs that have mutated. However, this must be tempered with a strong push for naturopathic remedies. Such remedies were eliminated from consideration in North America back in the late 1800s due to political partnerships between the American Medical Association and the pharmaceutical industry.

We don't need ill-informed commentators to whip up public ire regarding long disproven canards while more pressing matters obtain.

De oppresso liber.
5.31.2007 1:02am
neurodoc:
Christopher Nordby: "Naturopathic remedies"?! What in the world would those be? (BTW, I have never seen "naturopathic" used in connection with anything other than quackery.)

Which "remedies were eliminated from consideration in North America back in the late 1800s due to political partnerships between the American Medical Association and the pharmaceutical industry"? And just to be entirely clear, what exactly are those "long disproven canards" to which you allude?

Did you receive that "medical training in the Army" as an Army Medical Corps officer? I am not aware of any "naturopathic remedies, that is remedies not subscribed to by allopathic physicians, that the Army teaches corpsmen, nurses, or other health care providers.

Is that your website that clicking on the link after your user name brings us to? I ask because the profile there gives no hint of medical/scientific credentials of any sort.
5.31.2007 2:39am
Public_Defender (mail):
I'm a liberal who enjoys reading thoughtful libertarian and conservative thought, and I can't watch Lou Dobbs for more than a few minutes. He just oozes phony outrage. Most importantly, I don't learn anything by watching his show. The signal to noise ratio is just too low.

I can understand making a mistake about the numbers. All news sources make mistakes. But the test for integrity is what they do when they learn of a mistake. All Dobbs need have done was to say, "My guest got her number wrong. There have only been a total of 7,000 cases. The annual number of new cases for each of the last ten years is . . . ." This controversy would be over. But instead, he has to play dishonest word games.

Dobbs is little more than a cheap (OK, not so cheap) knock off of Bill O'Reilly.

CNN used to be a reliable news source, but it's Foxified itself for ratings.
5.31.2007 5:14am
Josh_Jasper (mail):

When the numbers [of illegal immigrants] go up, so does the percentage of drug-resistant forms of the disease. Dengue Fever and Dengue Hemmorhagic Fever was once typical only in tropical and subtropical regions, but has been diagnosed in the mostly desert regions along the US/Mexico border since at least 1999.


And then we get the crew who, again without a fact check, thanks someone making medical claims about illegal immigrants spreading filthy diseases.

Guess what, chumps? Dengue is spread by mosquitos . Not people.

The entertaining thing it, getting proven wrong on this yet again isn't a deterrent to the anti-immigrant right, as far as I can tell. They still keep beating the same drum. It's like watching Young Earth Creationists at work, which is unsurprising, considering the 2 groups work for the same end of the political spectrum.

Still, much like Andrew Sullivan used to need, Dale Carpenter needs a good education on the face of Modern Conservatism. And the VC is the right place for him to get it. Dale, you're to attached to the truth for this place. Either you surrender that hold it has on you, or you'll never fit in among the conservatives.
5.31.2007 9:39am
groundhog67:
Josh_Jasper:
In the XVII century, Native American populations of the East Coast suffered tremendously from yet-unknown diseases like malaria and plague, borne by mosquitoes and rats. It was not an issue, though, until a massive influx of, ahem, illegal immigrants from Britain that were infected. Only then mosquitoes had disease to transmit. Read recent National Geographic.
5.31.2007 12:23pm
Gordo:
There's a great old traditional American phrase that Mr. Dobbs fits to a tee.

"Know-Nothing."
5.31.2007 1:13pm
Josh_Jasper (mail):
I was wondering where this dengue nonsense got spread, so I did a half hour of on-the-cheap investigative journalism on google

Here's the group behind the 'research'

A fake medical group with ties to the John Birch society. So now we know who's informing Lou Dobbs, and the rest of the crowd here that claims that illegal immigration spreads disease.


Articles published in the journal have argued that the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are unconstitutional, that "humanists" have conspired to replace the "creation religion of Jehovah" with evolution, that HIV does not cause AIDS, and that the "gay male lifestyle" shortens life expectancy by 20 years. A series of articles by pro-life authors also claimed a link between abortion and breast cancer; such a link has been rejected by the National Cancer Institute. - From the Wikipedia article.

Thanks for being so blatantly insane in public, guys. I've always maintained that tie anti-immigrant movement was using lying racist methodology. You helped confirm that.
5.31.2007 3:33pm
M.E.Butler (mail):
Lou Daubs. What more need be said?
5.31.2007 3:41pm
neurodoc:
Josh_Jasper: Guess what, chumps? Dengue is spread by mosquitos . Not people

Right, dengue is spread by mosquitos, but people are part of the equation. Read further along in the CDC webpage you linked to and see...

Although travel-associated dengue and limited outbreaks do occur in the continental United States, most dengue cases in US citizens occur as endemic transmission among residents in some of the US territories
...
Increased travel by airplane provides the ideal mechanism for infected human transport of dengue viruses between population centers of the tropics, resulting in a frequent exchange of dengue viruses and other pathogens.


It isn't dengue-carrying mosquitos that get on those planes and bring the disease to a new locale, it is dengue-infected people who bring it in their bloodstreams to where resident mosquitos can acquire it from them and pass it along to other individuals. (In the same way, malaria, a disease not endemic to Illinois, has been contracted by those living around the Hines VA Medical Center.)

I'm still waiting to hear from Christopher Nordby about the "naturopathic remedies" that might be helpful with these infectious diseases.
5.31.2007 3:46pm
Mac (mail):
I'm still waiting to hear from Christopher Nordby about the "naturopathic remedies" that might be helpful with these infectious diseases



I would love to hear those as well.

Public Defender,
You wrote, Dobbs is little more than a cheap (OK, not so cheap) knock off of Bill O'Reilly. CNN used to be a reliable news source, but it's Foxified itself for ratings.

Can you give a few examples of where Bill O'Reilly gave false facts and refused to correct them? This is an aside, I know, but I am interested in hearing some specifics.

Ditto re FOX.
5.31.2007 10:00pm
Public_Defender (mail):
Mac,

One word: Peabody.

Yeah, he eventually bowed to reality when it was proven that he didn't have one, but it's just not credible to say that it was an honest mistake. He out-and-out lied, and only retracted when faced with irrefutable evidence.
6.1.2007 6:54am