Lou Dobbs, the outspoken cable news host who left CNN a year ago after clashing with management over illegal immigration, is returning to television early next year on the Fox Business Network.
Fox Business had been flirting with Dobbs practically since the day he left CNN. The 65-year-old anchor appeared on Fox News several times in the last year and is close with Fox News and Fox Business chief Roger Ailes. Talks between the two heated up in the last few weeks.
Few details were available about the nature and scope of Dobbs' new show. But Kevin Magee, the executive vice president of Fox Business, said the as-yet unnamed program will likely be an hour, although the show's ultimate length and air time have yet to be determined.
In a phone interview Wednesday afternoon, Dobbs said he and Fox Business are going to "try to develop a compelling and intriguing hour of television business news." As for whether he will continue to beat the drum on illegal immigration, Dobbs said, "no topics are off limits," adding that he doesn't "back off from controversy."
Asked if Dobbs would have editorial freedom to talk about whatever he wished, Magee said, "nobody has carte blanche over here."
However, that doesn't mean Dobbs can't discuss his favorite subject.
"Where the intersection of immigration and economics collide, I'm sure he'll talk about it," Magee added.
At CNN, Dobbs was one of the original anchors and had built tremendous clout at the network. People with knowledge of his contract said he had far more editorial freedom than other correspondents and anchors. Although he spent much of his career as a business reporter, Dobbs, over his last several years at CNN, shifted his focus to outsourcing, and later, to illegal immigration.
That tilt toward an increasingly political viewpoint, particularly his emphasis on illegal immigration, strained relations with CNN management. At the time of his departure, then CNN U.S. President Jon Klein said Dobbs has "decided to carry the banner of advocacy journalism elsewhere."
Shortly after leaving CNN, many speculated that Dobbs would capitalize on his attention to the hot-button immigration issue and use his status to launch a political career. However, he never went down that road and remained active in the media as host of a radio show.
Hiring Dobbs gives Fox Business a well-known face in its battle against rivals CNBC and Bloomberg TV. The channel's best-known personality is Neil Cavuto, who also serves as managing editor of the channel. Over the last year, Fox Business has been on a hiring spree. It picked up Charlie Gasparino and Dennis Kneale, both former CNBC staffers, ABC veteran John Stossel and Gerri Willis, an ex-CNN correspondent who hosts a show for Fox Business.
Fox Business is in about 57 million homes, putting it at a disadvantage to CNBC, which is in about 95 million homes. Although Fox Business doesn't release its ratings, it did manage to top CNBC on election night despite being in far fewer homes, according to Nielsen. However, typically CNBC has a much larger audience than Fox Business.
Not everyone is cheering Dobbs' return to cable news. "The wounds left by Lou Dobbs' CNN tenure have not been forgotten," said advocacy group Media Matters for America, America's Voice and the League of United Latin American Citizens in a joint statement. "Lou Dobbs does not deserve a platform on any television network — even one with ratings as low as Fox Business Network."
After learning of that statement, Dobbs chuckled and replied, "They're irrelevant to the important issues that I care about."