Lou Dobbs quit CNN last week. Various accounts say it was “abrupt” and that Dobbs simply refused to tone down his rhetoric, something CNN couldn’t abide. He’s scheduled to appear tonight with Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly, where he plans to talk about the resignation.
As the press tries to figure this out, many stories are surfacing. Dobbs is running for the U.S. Senate. He wants to be President. Dobbs is joining Fox News, where his point-of-view would be welcomed.
Also interesting are the reports about how the forced move by CNN is a part of its effort to secure the “high ground” niche in the news game, with MSNBC owning the left and Fox News owning the right. CNN figures it can be the unbiased bunch. Good luck with that.
Viewers want their newscasters and organizations to be unbiased, but they don’t believe they are, and this poses a very problematic situation for the marketers of those programs. The best anybody can do is try to be fair and accurate, but playing around with any sort of “high ground” is a very dangerous proposition. Those who favor Fox, for example, will view any attempts by CNN to “balance” a story as evidence of liberal bias. Contrariwise, those who favor MSNBC will view opposite attempts by CNN as evidence of conservative bias. The problem with attempts to fence sit, is that there is no fence in the minds of people, no identifiable middle ground that people accept as the place where varying opinions reside. As Jay Rosen has brilliantly concluded, the idea that truth lies between two points-of-view is the great illusion of the professional press, and the people formerly known as the audience intuitively know this.
The origins of objectivity in the professional press are so tied to advertising that it’s impossible to disconnect the two. As Christopher Lasch wrote in his seminal essay “The Lost Art of Political Argument,” the need to create a sterile environment in which to sell advertising fit beautifully with Walter Lippmann’s social engineering views of an élite press, and so was born the professional journalist with his or her “objective” reporting.
This has produced a considerable backlash, and now we have an unmistakable drift to point-of-view journalism that is just beginning. At the grassroots level — and at the pinnacle of big media — we’re seeing more and more argument entering into reporting, and this is a welcome change from the dishonest drumbeat of “we’re objective.”
So what will happen with CNN? Even if it enjoys a reputation among observers as being “independent,” I’m not sure that will resonate with a public that is jaded by the media’s lust for celebrity, gotcha, and bandwagon journalism.
With regards to Mr. Dobbs, there is also the very real trend of personal branding that cannot be denied. People — especially young people — don’t watch networks; they follow people, and one could easily make the case that the brand of Lou Dobbs is, at least in some ways, more valuable than the brand of CNN.
We shall see.