Should CNN attack its own anchor over 'birther' flap?

A media watchdog group releases an ad criticizing CNN anchor Lou Dobbs for stoking the 'birther' controversy.

Mark Hill/CNN/AP/File
In this 2005 file photo provided by CNN, news anchor Lou Dobbs sits on the set of his show, "Lou Dobbs Tonight," in New York.

CNN is facing a dilemma. It can run an advertisement that criticizes one of its prime time anchors – or refuse to run it and face criticism for that.

Media Matters, a nonprofit media watchdog group, has produced an ad which attacks CNN anchor Lou Dobbs for promoting a “false right wing conspiracy that President Obama hasn’t produced a valid U.S. birth certificate.”

MSNBC and FOX News will run the ad Monday in Washington and Atlanta, according to Media Matters. CNN has indicated to Media Matters that it will probably not air the ad.

"Five of the six cable providers we purchased ad time with have turned down the ad for CNN," said Media Matters spokeswoman Jessica Levin in an e-mail. "Time Warner (owner of CNN) allowed the ad to run on Fox News and MSNBC but turned it down for CNN."

The controversy hovers around a right-wing movement that’s come to be known as “birthers” because it’s adherents question whether Obama was born in the United States and whether he is a citizen who can legitimately serve as president.

Officials in Hawaii have confirmed multiple times that the birth certificate produced by the Obama campaign in 2008 is legitimate., a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, has also seen the birth certificate and declared it legitimate.

So why has CNN’s Mr. Dobbs, who has said he believes Obama is a legitimate US citizen, kept the controversy brewing? Some political analysts are stumped, and others say it’s a ratings grab during a slow summer season. But most political analysts agree that keeping the controversy going is bad journalism.

“It’s highly irresponsible. It’s contrary to our best journalistic traditions – it’s the exact opposite of what we want to see,” says James LaPlant, who teaches a class on political conspiracy theories at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Ga. “It would be like after we got done celebrating the 40th anniversary of the moon landings, Lou Dobbs said, ‘Let’s talk about that school of thought that says we never really went there.’ That would be outrageous.”

CNN has so far not returned calls for comment. Media Matters' Ms. Levin says the issue isn’t just that Dobbs has kept covering a debunked controversy, but that CNN President Jonathan Klein is "green-lighting Dobb’s coverage" even though everyone else in CNN including Dobb's co-anchor Kitty Pilgrim seems to agree that the theory is false.

In an earlier email quoted by the Los Angeles Times, Mr. Klein appeared to accept the conclusion of CNN researchers that the short form birth certificate produced by Hawaiian authorizes is legitimate. “[I]t seems this story is dead - because anyone who still is not convinced doesn't really have a legitimate beef," he wrote.

Many conservative columnists and news organizations, from Ann Coulter to National Review, have also urged conservatives to drop the controversy. In the National Review, Mark Krikorian wrote "the whole birther thing is lunacy."


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