OFF THE GRID

Is Lou Dobbs the Last Conservative Pundit?

Nov 12, 09 | 7:02 AM   byMichael Wolff
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At the top of the Internet boom, Lou Dobbs left CNN to start his ill-fated Space.com, from which he returned ignominiously not long after. Dobbs left CNN again yesterday, at what is possibly the top of the conservative pundit boom, to, as CNN put it with a certain dig, pursue his “advocacy journalism” elsewhere.

The progression of Dobbs from a straight-arrow, voice-of-God-type news guy into a dark, wounded, paranoiac, conspiracist and hater of various ethnic groups is something that took place off-camera. One day, a seemingly not very interesting fellow suddenly took up the cause.

His bosses at CNN, obviously bewildered but looking for any ratings advantage, accommodated his sudden change of temperament, or possible breakdown.

This was perhaps the most compelling part of the Lou Dobbs show—not quite being able to understand the context for it. Was this sudden harshness and mean-minded atavism a real conversion, or a determined act of cynicism and opportunism, or was he, in millions of living rooms (well, not millions, this being CNN), just plain wigging out?

The just plain wigging out theory got a little traction last month when New Jersey State Police said they were investigating a report of gunfire at Dobbs’ house. The shooting, Dobbs said, followed threatening phone calls. Those calls, he added, have stopped since the shot was fired. Hmmm.

Wigging out is not necessary unrelated to a real conversion or, even, a determined act of cynicism and opportunism—or possibly New Jersey itself. Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News—which might seem to be a more logical home for Dobbs—with whom Dobbs is said to be in “talks,” and who is also a great opportunist, dedicated right-winger, and certain wacko, also lives in New Jersey, where he believes Muslim extremists stalk him.

You can, in a way, sympathize with poor Dobbs. CNN, with its depressed air and hapless what-me-worry affect in the face of radical transformation in the TV news business, would make anybody wig out. He did try to escape CNN once before—Space.com might have been a dumb idea, but it was at least a pleasant one.

With nowhere else to go after that, Dobbs had to get mean.

If you think about it, there really are not all that many options if you are a broadcaster with ambition, except on the conservative side—nowhere else in the business is there that kind of growth.

Still, I’d like to think that Dobbs’ air of desperation, of wanting it too much, of being a dweeb (Space.com) trying to get in with the cool guys (or at least tough guys), indicates that this party is almost over.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NewserColumns.
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