The face of cable television in the United States looked and sounded a little different yesterday after the veteran CNN anchor Lou Dobbs stepped down from his role as the channel's resident bruising conservative with a hint of politics in his future.
Dobbs, who in recent years made a journey that not everyone welcomed from avuncular purveyor of straight news to bruising advocate of right-wing philosophy, most notably on immigration policy, announced his rush for the exit doors during his show on Wednesday evening. Indeed, it was to be his last appearance.
The news was wildly popular in some quarters. "Hasta La Vista Baby," was the happy headline on El Diario, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in New York yesterday, which, with many other media watchdog and human rights groups, had been pressing CNN for months to ditch Dobbs because of his extreme views on illegal immigration and his penchant for expounding them boldly on his 7pm news programme, Lou Dobbs Tonight.
No one will say that Dobbs was pushed. But Jon Klein, CNN president, reportedly gave the broadcaster a clear choice earlier this summer. Keep your opinions to yourself and, if you insist, your afternoon radio audience, or find employment elsewhere. For the most part, CNN has tried to keep to the middle-ground between the conservative and liberal biases of, respectively, its two rivals, Fox News and MSNBC.
The presence of Dobbs, who was there at the 1980 creation of the network by Ted Turner, was increasingly at odds with Mr Klein's vision of a station invested in old-fashioned objectivity. Mr Klein said that Dobbs "has now decided to carry the banner of advocacy journalism elsewhere".
Where, of course, was instantly a topic of intense airwave speculation. It is no secret that Dobbs, 64, has held meetings with the top brass of Fox News, owned by Rupert Murdoch. Fox would seem a natural haven for him if he intends to stay in broadcasting. He may, however, opt instead for a putative career in politics, in which case expect to see him at the same point of the spectrum occupied by Sarah Palin. With his reassuring gravelly tones and sandy locks, the popular Dobbs could make an effective candidate. "Some leaders in media, politics and business have been urging me to go beyond my 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," he told viewers on Wednesday night, "and to continue to do so in the most honest and direct language possible".
Dobbs had a contract with CNN until the end of last year, but was released from its obligations by Mr Klein. He had worked at the network for 25 of the past 27 years.
His fall from grace in the eyes of some viewers was accelerated this summer when he repeatedly gave oxygen to the so-called "birther movement" which, in its battiness, tried to prove that President Barack Obama was not born in Hawaii and was therefore not a US citizen.
The disgust felt by many in the Hispanic community towards Dobbs was fuelled by the fact that he is married to a Mexican-American. Despite that relationship, he repeatedly argued that illegal Mexicans were attempting a reconquista of the US by taking all of the South-west including California and New Mexico, and that uncontrolled immigration was the biggest threat to the US middle class.
Among those appalled was Geraldo Rivera, another TV anchor of Puerto Rican ancestry. Dobbs, he said, "is almost single-handedly responsible for creating, for being the architect of the young-Latino-as-scapegoat for everything that ails this country".
His departure from CNN was welcomed by Eric Burns of the watchdog MediaMatters. "This is a happy day for all those who care about this nation of immigrants and believe in the power of media to elevate the political discourse," he said.Reuse content