CNN's Lou Dobbs, a lightning rod for criticism following his transition from a business journalist to an opinionated anchor on such issues as illegal immigration, told viewers on Wednesday that he was quitting his nightly show to pursue new opportunities.
"This will be my last broadcast," Dobbs said after giving the day's headlines. Dobbs, who hosts a daily radio show unrelated to CNN, said the network had allowed him to be released early from his contract.
Dobbs was a CNN original, signing on when the cable network started in 1980. For much of that time, he hosted a nightly business broadcast that became one of the most influential shows in the corporate world, and CNN's most profitable show for advertising revenue.
But Dobbs said his world view changed after the 2001 terrorist attacks and corporate corruption scandals, and he began to more freely express his opinions. He was particularly persistent in bringing the immigration issue to the fore, winning him both higher ratings and enemies. Latino groups had an active petition drive seeking his removal.
His presence became awkward for CNN, particularly as it began emphasizing reporting and non-opinion shows. He angered management this summer by pressing questions about President Barack Obama's birth site after CNN reporters determined there was no issue.
Dobbs said the decision came after many months of discussion with CNN U.S. President Jon Klein. Dobbs said he wanted to concentrate on his role as a commentator and on advocacy journalism.
Klein hailed Dobbs' "appetite for big ideas, the megawatt smile and larger than life presence he brought to our newsroom.
"With characteristic forthrightness, Lou has now decided to carry the banner of advocacy journalism elsewhere," Klein said. "We respect his decision."
Dobbs said he was proud of his role in helping to build the first cable news network. He said 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."
Seated at an anchor desk in front of a screen with a fluttering American flag, Dobbs mentioned his interest in issues such as health care, jobs, immigration, climate change and the wars.
"Unfortunately, these issues are now defined in the public arena by partisanship and ideology rather than rigorous empirical thought and forthright analysis and discussion," he said. "I will be working diligently to change that as best I can."
His resignation was hailed by activists who were seeking his ouster.
"Our contention all along was that Lou Dobbs, who has a long history of spreading lies and conspiracy theories about immigrants and Latinos, does not belong on the most trusted name in news," said Roberto Lovato, co-founder of Presente.org. "We are thrilled that Dobbs no longer has the legitimate platform from which to incite fear and hate."
Tom Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the leading Latino legal organization, said, "I think the Latino community can and should celebrate that Lou Dobbs is no longer on CNN."
Dobbs did not immediately return telephone and e-mail messages to talk about his critics.
Although he joined CNN in 1980, Dobbs left the network for two years in 1999, after angrily complaining on the air about a decision by then-CNN President Rick Kaplan to switch away from his show to a live news event. An Internet venture failed and when Kaplan left CNN, Dobbs returned.
A decision on who will replace Dobbs is expected to be announced on Thursday.
New York Times' Media Decoder blog first reported Dobbs' move.
Times reporter Brian Stelter tweeted on Wednesday evening, "NYT learns that Lou Dobbs' resignation is effective immediately; tonight's program will be his last on CNN." Another message sent shortly after: "A Fox spokesperson tells the NYT, 'We have not had any discussions with Lou Dobbs for Fox News or Fox Business.'"
Here's video of Dobbs' announcement:
UPDATE: 6:56 PM ET -- Within minutes of the news becoming public, a coalition of Latino groups that had been organizing against Dobbs blasted out a victorious press release.
BastaDobbs.com Announces Victory: Lou Dobbs to Leave CNN
NEW YORK - Responding to the news Wednesday that Lou Dobbs will leave his post as a longtime anchor on CNN, the leaders of BastaDobbs.com - a national Latino-led coalition that had been advocating for his ouster - released the following statement:
"Our contention all along was that Lou Dobbs - who has a long record of spreading lies and conspiracy theories about immigrants and Latinos - does not belong on the 'Most Trusted Name in News,'" said Roberto Lovato, co-founder of Presente.org, a national online advocacy organization coordinating the BastaDobbs.com campaign in conjunction with more than 40 local and regional Latino organizations from across the country. "We are thrilled that Dobbs no longer has this legitimate platform from which to incite fear and hate."
The BastaDobbs.com campaign launched in mid-September, and included online petitions, a viral YouTube video, text-message campaign, radio PSAs and a series of events in 18 cities - organized in conjunction with the CNN special Latino in America. The message to CNN was that courting Latino viewers while keeping Dobbs on the network would not with them favor with the fastest-growing demographic in the country. Since then, more than 100,000 people have joined the effort. The events and the campaign garnered significant press coverage in both Spanish-language and mainstream media.
Lovato said the BastaDobbs.com victory marks a key turning point for the Latino community, as it moved from marching in the streets in 2006 to mounting a successful, high-tech campaign against one of the biggest and strongest media voices against common-sense immigration reform.
"The community is newly empowered and energized, and we are ready to fight for a respectful and civil media discourse when it comes to immigration coverage on mainstream news," Lovato said. "This is only the beginning of a much longer-term effort."
Media Matters, one of the coalition members of a separate anti-Dobbs effort called DropDobbs.com, also released a statement:
Under Pressure, Controversial Host Announces Immediate Departure
Washington, DC - Media Matters for America released the following statement responding to late breaking news that controversial CNN host Lou Dobbs, best known for his relentless anti-immigrant rhetoric, will be leaving his long-time cable news home effective tonight.
"For too long, CNN provided Lou Dobbs with its stamp of approval as he pursued a dangerous, one-sided and all too often false conspiracy tinged crusade against immigrants," said Eric Burns, president of Media Matters. "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."