Below the Beltway
By Gene Weingarten

Sunday, June 17, 2007

As I write this, it is almost 6 p.m., and my family is assembling around the TV, eagerly awaiting the start of CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight," our favorite comedy show.

Now, if you're thinking: "Hey, wait a minute, that's not a comedy show! That's a serious look at world affairs hosted by a dignified, award-winning journalist," then you either:

1) do not watch the show, or

2) are Lou Dobbs.

Lou used to be an actual newsman, but then, some years ago, he apparently realized that whenever he expressed outrage over illegal immigration or outsourcing of jobs -- hot-button issues among the xenophobically inclined -- his viewership climbed. Like a pigeon in a box who gets rewarded with a corn kernel every time he flaps a designated wing, Lou was soon just one big madly flapping right wing.

Before I began watching this show, I had no strong opinion about illegal immigration. Now, I'm in favor of not only granting illegal immigrants citizenship, but also of giving them each a fancy car and a semiautomatic weapon, if for no other reason than to watch "Lou Dobbs Tonight" and see if a man can literally explode from bluster.

Lou grew up in Texas, the son of a propane salesman, and if this sounds familiar, you are probably a fan of "King of the Hill," another really funny show. As you can see from the twinned images on this page, the physical resemblance between Lou and young Bobby Hill -- son of a Texas propane salesman -- is pretty dramatic. Hank Hill always looks at his son and says, "That boy ain't right."

I'm just saying.

"Lou Dobbs Tonight" can sneak up on you, like a pirate ship not flying its true colors. At first, it appears to be a normal talk show in a familiar format, with nicely dressed men and women in swivel chairs speaking in pleasant, professional altos and baritones. But then odd things begin to happen. A typical segment on "Lou Dobbs Tonight" includes an interview with some newsmaker who agrees with Lou entirely on every issue, so the conversations tend to go like this:

Lou: What in the world is wrong with these politicians who want to send manufacturing jobs to China? What are they, idiots?

Newsmaker: "Idiots" is too good a word for them, Lou. They're vomit sandwiches on whole wheat toast.

Lou: Vomit? At least vomit has nutrients in it! They're feces on an onion bagel!

Newsmaker: Feces? Feces is too good a . . .

If a charge is incendiary enough, Lou doesn't demand all that much by way of verification. Not long ago, his show suggested that illegal immigrants had recently caused nearly an eight-fold increase in leprosy here. Leprosy! That'll get your attention!

Unfortunately, this proved to be somewhat false, but only in the limited sense that illegal immigrants haven't caused a big rise in

leprosy in this country, inasmuch as the number of new cases has actually declined since 1988. Lou's source was a long-discredited report by a fulminating racist with no medical credentials. The woman, now deceased, also believed that most Latino male immigrants were child and/or nun molesters.

My favorite parts of "Lou Dobbs Tonight," however, are his polls. Like many TV shows, LDT has gone interactive, using the Web to instantly report his audience's views. The difference between this show and most others is that Lou's votes are never close. They reveal a startling unanimity of American opinion, always in agreement with Lou, usually by majorities of 95 percent or more. No one has gotten this kind of electoral support since Saddam Hussein.

How does such a thing happen? Lou's polls read like this:

Choice 1: I think we need to do something about illegal aliens with poor personal hygiene who run amok and rape decent American women.

Choice 2: I think it is good if illegal aliens with poor personal hygiene run amok and rape decent American women.

Okay, the show is starting now, and here's Lou. Hang on, I'll be back when it's over.

IT WAS A PRETTY TYPICAL SHOW. The main issue was the Senate's immigration reform bill, which had garnered surprisingly bipartisan support. But Lou hates this bill. He called it a "pathetic charade" and said that the senators who support it are "acting like clowns" and that their arguments are "just nuts." Then, to show his evenhandedness, he brought on both a Democrat and a Republican who oppose the bill.

Finally, his poll. Here's how Lou phrased the question: "Is a bad immigration bill better than no bill at all?"

Ninety-seven percent of the viewers decided a bad bill is . . . bad.

Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is

Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company