Monday, November 27, 2006

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Mickey Kaus' dream article

Ken Auletta's New Yorker story on CNN and Lou Dobbs has a Mickey Kaus two-fer -- potshots at CNN president Jonathan Klein and a discussion of how a hard line on illegal immigration has boosted Lou Dobb's ratings!!

Here are the parts of the article I enjoyed the most:

In many ways, Dobbs and Bill O’Reilly, of Fox News, who in 2003 wrote a book entitled “Who’s Looking Out for You?,” are kindred spirits. Dobbs, who lives on a three-hundred-acre farm in a prosperous part of New Jersey, admires his own capacity for compassion and self-effacement....

Unlike Fox, whose identity among its core viewers is often described as a celebration of conservatives, CNN seems to have adopted a “We’re on your side” stance as a way to boost ratings. It was encouraged by Dobbs, but also by Cooper, who expressed his outrage at the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, and by Jack Cafferty, in cranky commentaries on Wolf Blitzer’s “The Situation Room.” For nine nights in October, CNN ran a series called “Broken Government,” as well as two hour-long Dobbs town-hall meetings—the first on the “forgotten middle class,” the second on illegal immigration. CNN’s ratings improved dramatically, particularly among the most desirable demographic, twenty-five- to fifty-four-year-olds....

For some years, CNN has billed itself as “The most trusted name in news.” (A recent Pew poll, however, suggested that there is little difference in credibility among the cable news networks; the poll also noted that the number of Americans who said they believed “all or most” of what CNN reported has fallen from forty-two per cent to twenty-eight per cent since 1998.)....

Five correspondents work for Dobbs, and during the second half hour they usually report on a story that Dobbs treats as a scandal, and that he invariably describes as “outrageous,” “alarming,” “idiotic,” “disgusting,” or “sickening.” On the air, Dobbs’s reporters appear deferential. On August 16th, Christine Romans filed a report describing how the town of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, “decided to fight illegal immigration itself” by fining landlords a thousand dollars a day for knowingly renting to illegal aliens and by denying business permits to companies that hire them. In an interview with an A.C.L.U. official who opposed the law, she allowed him a single on-camera sentence; the mayor, who supported the measure, had seven lines and the last word. In a colloquy with Romans in the studio, Dobbs was told that the A.C.L.U. said that if voters were unhappy with federal laws they could always vote for new members of Congress. “Why doesn’t that apply, then, to the local community,” Dobbs asked, “and why are they interfering there, I wonder?”

“That’s a very good point, Lou,” Romans said.....

Dobbs believes that the middle class, which he has described as being composed of two hundred and fifty million Americans, is taken for granted, an argument that could be challenged by those who point to the growth of middle-class entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare, or to the unwillingness of elected officials to offend this constituency by curbing entitlements....

In conversation, he does not harbor much doubt. One day, in his fifth-floor office at CNN’s Columbus Circle headquarters, I mentioned that Henry Kissinger has said that many of the decisions he made as Secretary of State were sixty-forty choices, meaning that the opposing argument could claim forty per cent of the truth. Did the “rock hard” truths that Dobbs once told me he believed in exclude the possibility that the other side could claim twenty per cent, or even forty per cent, of the truth?

“In free trade?” he said. “In illegal immigration? In education? No. Everything I believe, I believe unequivocally.”....

One of Jon Klein’s stated aims has been to persuade the producers of CNN’s various programs to widen their vision (he speaks of them climbing out of their “silos”)—to make sure that, say, when Anderson Cooper travelled to Africa other CNN programs, from “The Situation Room” to Paula Zahn’s broadcast, would welcome his reports. Yet the dispatches filed by Dobbs’s correspondents are rarely welcomed. The senior CNN employee says that “other shows are not comfortable with them,” because too many of these reports are on Dobbs’s pet subjects and the reporters are widely perceived to be Dobbs’s acolytes, feeding him the alarming news that he wants.

“I think he’s the most influential political reporter of the time, certainly over the last year,” Klein told me. “He’s someone politicians ignore at their peril.” Klein cited Dobbs’s response to the Dubai ports deal: for fifteen evenings, Dobbs spoke about “the outrage” of allowing a Middle Eastern country “with ties to the September 11 terrorists” to operate six American ports. Dobbs certainly was not the only person to raise questions, but the resulting furor eventually prompted Dubai to abandon the plan. Slate recently wrote that Dobbs’s brand of economic nationalism had been reinforced by the results of the midterm elections, in which many Democrats expressed Dobbsian viewpoints. As for the “illegal immigration” story, Dobbs provided a nightly stage for like-minded members of Congress to express their opinions, an exposure that he believes helped to shift Congress’s agenda....

Some journalists at CNN worry that Dobbs harms the network’s credibility. John King says that he likes Dobbs and admires his talent, but adds, “Lou clearly has strongly held beliefs, and he’s decided to share these beliefs. In doing that, does it sometimes cause concern in the company? Yes.” Klein admits that he wants to “increase the audience’s intensity,” but not in the way he believes that Fox has. “They have a clear brand identity,” he says of Fox, “which does not afford them as many places to go when their viewership dips. They have a definite right-of-center view of the world. Most of their hard-core viewers are older; sixty-five-plus is their median age”—CNN’s median age is about sixty-one. “When you define yourself that way, it’s very hard to move to the center without alienating the core audience. I’d rather be playing our hand now. By focussing on news, there is much more we can do.” In response to Klein’s remarks, a senior Fox executive called him hypocritical for saying that he was pushing serious news, when, according to the executive, he was still running soft news and taking CNN “on a hard tack to the left.” The executive said of Dobbs, “He has tapped into strong opinion. He’d be good on Fox.”

posted by Dan on 11.27.06 at 04:21 PM


It is ironic really. 18 years ago, I was a 14 year old boy in Greece, thirsty for news from outside the microcosm of my country. Then, in 1988, satellite TV and CNN came.

Lou Dobbs was one of the first images I can recall, representing the calm, rational America I believed in. The great irony lies of course, that 18 years ago, was a symbol of my information liberation, a symbol of globalization.

And today, he identifies with the same forces I wanted to escape from.

Life. Everything turns around.

posted by: Nick Kaufman on 11.27.06 at 04:21 PM [permalink]

It happened again to me this week. I was overcome by the sense that I'd forgotten something.

Wallet? No, I had that. Keys? Check. Spray-thingy for my eyeglasses (I got along for many years without this; God only knows what I didn't see in all that time because of dirty lenses)? Got it. What about orange juice? Ridiculous. I don't think I've ever forgotten orange juice in my life, which is a good thing because I drink enough of it for four people.

Then I visit Dan's blog, and it turns out I've forgotten the American middle class! 250 million people, which is a lot. I feel so elitist. And absentminded. Well, I swear I won't ever forget the American middle class again. Never. At all. No way.

posted by: Zathras on 11.27.06 at 04:21 PM [permalink]

I find it curious that those who revile Dobbs would probably list themselves as vigorous advocates of free speech. Apparently free speech does not apply to those who disagree with the conventional wisdom.

Can Dobbs be irritating? Of course. Is he often correct? Of course. Sometimes wrong? Of course. Are the "non-wealthy" in this country getting screwed? Of course.

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 11.27.06 at 04:21 PM [permalink]

"I find it curious that those who revile Dobbs would probably list themselves as vigorous advocates of free speech. Apparently free speech does not apply to those who disagree with the conventional wisdom."

How are those of us who revile him and his pernicious beliefs doing anything other than engaging in free speech of our own?

posted by: John Thacker on 11.27.06 at 04:21 PM [permalink]

From previousl posts, I know that S-T-R is not as dumb as his comment above. Hence, he is trolling.

posted by: srp on 11.27.06 at 04:21 PM [permalink]

If CNN really were on my side, they'd be pro-freedom and anti-statism.

posted by: Bilwick on 11.27.06 at 04:21 PM [permalink] >new chevrolet

posted by: Spalva-ps on 11.27.06 at 04:21 PM [permalink] >new chevrolet

posted by: Spalva-ps on 11.27.06 at 04:21 PM [permalink]

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