By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Lou Dobbs, the most opinionated and divisive anchor at a cable network that bills itself as a straight-news oasis, resigned from CNN on Wednesday night, saying in his final broadcast that he wants "to go beyond the role" of a television journalist in tackling the country's problems.
Framing his move as a response to the urging of "some leaders in media, politics and business," Dobbs struck a populist tone, attempting to position himself as a political leader who would mount a campaign "to overcome the lack of true representation in Washington, D.C." He said that public debate was now defined by "partisanship and ideology" and that he would continue to speak out "in the most honest and direct language possible."
Liberal groups such as NDN and Media Matters had mounted a "Dump Dobbs" campaign, and Latino organizations challenged such Dobbs declarations as his 2006 statement that about one-third of the U.S. prison population "is estimated to be illegal aliens"--which the anchor later acknowledged was way too high. But his position at CNN seemed secure.
The surprise announcement by Dobbs, whose fervent opposition to illegal immigration has come to define his career, stunned most staffers at the network he helped launch in 1980. He only hinted at disagreements with CNN President Jon Klein, saying that after extensive talks Klein had agreed to let him out of his multimillion-dollar contract.
In a statement, Klein praised the 64-year-old Dobbs for having "fearlessly and tirelessly pursued some of the most important and complex stories of our time, often well ahead of the pack." He added: "With characteristic forthrightness, Lou has now decided to carry the banner of advocacy journalism elsewhere."
Signaling his already apparent opposition to the Obama administration, Dobbs said that in the last six months "strong winds have buffeted this country." He vowed to "be a leader" in a "national conversation" about immigration, jobs, health care, climate change and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- as well as "our now-weakened capitalist economy."
Dobbs was once a conventional business anchor who hosted the program "Moneyline." He quit CNN in 1999 after clashing with his network's management over his Internet venture, Space.com, but returned two years later.
In recent years, the renamed "Lou Dobbs Tonight" has served as a forum for his strong and often controversial opinions, sometimes to the discomfort of the correspondents being interviewed. Dobbs drew fire earlier this year by urging President Obama to do more to prove that he was born in Hawaii, lending credence to unsubstantiated claims by the so-called "birthers."
The Southern Poverty Law Center asked CNN in July to fire Dobbs over what it called his "racist conspiracy theories." And it put Klein in an uncomfortable position, simultaneously insisting in a memo to his staff that the story about the president's birth certificate was "dead" and telling the Los Angeles Times that he trusted Dobbs to exercise his judgment on whether to keep pursuing it.
Last month, Dobbs said on air that shots had been fired at his New Jersey home while he and his wife were outside. On his radio show, which he plans to continue, Dobbs tied the shooting to his immigration stance, saying: "The national liberal media has chosen sides. And they have decided that they're going to focus on the liberal view, which is that they will embrace illegal immigration no matter who is harmed, no matter how many laws are broken, or how few consequences there are for breaking those laws. My wife has now been, and I have been, shot at."
An official with the New Jersey State Police played down the incident, telling the Huffington Post that a hunter was probably to blame and that the stray bullet hit the attic of Dobbs's house.
A Fox News spokesman said Wednesday that the network has had no discussions with Dobbs. After rumors last month that Dobbs might be headed to that network, Fox's Geraldo Rivera, a frequent Dobbs critic, said, "Lou Dobbs is almost single-handedly responsible for creating, for being the architect of the young-Latino-as-scapegoat for everything that ails this country," Rivera said.
Dobbs, whose 7 p.m. program had introduced him as "Mr. Independent," said he is "weighing his options" about his next move.
Kurtz also works for CNN and hosts its weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."