Lou Dobbs Canceled

Fox Business has abruptly sidelined its most popular host.

LA Times (“Fox News cancels Lou Dobbs’ show; pro-Trump host not expected to be back on air“):

Fox News Media has canceled “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” the program hosted by television’s staunchest supporter of Donald Trump and of his assertions of voter fraud in the 2020 election, The Times has learned.

Dobbs’ program, which airs twice nightly at 5 and 7 p.m. Eastern on the Fox Business Network, will have its final airing Friday, according to a Fox News representative who confirmed the cancellation. Starting next week, the program will be called “Fox Business Tonight,” with rotating substitute hosts Jackie DeAngelis and David Asman, who filled in for Dobbs on Friday.

Dobbs, 75, remains under contract at Fox News but he will in all likelihood not appear on the company’s networks again. In addition to his Fox Business Network program, he occasionally turned up on the Fox News Channel as a commentator.

The cancellation comes a day after voting software company Smartmatic filed a $2.7-billion defamation suit against Fox News and three of its hosts — Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro. The company claims the hosts perpetuated lies and disinformation about Smartmatic’s role in the election, damaging its business and reputation.

But people familiar with discussions say the decision to end Dobbs’ program was under consideration before the legal issues with Smartmatic arose. (Fox News said it stands by its 2020 election coverage and will “defend this meritless lawsuit in court.”)

“As we said in October, Fox News Media regularly considers programming changes and plans have been in place to launch new formats as appropriate post-election, including on Fox Business,” the representative said in a statement. “This is part of those planned changes. A new 5 p.m. program will be announced in the near future.”

The network has been reevaluating its programming on Fox News and Fox Business Network since the fall and implemented a number of program and host changes in anticipation of President Biden’s administration entering the White House.

Fox News recently hired former Trump economic advisor Larry Kudlow with the intention of giving him a daily program. The former longtime CNBC host immediately becomes a candidate to replace Dobbs on Fox Business Network.

Last month, Fox News shook up its daytime lineup and moved one of its high-profile news anchors, Martha MacCallum, out of her 7 p.m. Eastern time slot. Fox News has turned the hour into an opinion program with rotating hosts until a permanent one is named.

After leading in the ratings through most of 2020, Fox News had fallen behind CNN and MSNBC since the election, as conservative viewers have tuned out. The network’s competitive position has improved in the last two weeks as the number of casual viewers that CNN often attracts in intense news cycles has begun to subside.

The decision on Dobbs — whose views are often incendiary — indicates that Fox News is considering the proper balance of commentary and news to satisfy conservative viewers, who turn to it as an alternative to so-called mainstream media outlets, while not alienating less ideological voters who make up a significant part of its audience.

NYT begins their report (“Lou Dobbs’s Show Is Canceled by Fox Business“):

Lou Dobbs, one of former President Donald J. Trump’s most loyal media supporters, abruptly lost his pulpit on Friday when Fox Business canceled his weekday television show, which had become a frequent clearinghouse for baseless theories of electoral fraud in the weeks after Mr. Trump lost the 2020 presidential race.

Mr. Dobbs’s decade-long tenure at the network ended with little warning — a guest host filled in for his Friday slot — only a day after the election technology company Smartmatic filed a defamation lawsuit against Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Corporation and Fox News.

And adds:

A person familiar with Fox’s decision said the network’s concerns about Mr. Dobbs predated this week’s filing of the Smartmatic lawsuit. But the person, who requested anonymity to describe private personnel matters, conceded that Mr. Dobbs’s extreme and unrepentant endorsements of Mr. Trump’s false election claims had imperiled his position, as did other moments. For instance, on the day of siege at the U.S. Capitol, Mr. Dobbs described protesters as merely “walking between the rope lines.”

And reminds us:

Mr. Dobbs, 75, rose to fame as a CNN anchor, becoming a mainstay of television business news. He began hosting his Fox program in 2011, lured by the network’s co-founder Roger Ailes, and was watched by a soon-to-be-very influential fan: Mr. Trump, who shared Mr. Dobbs’s right-wing values, particularly the anchor’s hard-line stance against unchecked immigration.

And, while the lawsuit would on surface seem to be the main explanation, they report:

There are signs that the other hosts named in the suit, Ms. Bartiromo and Ms. Pirro, may be in a more favorable position with Fox management than Mr. Dobbs.

It was clear weeks ago that defamation suits from Smartmatic and Dominion could be imminent. Since then, Ms. Bartiromo was picked to audition for a new 7 p.m. program on Fox News, and Ms. Pirro debuted a new travel program, “Castles USA,” on the Fox Nation streaming service, in which she visits castles around the country.

Still:

Don Herzog, who teaches First Amendment and defamation law at the University of Michigan, said it was possible that canceling Mr. Dobbs could aid Fox in its defense of the lawsuit. If Mr. Dobbs had continued to discuss Smartmatic or promote election fraud on his program, the network could have been liable for each new claim, Mr. Herzog said.

Fox officials could also argue that the lawsuit made them aware of untruths that Mr. Dobbs had helped spread. And in a trial atmosphere, the cancellation of Mr. Dobbs’s program might help persuade jurors that the network was acting in good faith.

CNN, where Dobbs came to national prominence, begins their report (“Fox Business suddenly cancels ‘Lou Dobbs Tonight,’ its highest-rated show“):

Lou Dobbs, the longtime host of the signature right-wing talk show on the Fox Business Network, was canned by the network on Friday night.

“Lou Dobbs Tonight” is off the air, effective immediately, a Fox spokesperson confirmed. An interim show will take Dobbs’ place at 5 and 7 p.m. Eastern starting Monday.

It was a head-scratching change by Fox Business, since Dobbs was its highest-rated host, albeit on a relatively low-rated network. He often doubled his lead-in’s ratings, which is a rare feat in television.

But not really that head-scratching if this is true:

The pro-Trump propaganda bent juiced Dobbs’ ratings. But his far-right programming choices repeatedly caused consternation within the company, a source close to the matter said, and his program was a loss leader for Fox because many advertisers didn’t want to be associated with his content.

Regardless, one shouldn’t feel too sorry for Dobbs:

The Los Angeles Times, which broke the news, said Dobbs “remains under contract at Fox News but he will in all likelihood not appear on the company’s networks again.”

This is something known in the TV business as “pay or play” — a network can opt to keep paying a host but not put them on TV, keeping them out of the hands of rival outlets.

If this is, as the LAT story hints, about branding and a desire to attract more moderate viewers, then it makes no sense to take Dobbs off the air but leave other conspiracy mongers. If it’s about the lawsuit, as all the reports suggest, then it makes no sense to keep other named defendants on the air or even elevate their roles. If it’s that, despite being the highest-rated show of its kind, they’re losing money on it because advertisers aren’t willing to be associated with it, it makes sense. But, then, I don’t know why advertisers would be more willing to associate with other hosts peddling the same theories.

FILED UNDER: Media
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Argon says:

    Given Larry Kudlow’s terrible performance in Trump’s administration and his frequent, clearly misinformed comments on a wide range of topics, including finance & economics which were supposed to be his areas of expertise, I don’t understand why anyone would think he could host a business news program.

    But then, we’re talking about the Fox network. So I suppose that level of incompetence is considered a feature, and not a flaw.

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  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Since then, Ms. Bartiromo was picked to audition for a new 7 p.m. program on Fox News, and Ms. Pirro debuted a new travel program, “Castles USA,” on the Fox Nation streaming service, in which she visits castles around the country.

    This is hardly a ringing endorsement. “Castles USA” is probably over after it’s initial 3 episode run and Bartiromo might end up hosting the “Kitten Talk” show.

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  3. SteveCanyon says:

    I suspect Dobbs is FOX’s sacrificial lamb so they can keep the other two bomb throwers. A way to pretend that they have cleaned up their act, dodge editorial or ethical changes, and avoid a large settlement. He is by far the oldest of the three and most likely to have retired in the not too distant future. I sincerely hope this ploy does not work.

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  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    “Castles USA,”

    An obscure place to hide her and maybe rehabilitate her image till the Dominion/Smartmatic controversy blows over. She’s youngish, popular with the Fox audience and not yet a target of an advertiser ban. Dobbs, old and most popular with the views they are losing to even crazier outlets.

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  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    I would imagine that Murdoch is trying to differentiate Fox News and Fox Business. Businesspeople tend to like useful data not looney rants from senile racists. If Fox Business was going to compete with CNBC it had to return to reality.

    Fox News OTOH has lost its competition with CNN and MSNBC, recently coming in third. And Fox News has OAN to deal with. So I suspect we’ll see Fox News as home to batshit conspiracies, abandoning all pretense of reporting or rationality, while Fox Business tries to play it straight.

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  6. Owen says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I must admit, I do enjoy the occasional “Strange Inheritance”!

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  7. wr says:

    Odd that the usual right wing defenders of “free speech” aren’t calling the “cancel culture” and demanding he be reinstated. Why, it’s almost as if they believe their rules only apply to their opposition.

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  8. Scott F. says:

    @SteveCanyon:
    I believe you are right that Fox will clean up their act as minimally as possible to staunch the bleeding of advertisers and keep their legal troubles under control. Which is all the more reason to cheer on Smartmatic and Dominion, while pressuring corporations to drop their sponsorship of Fox programming that peddles so many lies. Fox won‘t tell the truth because it‘s the right thing to do, but they may if it costs them too much not to.

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  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    Reduced ad dollars are a relatively minor threat so long as Fox News and Fox Business are collecting fees from cable companies. A serious, sustained campaign to force cablers to unbundle Fox would, if even moderately successful, either force them to reform, or bankrupt them. Of course there’d still be the web and they might be able to migrate away from cable, but that’s a hard shift to make and still pay the bills.

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  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Lou Dobbs is the argument for reinstating mandatory retirement age. To be clear, I don’t have any objections to post-retirement aged people working; in fact for many of us, it is an economic necessity, and the nation has too much structural poverty already. Still, the Lou Dobbs of the world should be required to step down at some point from their positions of authority and relative influence an into the types of jobs that most of us end up having to take: shopping cart wrangler, clean up on aisle three guy, dishwasher, and (for the elite among us) substitute teacher or paraprofessional.

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  11. dazedandconfused says:

    The producers may have gotten assurances from the others that they will not repeat that BS ever again but they found Dobbs to be a true believer. For Dobbs, prudence dictated an immediate and permanent plug-pulling.

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  12. Gustopher says:

    Another victory for cancel culture! Now, bring me the cocaine-addled head of the pillow guy.

    Ms. Pirro debuted a new travel program, “Castles USA,” on the Fox Nation streaming service, in which she visits castles around the country

    So long as they lock her in the dungeon, I’m fine with that. Make a reality show out of it — American Faux-Medieval Escape Rooms, and leave her there for months trying to escape.

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  13. Doug says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker</a@Just nutha ignint cracker: Your theory applies to Joe Biden more than any other individual in the world.

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