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Lou Dobbs Steps Down From CNN

CNN anchor Lou Dobbs announced Wednesday that he was leaving the network to pursue new opportunities. Dobbs was the last of the network's original anchors.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Its MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And Im Renee Montagne. CNNs Lou Dobbs was one of the original anchors when the cable news network started nearly three decades ago. Since then, he has transitioned from a host of a nightly business broadcast to populous firebrand. Yesterday evening, he told viewers of Lou Dobbs Tonight he was leaving the show immediately.

(Soundbite of TV show, Lou Dobbs Tonight)

Mr. LOU DOBBS (Host, Lou Dobbs Tonight): Some leaders in media, politics and business have been urging me to go beyond the role here at CNN and to engage in constructive problem-solving, as well as to contribute positively to a better understanding of the great issues of our day.

MONTAGNE: For more on Lou Dobbs departure, we turn to NPRS David Folkenflik, whos in our New York bureau.

Good morning.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Well, first of all, you can sort out what we just heard, because Im not absolutely clear what that is. What is the story?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it kind of goes down to this: You know, the self-styled Mr. Independent, as Mr. Dobbs calls himself each night on CNN, or has, has become something of a sharp ideologue in recent years. He says he was kind of radicalized by 9/11, and particularly barbed on economic issues and especially on immigration and a lot of issues that affect Latinos.

You often heard his rhetoric would blur the lines between legal and illegal immigrants, and then again between illegal immigrants and those illegal immigrants who committed other explicit criminal acts. Let me give you one example. In attacking President Obama earlier this year, here he is criticizing the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

(Soundbite of TV show, Lou Dobbs Tonight)

Mr. DOBBS: Effectively, an organization that is interested in the export of American capital and production to Mexico and Mexicos export of drugs and illegal aliens to the United States.

FOLKENFLIK: Now, he had to apologize for that, but he said it twice during that particular show. And the severe tone theres pretty indicative of the kind of remarks he would fairly frequently make. He was even rougher in a lot of the things hed say on his syndicated national radio show, often distorting or getting incorrect certain kinds of things.

In one episode, I remember he cited figures for leprosy that he was blaming on illegal immigrants. These figures were wildly inaccurate. And he forced his staff in reporting on that on a quest for sources that NPR and other news organizations showed to be utterly unqualified. It led to a lot of groups representing Latinos and others to call for boycotts of advertisers on his show.

MONTAGNE: Still, David, there are plenty of ideological figures on cable news: Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck of Fox on the right, Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann of MSNBC on the left. I mean, why is this different in that hes leaving the show now?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, youve got to think about CNN. Its being badly beaten in the ratings. As you say, Fox has turned right with its punditry - some would also say its story selection - MSNBC left. CNN says, hey, look. Were the guys doing it down the middle with the objective reporters.

And Dobbs undermines that in two pretty key ways, both as an ideologue and also as somebody presenting inaccurate or distortive reporting. For example, he indulged earlier this year the so-called birthers who try to cast doubt on President Obama and his citizenship and right to hold office. Heres the kind of language you wouldve heard on Dobbss radio and TV shows this past summer.

Mr. DOBBS: And seemingly, the questions won't go away because they havent been dealt with. All he has to do is just produce the original birth certificate in Hawaii. I don't know the reality is. Do I believe hes a citizen? Yes, I do. Absolutely.

FOLKENFLIK: This greatly upset CNN executives. He was cautioned. They said you can say what you want on the radio show. Do not do this on television. And, in fact, on one night when he was taking the day off with a substitute anchor, CNN ran a lengthy corrective story, essentially disproving any doubt about President Obamas citizenship.

Dobbs returned to the show and soon said, hey, you know, its legitimate to question this. There are legitimate doubts. This led to months of tensions. And in the meantime, even as CNNs ratings downs(ph), so were his own.

MONTAGNE: So Lou Dobbs Tonight - well, the show, at least Lou Dobbs is leaving the show. Whats next for him, and whats next for CNN?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, hes gone immediately. You know, Dobbs still has the radio show. He says hell be in the public eye. Theres been past speculation that hed be a perfect choice for Fox Business News, or Fox - the Fox News Channel. A Fox spokeswoman denies - for both channels denies any contact.

Meanwhile, CNN says, look, hes gone. Itll be naming a new anchor very shortly. Its cleaned up its brand, saying, you know, we are the ones who operate independent journalism, shorn of ideology. Its only challenge now is to draw those missing hundreds of thousands or millions of viewers back into the fold.

MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

MONTAGNE: NPR's David Folkenflik, speaking to us from New York.

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