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Tuesday, November 24, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

For some reason, there is an ongoing interest in some quarters as to what Lou Dobbs is going to do now that he is no longer on CNN.  The most logical move, it would seem, would be a move to Fox Business Channel, although one doubts CNN would have let him out his contract without a fight if he was just going to go to the competition.  Instead, there has been a dribble of stories about how Dobbs might become more active in politics (he is well known for his strident views on immigration) including speculation about runs at public office.

There are a couple of stories at Politico highlighting the possibility that Dobbs is at least contemplating a presidential run.

Dobbs: 2012 presidential run not "crazy"

Ex-CNNer Lou Dobbs tells WTOP this morning that he feels "liberated and emancipated" since leaving the network — and he’s not ruling out the possibility of running for president in 2012.

When one of the WTOP anchors joked that pundits were floating the crazy idea of the immigration-fixated Dobbs running for president, he shot back: "What’s so crazy about that?" — and disclosed that he’s talking to advisers to suss out his political options.

Lou Dobbs mulls White House bid

Less than two weeks after announcing his departure from the cable network—and following a series of interviews in which Dobbs encouraged speculation about his political plans—the anchorman known to fans as "Mr. Independent" finally made his presidential ambitions explicit on former Sen. Fred Thompson’s radio show Monday.

Asked if he might make a run at the White House in 2012, Dobbs answered flatly: "Yes is the answer."

Now, one should only take such public musing so seriously, as he certainly has every incentive to keep his name in the press and this is a great way to do so.

However, let’s assume that he is actually devoting at least a few stray neurons to seriously consider the option.  Certainly even if he is not, there are members of the press that take the story seriously enough to keep asking him about it/writing stories about it.

But, how useful a launching pad is a cable news show as a means of pursuing a career in electoral politics?   In terms of perhaps moving in to local politics it might be useful, given the value of name recognition.  Still, national politics (especially of the presidential variety) is not a place where political amateurs thrive (ask, for example, Ross Perot or Wesley Clark).

Beyond that, it seems that there is an increasing proclivity of cable news personalities to take their relative significance on their respective channels a tad too seriously.  We have the topic of this post, Dobbs, and his presidential fantasies and we have Glenn Beck promising grandiose plans.

If one looks at the 3Q 2009 ratings, we find that Dobbs averaged 658,000 total viewers per night and Glenn Beck 2.403 million per night.  Those are impressive numbers, numbers augmented in Beck’s case1 by a substantial number of book-buyers (he has had three NYT best-sellers).  However, these are actually rather small numbers when compared to the number of potential voters in the US (~231,000,000) or even the number of votes won by Obama in 2008 (~66,800,000).

One can make a fabulous living if one can attract hundreds of thousands of viewers and/or readers (certainly I would be more than pleased to be able to sell books in numbers like Beck).  However, such success in the cable news milieu can give one an outsized view of one’s actual relative significance.   Not only is that the case, but the thing that makes one successful in that context (strident, divisive views) often creates as many opponents as it does adherents.

And a passing observation that goes into the overall discussion: Sarah Palin is trying the book route as a means of furthering her political career and Mike Huckabee is trying the cable news show route (but sans Beckesque ratings…).

  1. Quite frankly, I am not so sure that Beck doesn’t fully understand exactly what he is doing:  doing whatever works to sell books and attract viewers. []
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