CNN's Lou Dobbs surprised his viewers this week when he announced he was leaving the network after three decades. While speculation is circulating about where he'll land, we revisit this 2006 interview in which Bob asked Dobbs how he gets away with advocating from behind the anchor desk.
BOB GARFIELD: Viewers of CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight got a real shocker on Wednesday.
LOU DOBBS: This will be my last broadcast here on CNN, where I've worked for most of the past 30 years and where I have many friends and colleagues whom I admire deeply and respect greatly. I'm the last of the original anchors here on CNN, and I'm proud to have had the privilege of helping to build the world’s first news network. I'm grateful for the…
BOB GARFIELD: Whether he’s on his way to FOX News Channel, a run for the presidency, or maybe a lookout post on the Mexican border, Dobbs’ nearly 30-year CNN career will most likely be remembered for his ongoing crusade about threats to our society posed by illegal immigration. In a conversation three years ago, Dobbs told me he sees no need to conceal his considered judgment behind a veil of fake objectivity.
LOU DOBBS: I'm, first of all, an advocacy journalist, and I make no pretense whatsoever of so-called objectivity. The journalism I practice is based on our best efforts to obtain an independent, non-partisan reality that is shaping the lives of all Americans. And that's our commitment.
BOB GARFIELD: I want to ask you about your relationship with CNN itself.
LOU DOBBS: Mm-hmm.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, network President Jonathan Klein has said to The New York Times that, in essence, that the Dobbs approach will only be on the Dobbs show. And, presumably, he means that it would never fly on Wolf Blitzer's show or Paula Zahn's show.
LOU DOBBS: Well, they're quite different people than I am, as you know.
BOB GARFIELD: I understand. But why should you have a different set of journalistic standards applying to you?
LOU DOBBS: Well, immodestly, let me say one of the reasons would be my experience, my education, my analysis of the issues and the empirical evidence and a demonstrated record of, frankly, of knowing what I'm talking about.
BOB GARFIELD: You do polls on your show.
LOU DOBBS: All the time.
BOB GARFIELD: But they aren't really polls.
LOU DOBBS: Of course they are.
BOB GARFIELD: They’re –
LOU DOBBS: No, they really are.
BOB GARFIELD: They're leading questions, Lou. They're more like the push polls that you hear in a – hear about in political campaigns. Is this research?
LOU DOBBS: It is. It's a fair reading, I believe, of what our audience is thinking, yes.
BOB GARFIELD: Here's a poll question from Tuesday's broadcast. It was about [LAUGHS] the Vatican declaring that -
LOU DOBBS: Oh, yes.
BOB GARFIELD: - the border wall is -
LOU DOBBS: Oh, I, I plead -
BOB GARFIELD: - inhuman. LOU DOBBS: Yeah, ah -- absolutely.
BOB GARFIELD: Do you believe, as the Vatican asserts in a statement from within its walled city, that building a fence on the U.S. border with Mexico is inhuman? Now, oddly enough, Lou, that, that got a 90 percent no vote. That must have shocked you.
LOU DOBBS: Was it only 90?
[BOB LAUGHS} It was only 90?
BOB GARFIELD: Here's a –
LOU DOBBS: I'm disappointed because I thought it would be much higher than that.
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, I kind of have you cold here. Here's another: Which do you believe Senator Hillary Clinton is most out of touch with? And then you list various things that -
LOU DOBBS: Right.
BOB GARFIELD: - you suppose she's out of touch with - illegal immigration, border security, and so on. Now, tell me, tell –
[BOTH AT ONCE/OVERTALK]
LOU DOBBS: How did she do?
BOB GARFIELD: - tell me –
LOU DOBBS: I'm just curious. I can't remember the outcome of that one.
BOB GARFIELD: Oh, she seems to be out of touch with everything, according to the results. It's, it’s hot-button pressing, is it not?
LOU DOBBS: No, I don't think it's hot-button pressing. It is, first of all, some measure of validation for what people are thinking.
BOB GARFIELD: You concede that you do advocacy, and you proudly –
LOU DOBBS: No, I don't concede it. I don't concede it at all. I proudly declare it.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Okay. And you also proudly declare that, that you're a populist. You did a piece about that this very day.
LOU DOBBS: Right.
BOB GARFIELD: We're speaking on Wednesday.
LOU DOBBS: Right, right.
BOB GARFIELD: I'm going to give you a list of names here: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, Bill O'Reilly, Walter Winchell, Louis Farrakhan. There -- there's a thin line between populism and demagoguery, where -
LOU DOBBS: Really? [LAUGHING]
BOB GARFIELD: - where you actually inflame the public into a sort of a mob. What, what makes you think you haven't crossed that line?
LOU DOBBS: What makes you think I have - I think is the way we would begin this journalistically. The burden of proof would be on you, would it not? Let me, let me say to you first of all, one distinction that would be made rather quickly between myself and all of those luminaries that you've mentioned would be that I'm an independent populist. I have no partisan view, no political agenda of any kind, and that is straightforward and absolutely demonstrated to my audience, which is very sophisticated and discerning and demanding, each evening.
BOB GARFIELD: Let's talk for a moment about illegal immigration, which I believe you've discussed once or twice or 30 trillion times on your [LAUGHS] program. You -
LOU DOBBS: "Relentlessly" is what my critics like to use. I like to say I reported on the issue thoroughly and in an ongoing fashion.
BOB GARFIELD: But let's just say that your conclusions about illegal immigration -
LOU DOBBS: Uh-huh.
BOB GARFIELD: - are based on a cool analysis of the facts.
BOB GARFIELD: But do you not see how the constant hammering of that kind of rhetoric fans flames of less coolheaded analysis, of jingoism and racism and hysteria? Don't you have some responsibility for how your message is being translated?
LOU DOBBS: Oh, I think I have a great responsibility for how my skills of communication and how my use of language is perceived and received by my audience. I have no responsibility for those who would try to ignore my actual statements and twist those words in order to create a polemical argument.
BOB GARFIELD: But when you talk about an invasion, why shouldn't I see this as just a 21st century version of, you know, fear of the Irish or of yellow peril, or any of the other such –
LOU DOBBS: Because, because I think -
BOB GARFIELD: - scourges that were supposed to destroy our society?
LOU DOBBS: The truth is that I have never made a racist statement in my life, period. I have never made a jingoistic statement, a nativist statement. And, by the way, think about something. You used historical figures, no matter how nefarious, in some instances. Think about what nativism means in the 21st century, Bob. We are the most racially and ethnically diverse society on the face of the earth. And, by the way, I'm not an immigration restrictionist, it may stun you to learn, if, if you're reading clippings from some of those who torture and twist things to their own advantage politically. The fact is I've called for an increase in immigration to this country. But I believe that that increase in immigration should be determined by the United States government, not by the government of Mexico.
BOB GARFIELD: Your monomania on the subject of the war against the middle class and on borders, and so forth -- you strike me as the Captain Ahab of cable news. Can you live with that description?
LOU DOBBS: Ooh! Yeah, I, I can live with it, as long as it's your description. I would be a little more concerned if it was my wife, my family's, my friends' and my audience's view, which I can tell you it is not. Does it concern you also that I was monomaniacal about the Dubai Ports World sale, that I'm monomaniacal on E-voting machines and the threat they pose to our democracy? Does it concern you that our health care is rising in double-digit rates without any response on the part of public policy for the middle class in this country? Does it concern you that both parties are funded almost entirely by corporate America? The middle class may be a monomaniacal interest of mine, but it's heartfelt and carries with it a host of issues that are beyond the range of most, if I may say, most broadcast journalists.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, Lou. Well, thank you so much for joining us.
LOU DOBBS: Hey, it's great to be with you, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Lou Dobbs stepped down from his position as host of CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight on Wednesday. We first aired this interview with him in November, 2006.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER] That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Jamie York, Mike Vuolo, Mark Phillips, Nazanin Rafsanjani, Michael Bernstein and P.J. Vogt, with more help from James Hawver and Dan Mauzy, and edited by our senior producer, Katya Rogers. We had technical direction from Jennifer Munson and more engineering help from Zach Marsh.
John Keefe is our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. This is On the Media from WNYC. Brooke Gladstone will be back next week. I'm Bob Garfield.