60 Minutes couldn’t do it. Neither could NPR.

Well, hats off to The Times for running Dobbs to ground on his leprosy error.

But just to make doubly sure, The Audit does the exact same thing today. Between the two of us, the leprosy story will be good and dead. (The Audit really dislikes competition, especially when The Audit loses. Tastes like dirt.)

But maybe The Audit can add its own perspective.

In any event, here goes: Dobbs’s show on May 7 reported that there have been 7,000 new cases of leprosy in the United States in the past three years. That statement is false.

Here’s the quote:

It’s interesting because the woman in our piece told us there were about 900 cases of leprosy for 40 years. There have been 7,000 in the past three years. Leprosy in this country.


She said, “Hansen’s disease”—that’s the other modern name, I guess, for leprosy—was so rare in America that in 40 years only 900 people were afflicted. Suddenly, in the past three years, American has more than 7,000 cases of leprosy.

Never mind who the “woman in our piece” is, or, for that matter, who’s talking; it’s not Dobbs, but that doesn’t matter. There haven’t been 7,000 new cases of leprosy in the U.S. in the past three years—or in any recent three-year period. The correct figure is 431.

Then, on May 16, in a debate with an advocate, Dobbs says: “We did not say there were new cases at any time.”


Mark, Richard, gentlemen, you know we never said they were new cases. What we said, in point of fact, was that there are 7,000 cases on the active—active leprosy register.

Forget Mark and Richard for now.

Dobbs is denying he made the error and has so far bullied his way out of admitting he ever said it. What is this, sixth grade?

In an interview with The Audit, Dobbs says he what he is standing by is the fact that there are 7,000 leprosy cases in the U.S. Dobbs says he regrets that Romans had not made that point more clearly and provided better context: namely ,there once were 900 cases and now there are 7,000. “Do I wish she had been clearer in what she said? Absolutely.”

Lou, you’re a gamer. I give you credit, and I understand the barroom-brawl aspect of televised debates these days. But the first rule of politics applies here: When in a hole, stop digging.

This isn’t about context. Dobbs & Co. based their reporting on a report that turned out to be wrong. The rest is nonsense.

Look, the first error was a mistake. A blown fact based on a report that turns out to be a piece of junk. All reporters make mistakes. Some mistakes are particularly embarrassing.

Sure, Dobbs’s mistake is aggravated by the fact that it was made in an odious attempt to link illegal immigrants and lepers. And, yes, he makes things worse by pretending the confusion is someone else’s fault, when it’s really his alone.

They actually keep a registry of cases of leprosy. And the fact that it rose was because—one assumes, because we don’t know for sure—but two basic influences—unscreened illegal immigrants coming into this country primarily from South Asia, and secondly, far better reporting.

Finally, in an attempt to fix the record he keeps the leprosy non-story going, so that makes it even worse.

Okay, first a few concessions: as the after-the-fact-critic, The Audit has every advantage here, not the least of which is my medium, the written word. Dobbs & Co. are fielding live ammo on unscripted TV, which is much harder.

Second, I have no problem with advocacy journalism of the type Dobbs practices, and am particularly sympathetic to this Dobbs sentiment:

The idea that a reporter should be disqualified because he or she actually cares, actually isn’t neutral about the wellbeing of the country and its people, that’s absurd.

Third, if true, 7,000 new leprosy cases is a story.

But it’s not. America, take it from The Audit, the leprosy situation is fine. Worry about something else—outsourcing, maybe.

This is about intellectual bullying. Nobody gets to tamper with facts. And nobody gets to say he didn’t say something when he obviously did.

And so we’re going to walk through this entire episode, and when we’re done, The Audit wants to hear no more of lepers, immigrants, Dobbs, or even Lesley Stahl.

It starts off with a mistake. In 2005, the Dobbs show does a story about “the invasion of illegal immigrants is threatening the health of many Americans,” which may be true for all I know. The piece quotes Dr. Madeline Cosman, described as a “medical lawyer,” who died last year. Never mind about her.

Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.