Lou Dobbs has quit his news anchor job at CNN, his network home for three decades. Currently he’s considering all kinds of offers, including opportunities in politics.
Dobbs has a reputation as an anti-immigration racist and a right-wing nut. His detractors lump him in with Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck. And, of course, Hitler.
I confess – for years I watched the now-defunct “Lou Dobbs Tonight” on CNN. Whenever I let that detail slip, friends respond with shock or horror. Or both. But that’s because they assume I watched Dobbs for his politics. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Lou is the grandfather I never knew. If you factor in his use of language – words like balderdash and phrases like “preening buffoons” and “lily-livered cowards” – he’s the great-great grandfather I never knew.
Like a proud papa, Dobbs would use airtime on “Lou Dobbs Tonight” to broadcast snapshots of newborn babies, the offspring of his staff. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect in a small-town newscast. In 1959. But for me, such sentimental touches served as a counterbalance to Wolf Blitzer’s eerie placidity and Anderson Cooper’s razzle-dazzle.
Lou and I go back a long ways. In olden times, Lou hosted CNN’s “Moneyline.” But that was a very different Lou Dobbs.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Dobbs reported on the stock market, interviewed captains of industry and played verbal ping-pong with Myron Kandel and other financial analysts.
But after clashes with CNN President Rick Kaplan, Dobbs left the news channel in 1999 to found space.com. Two years later Kaplan was gone and Dobbs was back, but he wasn’t the same old Lou who’d hosted “Moneyline.”
Wall Street Journal deputy editor Daniel Henninger wrote, “Old admirers are aghast. It’s as if whatever made Linda Blair’s head spin around in ‘The Exorcist’ had invaded the body of Lou Dobbs and left him with the brain of Dennis Kucinich.”
Conservative James Glassman put it this way: “How did he transform from a business sycophant to a raving populist?”
Kinda makes you wonder what happened out there in outer space.
Last week New York Magazine asked if the trademark Dobbs outrage was “a wee bit manufactured” for our entertainment. No, Dobbs replied. He’s completely sincere.
“These are the most perilous times of my lifetime, and that includes the Cold War,” Dobbs said. “With my [radio show] listeners, I sense outright fear; people are scared, and I can’t tell them that their fear is wrong.”
Even “Daily Show” satirist Jon Stewart treated Dobbs with deference during his recent appearance, and ended the interview with a shout-out to a 2012 presidential ticket – Dobbs & Stewart. Sure, Stewart is playing for laughs, but I doubt he’d do the same with an anchor from Fox, even in jest.
For eight years, no news anchor on a major network bashed the Bush administration, along with America’s “corporate elite” and their Congressional handmaidens, with more consistency and vigor than Lou Dobbs.
No anchor treated celebrity gossip with more indifference. It was as though celebrities lived in a parallel universe in which Dobbs did not travel. Paris Hilton did not exist. Britney Spears did not exist.
No anchor ever threw down his sheaf of papers in a flourish of disgust with greater conviction than Lou. Hey, if you want to watch normal journalists straighten their papers and listen politely while reporters conclude their stories, that’s your funeral.
I’ve heard the Lou hate out there, but I just don’t believe he’s a racist, liar, xenophobe or huckster. Dobbs is pro Second Amendment, but a warmonger he’s not. On the extended “Daily Show” interview online, Dobbs declared the only responsible thing to do in Afghanistan is pull all troops out.
As for his interest in the “birther” conspiracy theory, well, you got me there. But remember what your mom told you: When grandpa goes off like that, don’t you pay him never no mind.
[originally published by Politics Daily in 2009]