Lou Dobbs Leaves CNN

Veteran CNN personality shocked fans and viewers alike when he announced that he was leaving CNN Wednesday night. Host Michel Martin speaks with Eric Deggans, a media critic with the St. Petersburg Times, for more on Dobb’s decision.

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

Moving on to another major story, this in the world of media. CNN's Lou Dobbs, the last remaining of the founding anchors at CNN - Dobbs became his professional life as business reporter and anchor, but evolved into a take no prisoners advocate on behalf of certain issues, mainly opposing illegal immigration and also against policy measures he believed disadvantaged the middle class.

Dobbs increasingly drew vocal critics who've complained for years that he's a demigod who plays loose with the facts in support of his political views. But Dobbs has insisted he's merely giving voice to millions of Americans unheard by political leaders.

Last night, Dobbs abruptly quit the program with an image of an American flag behind him. Dobbs announced it would be his last broadcast. Jonathan Klein, the president of CNN, said that Dobbs has now decided to carry the banner of advocacy journalism elsewhere.

Joining us to talk more about this is Eric Deggans, he's a TV and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times.

Eric, welcome. Thank you for talking to us.

ERIC DEGGANS: Thanks a lot for having me.

MARTIN: Let me just play a short clip of Lou Dobbs's statement on the program and then you can tell us about what you think.

(SOUNDBITE OF CNN TELEVISION BROADCAST)

LOU DOBBS: At this point, I'm considering a number of options and directions, and I assure you I will let you know when I set my course. I truly believe that the major issues of our time include 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.

But each of those issues is, in my opinion, 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.

MARTIN: Eric, it sounds to me he isn't really clear about what he's going to do next. But what do you think? Why now?

DEGGANS: Well, it's hard to know exactly what's going on because Dobbs and CNN haven't really talked to anybody beyond their statements yet. We're hearing that they're going to - CNN is going to announce his replacement perhaps today and then maybe we'll hear more about their side of it.

There seems to have been this growing friction between Lou Dobbs and management at CNN, particularly John Klein, the president of the cable channel, because CNN has been positioning itself as straight down the middle. You know, a honest broker in terms of reporting the news, trying to contrast itself with Fox News, which is, you know, considered to be friendly to the right, and MSNBC, which is considered to be friendly to the left in its prime time, you know, programming - both of those channels.

So Dobbs, with show, where he would present his opinion and he would speak out very forcefully on issues like illegal immigration and draw a lot of criticism for the way he handles some facts, was something that was increasingly a problem for CNN.

And the Associated Press had a story, I think, yesterday, that talked about how - CNN has a brand that extends beyond the mother ship channel to, you know, tons of outlets; CNN International, Web sites and the whole - the totality of that brand is about trying to be an honest broker about news and information. So if you have somebody as high profile as Dobbs doing what he's doing, that may conflict with the brand and there's a sense that there was some friction there.

MARTIN: You know, I talked to him in November of 2007. He was promoting one of his books at that time - whatever his latest book was at that time - and I specifically asked him about that and here's what he had to say.

You're obviously very critical of both parties. There are something - what, 17 people running for president. Is there not one person running now, who you think has the skills, the temperament, the character to lead this country properly?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED INTERVIEW)

DOBBS: No ma'am.

MARTIN: Then why don't you run?

DOBBS: Because I don't think that's my role. I'm an advocacy journalist. I think that's what I do best and that's where I think I serve the American people the best.

MARTIN: So it wasn't a secret that he considered himself an advocate. And he also said he really had no desire to get into the fray, which is I think what a number of people were suggesting that he do. I wonder what changed. And I also wonder what changed in terms of the positioning, because CNN allowed him to take that role for a very long time. I mean he was...

DEGGANS: Well, again...

MARTIN: It wasn't like he was doing this secretly.

DEGGANS: Well again, as I said, you know, CNN has increasingly sought to brand itself as straight down the middle, and this is something that is relatively recent. But there's been conflict, I think, about what Dobbs does. I mean when - Dobbs has correspondents from the channel on his show to talk about things that they're reporting, and he asks them very sort of pointed opinionated questions.

It makes things very difficult for people who are trying to objectively cover the Capitol, or objectively cover politics, when they go on Dobbs's show and they're sort of pressed to give their opinion about things. So I think there's always been a friction there. Dobbs's show, particularly when you talked to him, was popular and was a ratings high point for the network, so it was hard for them to I think manage him sometimes.

MARTIN: And I think that we will have to - I think there's more to know about this story.

DEGGANS: Oh.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Eric Deggans is a TV and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times. He joined us by phone from his office.

Eric, thank you.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Coming up, comedian Mo'Nique is known for making people laugh out loud. Now she's in a new role that will probably make you cry.

NIQUE: Every time I've watched it, it makes me go wow, this is so honest - and I really believe that's why it's so impactful.

MARTIN: Mo'Nique on her new film "Precious," what it means and why she took it on.

That's next on TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

I'm Michel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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