Iconic cable broadcaster Lou Dobbs unceremoniously had his show canceled Friday after a voting machine company filed a lawsuit against him and several other anchors and attorneys. While I never agreed with his political views, Dobbs was a victim of corporate/network greed — on the one hand, being cast from the news side of the day and then told to titillate viewers to drive ratings at night. But when things get too hot…boom, you’re off the air. Where is the line between too boring and too spicy? And are legitimate news organizations just plain incapable of running hard news during the day and hard-core opinion at night?
Dobbs was so quickly removed from the air Friday that even his fill-in signed off the broadcast saying he would return tonight. Dobbs was a respected business news anchor at CNN for several decades and then followed his former staffer Neil Cavuto over to Fox Business News, where he was anointed with an evening pulpit from which to rant about immigration, election meddling and a host of other dog whistle topics that drove high ratings. In his class are people like fellow Fox host Maria Bartiromo, and CNN’s Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon.
All of these folks were respected news anchors until they were thrown into the modern day version of the Roman Coliseum as gladiators swinging their swords at all the challenges of the day. But how many times can they go into the ring and not get mauled? Each one of these former anchors have been criticized at one time or another for going over the line, with a guest, an opinion or even off air. We can add many other program hosts to that list if we wanted to.
Is it possible to be successful on late night television and not foment hate or ridicule? Yes! We needn’t look farther than the recently deceased Larry King. He spent thousands of hours on the air and was able to break news, engage in interesting talk –and get great ratings, without pillaging societal norms. Maybe it’s time to reset the channel on late night cable shows.