Lou Dobbs doesn't hang out with President Trump on weekends. But "I hope he would consider me a friend and supporter," the Fox Business Network host told The Fix, "because I have been, on the air, from day one."
Being a friend to Trump on the air has worked out well for Dobbs. "Lou Dobbs Tonight" finished 2016 as the top-rated business news program on cable, averaging 281,000 nightly viewers. The show averaged only 99,000 viewers in 2015, lagging far behind CNBC offerings such as "Squawk on the Street," "Closing Bell" and "Power Lunch."
If you've seen Dobbs's show lately, you know that the 71-year-old journalist thinks Trump is getting too little credit from the press for actions aimed at boosting the economy. Dobbs discussed that belief and his view of media coverage, in general, with The Fix. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
THE FIX: I want to ask you about something Kellyanne Conway said on CNN recently. She was talking to Jake Tapper and complaining about press coverage, and she said, “How about more complete coverage? In other words, [President Trump] has issued 20 or 21 executive actions since he took office, and it seems like we’re covering one of them most days.” That “one” is the travel ban, of course. So which of the others do you think merit more attention?
DOBBS: Just about all of them do. I mean, we're looking at a historic number of presidential actions. This president is moving to meet what he sees as his promises from the campaign far more quickly than I've ever seen any president move in my lifetime. I can understand the frustration of the administration at not seeing that covered.
But you'll never have press coverage that satisfies the administration, in either party, in my experience. I do think a legitimate issue here is the tone of the coverage, the ferocity and just venomous quality of much of the coverage that to me is inexplicable, except by an ideological motivation.
THE FIX: If the president's other actions are not getting covered enough, why do you think that is? I'll toss out a few leading theories, but maybe you have your own. One is the charge that the media is biased. Another is that the media prefers simple stories and doesn't report nuance very well. And a third is that it's the White House's own fault because they keep stepping on their own good news with mistakes, like having Conway out there hawking Ivanka's products.
DOBBS: I have a view that, I think, represents two, if not all three, of those. But certainly the national media right now is made up of a whole lot of journalists who don't want to get any more complicated than necessary. It is easier to do the "Oh, they made a mistake" story.
Kellyanne Conway making a remark about the Ivanka stuff ignores what I think is a real frontal assault from corporate America and individual CEOs against this president. We have not seen that in the history of the country, and it is going utterly unreported. No longer is corporate America content to leave lobbying to the Chamber of Commerce. They're taking on the White House individually in ways we've never seen before.
THE FIX: How would you improve coverage, then? I feel like I've read a lot about individual companies: Uber, Nordstrom.
DOBBS: You did read individual stories but — and I follow this pretty closely — there was no story about the collective weight of corporate America — Wall Street, Silicon Valley — being brought to bear by individual CEOs who are standing up as never before and taking on a president of the United States. I think that's a big deal. The biggest stories are being ignored for what I think are reflexive and simple stories.
THE FIX: The White House certainly objects to the amount of time the press has devoted to fact-checking. Some standout ones would be the claim that the media doesn't cover terrorism or that 3 to 5 million illegal votes were cast. Conway put it like this on CNN: “Are they” — meaning those false claims — “more important than the many things that he says that are true that are making a difference in people's lives?” How would you answer her?
DOBBS: Well, I would hope that there is room enough in the coverage that you could honestly and fairly state what is true and factual, and what is speculative and false with any office holder. The issue is the balance between the two.
You mentioned 3 to 5 million votes in the last election. What I sort of recoil at is the national media saying that's a false statement. We don't know that it's false. Because it's not proved does not make it false; what it makes it is speculative and perhaps hyperbolic. Why there should be a reflex in the national media against an administration that wants to find out the depth of whatever voter irregularity, registration fraud there is — why would there be any resistance to that?
(Note: There were 128,824,833 ballots cast in the presidential election. Noncitizens represent 7.7 percent of the U.S. population. In one of Trump's favorite studies, researchers at Old Dominion University surveyed noncitizens in 2008 and 2010 and asked whether they are registered to vote; 14 percent said yes. There are reasons to be skeptical of that figure, but if we take it at face value — and assume that these noncitizens turned out at the same rate as their citizen counterparts — we are talking about 1.1 percent of all votes, or 1,401,003 ballots, to be precise. That would be an alarming total but still far less than Trump claimed.)
THE FIX: I think it comes down to a concern among a lot of journalists that Trump is conflating what are two separate things: actual voter fraud and registration irregularities.
DOBBS: How would you — without serious and deep investigation — say that one is electoral fraud and one is voter fraud when we don't know who is being permitted to register? Now, whether that number is 31 in the state of Ohio or 3 million nationwide, I think it really does warrant an examination.
THE FIX: But you understand what I'm saying, right? They are two different things. There's a difference between people being registered in two states because they recently moved, or still being registered after they die, and actually voting twice or voting under a dead name.
DOBBS: You and I may reason in precisely the same way on that argument — and I think we do — but at the same time, you cannot say the president has made a false statement when he says there are 3 to 5 million illegal votes, in his judgment. We don't know on what basis he made the claim. But we do know this: It is speculative, and therefore it is a good thing because all he is asking for is an investigation of it and is pursuing it.
That seems to me to be both a responsible and potentially extremely important use of taxpayer money and time and energy.