MICHELE NORRIS, host:
CNN is redesigning its lineup, at least in the seven oclock eastern hour. That opportunity arises after an unexpected announcement last night by anchor Lou Dobbs. Mr. Dobbs announced that he was leaving immediately.
As NPRs David Folkenflik reports, the rupture may help CNN clarify its identity.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Just listen to what former CNN anchor Frank Sesno says about Dobbs announcement.
Mr. FRANK SESNO (Former CNN Anchor): I think this is an important moment and a moment of distinction. And if CNN is saying to the world, our voice is going to be a voice of information and a voice of credible information, thats very important.
FOLKENFLIK: Sesno is now director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. He remembers Dobbs reputation as a friend of the business establishment, at least until early this decade. Dobbs became an economics populist and a hawkish foe of illegal immigration. Sesno says Dobbs and CNN officials had looked at the success of the highly opinionated FOX News hosts Bill OReilly and Sean Hannity and thought, why not him?
Mr. SESNO: Lous had his ups and downs throughout his tenure at CNN. Hes a very strong, forceful personality. And he has very strong forceful views. And it may have taken some time, but apparently this was a not fit for Lou or for CNN.
FOLKENFLIK: And thats because CNN has promoted itself most recently as the last home for unbiased journalism on cable television. FOX News has drawn big ratings with hosts who are right of center and in Glenn Becks case, right of right of center. And MSNBC has had some success by veering to the left in prime time. CNN has, by comparison, struggled and Dobbs ratings havent been great either - well under a million viewers each night.
Yet, if CNNs mark of distinction has been its objectivity, well, you never wouldve known from watching Lou Dobbs Tonight or listening to his syndicated radio show. Here he was talking about President Obama.
Mr. LOU DOBBS (Anchor, CNN): Im moving from being an independent, sir, to being absolutely opposed to your - any policy you could conceive of.
FOLKENFLIK: And this past summer, he repeatedly breathed life in the theories of the so-called birther movement over Mr. Obamas birthplace and his standing to be president.
Mr. DOBBS: A lot of questions remaining and seemingly the questions wont go away because they havent been dealt with.
FOLKENFLIK: That, despite the reporting of CNN and others disproving any doubts. Dobbs has been strident about illegal immigration to the point where many advocates say he was bashing Latinos. Angelo Falcon is president of the National Institute for Latino Policy in New York.
Mr. ANGELO FALCON (President, National Institute for Latino Policy): This past year, we kind of intensified our efforts to raise this issue about Lou Dobbs, the appropriateness of Lou Dobbs being on CNN.
FOLKENFLIK: John Klein is president of CNNs American news channel. He says Dobbs critics have it all wrong.
Mr. JOHN KLEIN (President, American News Channel, CNN): You know, weve been talking since the beginning of the year, Lou and I, about the overall positioning of the network and the need for him to remove opinion from his show. And to his credit, he understood that strategy, he respected it and he embraced it.
FOLKENFLIK: But Klein says Dobbs didnt like the constraints and asked to leave. Klein says it was an amicable parting and one that should help both sides.
Mr. KLEIN: We are a very profitable company because of our commitment to journalism. So we dont want to do anything that is off-mission, and were not going to be.
FOLKENFLIK: Dobbs didnt return a message seeking comment. Hell still have the radio show and told viewers hell keep advocating his views. Klein announced today that a replacement show will feature CNN political host John King, a quintessential reporter, not known for expressing personal beliefs.
David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.
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