I wish Dave Neiwert wasn't on vacation from C&L this week, because I'm sure he'd have a lot to say about the mainstreaming of the ginned-up Birther controversy, particularly by one of his favorite whipping boys, Lou Dobbs. In the interim we'll have to settle for Eric Boehlert:
If James von Brunn weren't in a locked security ward at Southeast General Hospital in Washington, D.C., and awaiting trial for the murder of a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the 88-year-old racist and neo-Nazi might have taken comfort from listening to Lou Dobbs' syndicated radio show or watching Dobbs on CNN in recent days. Von Brunn would have likely felt some sense of affirmation from Dobbs, as the host began belatedly championing the cause of so-called "birthers," the angry band of right-wing conspiracy theorists who claim President Obama has not released a valid birth certificate and, in some cases, flat-out assert that he was not born in America and therefore is ineligible to be president of the United States. (Here's a good birther primer; here's the official right-wing defense of birthers.)
Had von Brunn been listening, Dobbs would likely have "spoken" to him. Just a few months before opening fire at the museum, von Brunn, apparently a proud birther himself, had done his best to spread the word online about Obama's illegitimate rule: "What is going on??? WHERE ARE THE GOOD PEOPLE IN THIS COUNTRY - ARE YOU OUT THERE???" [...]
Dobbs has certainly taken some heat for his recent birther turn. (He's "effectively destroying his career with this stuff," birther expert David Weigel wrote at The Washington Independent.) But there's more to this story than Dobbs. And the phenomenon in play isn't just about a birth certificate. And it's also not isolated or accidental.
Because, yes, viewed in a vacuum, the movement seems like the nutty fringe. But viewed in a larger historical context, birthers share obvious ties to traditional right-wing assaults on previous Democrats, and birthers have all the marks of a GOP Noise Machine creation. The movement is about a larger, more sinister attempt to paint Obama as illegitimate, foreign, and suspect (i.e. not like you and me). To portray him as "a gratuitous interloper," as radio host G. Gordon Liddy put it. As someone who isn't who he says he is. As -- let's face it -- the Manchurian Candidate, with all the evil connotations that come with it. ("WHO SENT YOU???" von Brunn demanded to know of Obama.)
And it's about the disturbing role media figures like Dobbs play when they act as the bridge -- as the transmitter -- between the radical and the mainstream. When they legitimize the craziness, if only in the eyes of the crazies themselves. As MSNBC's Rachel Maddow noted this week, "The home run for conspiracists of any stripe is when their ideas can leave the lunatic fringe and enter the mainstream."
There's really only one degree of separation between Dobbs mainstreaming the Birther movement and pictures of Obama as an African witch doctor. The media, in large part, has condemned this nonsense - Chris Matthews shaming that old fool Gordon Liddy today was painful to watch - but those who give it succor it sustain an extremist fringe who want to alienate the President as "the other," as illegitimate, as illegal. It plays to the beliefs of anti-government types and militia members and a dangerous element in American society.
As for Dobbs, who James Rainey picks apart here, CNN has a choice to make. Its own hosts have debunked this myth over and over. The network purports to call itself "the most trusted name in news." They can prove it.
For all the network's efforts to characterize itself as the real, unbiased cable news outlet, it continues to give Lou Dobbs a high-profile platform for obvious, unsupported madness. It makes Dobbs look like a loon, but more important, it's a painful embarrassment to CNN.
A network spokesperson distanced CNN from Dobbs' crazed radio show, and told Rainey, "On CNN, Lou is an independent reporter who covers stories that people are talking about, and often showcases issues that aren't being covered by the mainstream media."
For a network that keeps giving very large paychecks to a television personality who is misleading its audience with transparent craziness, this explanation needs some work.