WASHINGTON, D.C. — After an apparent resignation, Lou Dobbs, an anchor at CNN for 27 years, is picking up his populist marbles and going … elsewhere. For now, Mr. Dobbs has left his options open, but he made one point clear: He is not leaving the public arena.
In his surprise departure statement, delivered on his last cable-cast Wednesday evening, Dobbs asserted that “some leaders in media, politics, and business have been urging me to go beyond the role here at CNN” and remain involved in “the great issues of our day.”
The suggestion was that Dobbs had resigned and was not fired, though his presence on the network had seemed increasingly out of step with its push for neutral reporting.
Dobbs is best known for stirring controversy on illegal immigration and, most recently, raising questions about President Obama’s citizenship. On both CNN and especially his radio show, which is not affiliated with CNN, Dobbs fanned theories that Obama was born abroad, causing consternation within CNN. Network president Jon Klein reportedly suggested to Dobbs that he cool it on the sharp opinions.
A lightning rod for liberals
Liberal media watchdogs have long been on Dobbs’s case. And Dobbs revealed on his radio show last month that a bullet had struck his home, while his wife stood outside, and that he had had “weeks and weeks of threatening phone calls.”
CNN announced Thursday that Dobbs’s nightly 7 p.m. EST time slot will be filled by John King, the anchor of CNN’s Sunday show “State of the Union” and onetime AP reporter. The move demonstrates that CNN is pushing for an identity centered on straight news in a primetime cable environment dominated by Fox’s conservatives and MSNBC’s liberals.
Dobbs’s departure may not cost CNN much in the ratings game.
“Lou Dobbs’s positions on major policy issues are more consistent with those expressed by the opinion-talkers on Fox than with those on CNN,” says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “Since those who watched Dobbs because they share those views were unlikely to watch CNN’s other programs for news, the effect on audience ratings for other CNN programs will probably be minimal.”
Dobbs’s next step
So what next for Dobbs, the last of the original CNN anchors?
Will he in fact move to Fox News? When former CNN-er Glenn Beck switched to Fox, his career took off. Dobbs met last month with Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, but Fox says there’s been no discussion about hiring Dobbs.
Might Dobbs run for office, even president? One website, AllYourTV.com, is promoting that theory.
In his resignation statement, Dobbs listed what he considers “the major issues of our time”: “the growth of our middle class, the creation of more jobs, healthcare, immigration policy, the environment, climate change, and our military involvement, of course, in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Each of those issues, he said, is “informed by our capacity to demonstrate strong resilience of our now weakened capitalist economy and demonstrate the political will to overcome the lack of true representation in Washington, D.C.”
Dobbs lamented a public arena now defined by “partisanship and ideology” rather than “empirical thought and forthright analysis and discussion.”
“I’ll be working diligently to change that as best I can,” he said.
In a written statement, CNN president Klein called Dobbs “a valued founding member of the CNN family.” In an e-mail to staff, Klein called the parting “extremely amicable.”
Dobbs started at CNN as an economics correspondent and host of the show “Moneyline.” After conflicts with previous network president Rick Kaplan, Dobbs left CNN for a time to start the website Space.com, which focuses on astronauts. Dobbs returned to the network in 2001.