ROMANS: That’s right, Lou. We don’t make up numbers here. This is what we reported.
We reported, “It’s interesting, because the woman in our piece told us that there were about 900 cases of leprosy for 40 years. There have been 7,000 in the past three years. Leprosy in this country.” I was quoting Dr. Madeline Cosman, a respected medical lawyer and medical historian writing in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.

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

If you want to unwind Cosman’s wrong report, you can read the whole thing on the SPLC’s Web site.

Let’s pause for a second to say, if Lesley Stahl tells me on camera that I got a fact wrong in a Wall Street Journal or Washington Post story from a couple years before, I would say, “Lesley, I never liked you, and that haircut does nothing for you. What is more, I am sure you are wrong, but I will check.”

Who remembers facts and sourcing from two years before? All you can do is hope you were careful, and go find out. Why is this complicated?

When did reporters—even “managing editors” [1]—decide we had to be Jesus Christ?

Okay, in the weeks since the 60 Minutes piece, the Southern Poverty folks made a big deal of this, writing a public letter to CNN—Dobbs’s employer—and attracting a story from National Public Radio.

Here’s NPR’s David Folkenflik (cue trumpets):

NPR checked that out. Federal Health Authority says there are a total of 6,500 record cases and new cases are declining. In addition, NPR found problems with CNN’s sources, the late Madeline Cosman—whose research does not seem to support her allegations, there had been a recent growth in leprosy and it’s linked to illegal immigration. But Dobbs defended the story to NPR.

Dobbs: We do not make up numbers. It is a fact.

Is he still standing by the 7,000-in-three-years figure? Not clear.

That was May 11.

The problem of where Dobbs stands on his facts worsened during a May 16 “debate” between Dobbs and Potok on Dobbs’s show.

Audit Readers, we don’t debate facts. There’s nothing to debate. I’m going to make this nice and simple. “Richard” and “Cohen” is Richard Cohen, another SPLC official. [Emphasis mine]:

POTOK: The point is that the criticism that we made of you over the leprosy claim, which was certainly false. What you claim [garbled] there were 7,000 new cases of leprosy in a recent three-year period, in fact…

DOBBS: In point of fact. In point of fact, what we said was, and I think we should really go to that. 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. You also….

COHEN: Lou, Lou, Lou—you’re letting yourself off too easy, Lou….

You really have to read the transcript to believe the sophistry, from a journalist, mind you:

DOBBS: So we did not say we quite agree that there were 7,000 new cases. We said there were 7,000 on the registry.

Cohen and Potok try gamely but fail to call him on the original error. The closest we get to a correction is:

We’re talking about 31 words uttered more than two years ago by Christine Romans in response to a question by me, just before going to a commercial break…The only person that has made anything of this has been you, gentlemen, and I can’t imagine your motivation for doing so.

The Audit says: “AFLAAAAAC!”

I hate the bully stuff; and the misuse of TV debates.

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.