I have three stuffed animals at home that I hide when I expect visitors. (Guys don’t do stuffed animals.) But my fuzzy critters serve a purpose. Four years ago, I destroyed my living room TV set by throwing a beer bottle at it in anger and frustration. I had been watching Lou Dobbs.
So, for years, I have been throwing stuffed animals at Lou instead of beer bottles. But now I need throw them no more. Lou no longer haunts my 7 p.m. viewing. He quit his CNN program in a multi-syllabic huff this week. CNN’s venerable, respected chief national political correspondent, John King, will take over in January. I’m sure I won’t have to throw stuffed animals at Mr. King.
But I once considered Lou venerable and respected. He’s a Harvard grad, y’know, a self-touted intellectual giant in matters of finance and economics. That’s why I began watching him years ago. I learned from him things I did not know. But for the past few years, Lou has only taught me the face of intellectual arrogance, bigotry, and unexceptional reporting masquerading as “advocacy.”
Lou, he of the annual salary variously estimated between $5 million and $10 million, has come to fancy himself as a champion of the middle class. Mr. King, as host of CNN’s “State of the Union,” has traveled each week to a different state — 44 so far — to sit down with the middle class in their diner, pubs, and livingrooms. Can you remember — or imagine — Lou doing the same? Aside from his carefully staged, perfectly lit, orchestrated “town hall” meetings at which the middle class had to meet Lou on his turf, not theirs?
When he quit, he lamented the “partisanship and ideology” permeating national politics. He did not or could not view his own brand of divisive opinionating as just another form of partisanship.
CNN, I suspect, is glad to see Lou depart despite 27 years’ of mostly worthy service. CNN’s president, Jonathan Klein, larded the cable network’s own news story with bombastic paeans for Lou:
For decades, Lou fearlessly and tirelessly pursued some of the most important and complex stories of our time, often well ahead of the pack. … With characteristic forthrightness, Lou has now decided to carry the banner of advocacy journalism elsewhere.
So why’d Lou leave? Was it “extremely amicable,” as Mr. Klein said? Or was his ill-reported “advocacy journalism” wearing thin on a network that had begun to position itself as centrist, parked between MSNBC on the left and Fox News Channel on the right? Or, more bluntly, did Lou not pull in sufficient ad revenues to offset his high salary? (And he complained about Wall Street salaries? Sheesh.) By June, Lou’s ratings had shrunk to unacceptable levels. His TV program had been drawing only 650,000 viewers, and only about 180,000 were from that advertiser-favored, 25-to-54 demographic.
Lou has championed the movement opposing illegal immigration. That’s his signature issue following his self-admitted radicalization following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. When he did not appear in any way, shape or form on CNN’s “Latino in America,” it became clear he was a goner at the network.
Lou says he’s leaving because
some leaders in media, politics and business have been urging me to … engage in constructive problem-solving, as well as to contribute positively to a better understanding of the great issues of our day. And to continue to do so in the most honest and direct language possible.
Right. But how? Some pundits conjecture he’ll seek public office. Senator Lou? Hardly. Can you imagine Lou, who is wealthy and self-righteous, hitting the campaign trail and pressing the flesh of that middle class with whom he rarely mingles? Can you imagine him dialing for dollars — raising the money to run for office? He’d find that demeaning and beneath him. And he’s hardly likely to self-finance.
Lou won’t be entering politics. He does not like being held accountable by any one, whether individual, corporate, or political, for what he says and does. He wants freedom to act without consequence. Nor does he have the temperament to make the deals and compromises all politicians must.
Will he move on to Fox? Doubtful. Would he view his brand of intellectually arrogant elitism an ill fit for the likes of a network that many argue is anything but intellectual? Probably. And he certainly won’t bury himself in a conservative think tank. He’d have to submerge his ego.
Lou likes money. Lou likes fame. Lou likes being the center of a self-created universe. Note that his own website touts him as “Mr. Independent.” He likes that tag.
Perhaps Lou wants to be Rush. Lou has a nationally syndicated radio program, “The Lou Dobbs Show,” launched a year and a half ago by United Stations Radio Networks. It’s carried on 400 stations and reaches about 5 million listeners.
But conservative talker Rush Limbaugh has the top-rated talk show, reaching more than 14 million listeners. Lou is eighth in national radio ratings, behind mostly conservative rabble rousers I’ll bet he considers his intellectual inferiors. Then there’s the money: In 2006, Rush signed an eight-year contract grossing $400 million, about $50 million a year. Don’t forget his $100 million signing bonus.
Do you think Lou might find that kind of money attractive? Sure, but Lou has also seen the attention centered on Rush. By politicians. By presidents. By pundits. By the powerful. By the proletariat.
That’s Rush’s world. Lou wants to shoulder him aside. But his CNN gig was not going to get him there.
Bye, bye, Lou. And thanks: I can now buy a new TV.