Feature

Lou Dobbs: The lure of politics

Lou Dobbs, a founding anchor at CNN, resigned on-air last week, saying he was eager to be free of the constraints of television journalism. Is politics next?

Howard Beale has left the building, said The New York Times in an editorial. CNN anchor Lou Dobbs, the “self-styled populist enraged by immigration,” resigned on-air last week, ending the curious “mismatch of sober network and strident host.” Dobbs, whom CNN reportedly paid $8 million to go away, was a founding anchor at the network. But over the course of his career he evolved from a “pinstriped purveyor of financial news” into CNN’s most sharply opinionated anchor, fulminating about illegal immigrants and, more recently, indulging in conspiracy theories about President Obama’s citizenship and a plot to turn North America into a single socialist entity. The clash between Dobbs’ full-throated advocacy and CNN’s brand identity—as an objective alternative to left-wing MSNBC and right-wing Fox News—was evident in the final broadcast of Lou Dobbs Tonight, said Howard Kurtz in The Washington Post. Dobbs said he was eager to be free of the constraints of television journalism “in tackling the country’s problems,” and he vowed to mount an effort “to overcome the lack of true representation in Washington, D.C.”

Is that political ambition I smell? said James Poniewozik in Time.com. Some now speculate that Dobbs is positioning himself to run for the Senate—or even the White House. With lots of disaffected, “free-floating” independents up for grabs, a “media big shot” who can “tap the resentment in the body politic” probably could mount a third-party presidential campaign in 2012. But is Dobbs that man? His CNN show had only 650,000 viewers, and he lacks the “broader charisma” required of a national candidate. After all, if the former anchor couldn’t mount a serious challenge to Fox News, “can he really expect to worry President Obama and the Republican nominee?”

Obama isn’t losing any sleep, said Joe Conason in Salon.com, but for Republicans, Dobbs could be “a nightmare.” He is “skillful and telegenic,” with a well-honed, if egocentric, identity as “Mr. Independent” and defender of the forgotten working man. He has blamed Republican support of globalization for costing millions of Americans their jobs. The day after his resignation, Dobbs pledged to engage in a “contest of ideas” from which, he said, Republicans have been AWOL. In other words, “he sounds like he’s running already”—as an independent. If he runs, he’d siphon off millions of “tea party” votes and doom whomever the GOP nominates to run against Obama. The people who should fear Lou Dobbs the most, in other words, “are his fellow conservatives.”

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