Lou Dobbs needs to fence in his audience

The outspoken CNN host has seen his ratings dwindle in recent months

By Vincent Rossmeier

Published June 10, 2009 5:05PM (EDT)

Apparently accusing immigrants of spreading leprosy and alienating Hispanics just doesn't make for good TV like it used to. The New York Observer reports that the ratings for Lou Dobbs' nightly show on CNN have dropped nearly 30 percent over the past year. On average, just 657,000 people are watching Dobbs each night. The show now ranks third in its 7 p.m. time slot behind Fox News’ Shepard Smith and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.

An anecdote from The Observer piece shows just how much Dobbs' star has fallen. The article quotes Ken Auletta, a writer for the New Yorker, who said that while writing a profile on Dobbs in 2006, he met then U.S. Senator Barack Obama at a book party. According to Auletta, Obama was very concerned with Dobbs and asked whether the talk show host believed all of the anti-immigration rhetoric he said on TV. “He was someone who Obama had very much in mind,” Auletta told The Observer. “At that point, he was perceived as a real factor in the campaign. Dobbs generated real heat then. That doesn’t seem to exist at this moment.”

The Observer article speculates that Dobbs' rating drop can probably be tied to immigration fading from view as a hot-button issue. That idea has a lot of merit, as Dobbs has consistently been to the right of most conservative Republicans on the issue of immigration control and has advocated building a fence between the U.S. and Mexico.

However, an equally plausible explanation could be that since Obama has taken office, Dobbs has sounded more like your standard right-wing pundit, especially with his criticism of Obama, which tends to echo the usual talking points. He's called the "wise Latina" remarks by Judge Sonia Sotomayor, Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, racist, just as Rush Limbaugh did. Dobbs has also asked his audience leading questions about whether they're concerned that Obama's diplomacy abroad constitutes apologizing for the U.S., a tactic employed by Mitt Romney, among others.

Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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