CNN President Jon Klein faces more questions about Lou Dobbs (updated)

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Updated: Just moments after CNN/U.S. President Jon Klein addressed the issue at the Television Critics Assn. press tour, anchor Lou Dobbs did another long segment on the so-called ‘birther movement,’ reporting on the air that the director of Hawaii’s Department of Health said Monday that she has seen Obama’s long-form birth certificate.

Dobbs also corrected what he reported on Friday, at Klein’s urging, that Hawaii had discarded all the paper documents after it went paperless in 2001. In fact, it has not, Dobbs said today. (Hawaii Health Department officials told the L.A. Times last week that old birth records have not been destroyed.)

Dobbs also thanked Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly for defending his right to report on the birther movement, even though O’Reilly called the story ‘bogus.’ ‘He and I disagree on that, but I appreciate Bill O’Reilly being a stand-up guy,’ Dobbs said.

On Friday, Kleindeclared the supposed controversy regarding the legitimacy of President Obama’s birth certificate a ‘dead story.’ But the press is far from letting Dobbs off the hook for raising the issue repeatedly on his syndicated radio program and discussing it on the air on CNN.


Klein sent an e-mail on Friday to staffers of “Lou Dobbs Tonight” informing them that CNN researchers had determined that Hawaiian officials discarded all paper documents in 2001. A long-form birth certificate with details about the doctor who delivered Obama no longer exists, CNN reported. The shorter Certificate of Live Birth noting Obama’s birth on Aug. 4, 1961, that has been made public is the official record.

On Tuesday, appearing at press tour, Klein said that Dobbs never questioned President Obama’s birth place. Dobbs, he said, ‘was just reporting the flap.’ After the press conference, a group of reporters gathered around Klein to ask more about the matter, led by Variety TV critic Brian Lowry. The following is the Q&A that ensued:

Q: If Dobbs wanted to explore whether the British had won the Revolutionary War, would that be a legitimate topic?

A: It would not be legitimate for Lou or anyone else at CNN to explore whether Barack Obama is an American citizen. That’s why he hasn’t done that. And I think the people who are making noise about that have to look at closely what the discussions have been. It’s all about the phenomenon of doubters.

Q: Are you distinguishing from what he said on his radio show?

A: Oh, yes, absolutely. We have no control over what he says on his radio show. It’s not a CNN radio program so he does what he does on the radio separate from what he does on our air. So we ask you and anyone writing about this, to look at what he says on CNN. It’s the only thing we control.

: Are you concerned, though, that it will damage your credibility?

A: I hope not. All we can do is do great reporting about the facts on this and every other story that we cover.

Q: But if he goes on his radio show and contradicts your reporting and then raises the same issue on the air, isn’t there some need for somebody to balance that?

A: What he does on the radio is separate and apart from what he does on our air. On our air, he has said very clearly and repeatedly that Barack Obama is an American citizen. Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. Of that there is no doubt. He must have said it 10 times the last time he did the story. So he couldn’t be clearer about that. Now, a couple of times he’s hosted panel discussions about this phenomenon: Why do some people doubt it still? That’s what those discussions are about. There’s a real distinction. Does that make sense?

Q: But he also asks: Why haven’t they produced the documents when they have, in fact, produced the documents?

A: That’s why I sent that note the other day -- to clarify. We had our guys ask that question. It turns out, he can’t. It’s not up to him. It’s not the president’s choice. Lou has now stated that. What he then turns around and does on his radio show is not within our purview.

Q: Is it a topic you’d rather see him drop at this point?

A: I would rather all of our leading journalists rely on their best judgments and instincts and our guidance about them. We believe in the editorial compass of all of our people. It’s going to be different according to the individual. But that just makes us a more interesting and vibrant place. Lou is listening to a certain segment of the population all day long on his radio show so naturally that’s going to inform some of the decisions that he makes. But, again, to be clear: He is not exploring the question of whether Barack Obama is an American citizen. That is settled. It is a dead issue as far as CNN is concerned.

--Maria Elena Fernandez & Matea Gold