Ken Auletta tries to explain in Mad as Hell. Lou Dobbs's Populist Crusade (New Yorker, December 4, subscription not required for this online content). Auletta's Dobbs:
- is a risk taker, willing to leave a well paying job to try something new, uncertain, and interesting
- is an entrepreneur, innovating and creating new things; for instance, a new approach to news programming
- is smart
- may well believe what he says about immigration and outsourcing
- is aggressive, can be nasty
- isn't plagued by self-doubt or an interest in the other side of the argument.
You know some of this already from his CNN broadcasts, but the article, which deals with Dobbs and his interaction with CNN, is worth-while. Here is another, important, part of the background to the economic populism that played an important role in the recent mid-term elections.
Dobbs's transformation from a straight business journalist to an economic populist took place four or five years ago, after he returned to CNN from a sojourn as a dot-com entrepreneur and NBC business journalist:
At first, the impact of Dobbs’s return on the program [CNN's Moneyline - Ben] was slight. The ratings for “Moneyline” went up only slightly. Dobbs says that his new, more aggressive tone was prompted by a series of events: corporate scandals (Enron, M.C.I., Adelphi, Tyco); tax cuts that Dobbs felt benefitted the rich at the expense of the middle class, and also generated enormous budget deficits; and, above all, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. After September 11th, Dobbs began wearing a flag pin on his lapel; other changes came gradually.
Dobbs and his producers agreed that the C.E.O. interviews were too soft. “We were doing—I don’t want to say puff pieces—but we were just scratching the surface,” Jim McGinnis, who has worked with Dobbs for two decades, says. They noticed that their e-mails spiked every time they did pieces on jobs going overseas or on illegal immigration. They began talking about adding more edge to the program. “I was determined to drive the broadcast very hard on issues that affect the quality of life of most Americans,” Dobbs says. As the managing editor, he already enjoyed editorial control. He decided that he also needed more freedom to express his views, and says that he went to Jim Walton, the president of CNN Worldwide, who agreed to relax the network’s no-opinion strictures. “Take it as far as you want,” he says that Walton told him, although viewers had to be informed at the beginning of the program that it would include opinion. Walton confirms this conversation. Opinion is fine, he told me, “if it’s clearly labelled. One of the things our critics said years ago was that CNN is the same”—boring. What Dobbs is doing demonstrates that “CNN is not the same.” ...
The changed emphasis of the program was probably brought about by a mixture of conviction and commerce. With so many choices, McGinnis observes, “there’s a blur out there. If you don’t stand for something and people don’t see what you are, you’re passed by. . . . It’s a business.” By May, 2002, the anniversary of Dobbs’s return, the “Moneyline” ratings had doubled. A year later, the title of the program was changed to “Lou Dobbs Tonight.” When he was asked to describe his ratings success, Dobbs, anticipating skepticism, said, “You’re not going to believe this, but I don’t pay a lot of attention to the numbers. I can tell you the trend is up.”
Daniel Drezner saw this first: Mickey Kaus' dream article (Nov 27)