More than 30 years ago, a brash college dropout named Ted Turner created an unorthodox, game-changing media force: CNN. And one of his first hires was a local TV anchor and reporter, Lou Dobbs, who had spent the past few years bouncing around stations from Arizona to Washington State.
But once he arrived at CNN, Dobbs stuck. Having been trained in economics at Harvard, Dobbs led CNN's financial coverage for nearly three decades, during which time he rarely hid his bold and sometimes controversial views. By the fall of 2009, however, differences with network leadership and Dobbs' desire for something new led to a permanent break from CNN.
Briefly, Dobbs thought about running for office. He made a cameo on CBS' The Good Wife, and he worked on his side business: a horse farm.
Finally, though, he found his way back to cable news and the Fox Business Network, where he now hosts a nightly program, Lou Dobbs Tonight.
I spoke with Dobbs about the role of the economy and stock market in this election, what he thinks of CNN's ratings troubles, and why it makes sense to defund public broadcasting (stay tuned for some fireworks).
You were at CNN for a long time. What do you think when you read all the press about their ratings woes?
It's not just bad press. It is clearly a network and an organization that has completely lost its way. For those of us who were part of building it, it's very disappointing what has happened to them.
What has happened?
It's a failure of leadership. A failure of values. I revel every day in the fact that we at Fox beat the other cable news networks. There's not really a twinge of sadness for CNN. I enjoy the victories that Fox achieves.
You thought for a while about running for office. Is that totally off the table now? Or is it still on your radar?
When I made the decision to come to Fox Business Network, my wife and I talked about it for a good part of the summer. I love being part of Fox Business. It's my fortunate present and my future.
Since you're enmeshed in economics and politics, do you think the stock market will react differently to a win by Governor Romney than to a win by President Obama?
I personally believe that there will be a significantly different reaction to the prospect that Romney will win versus Obama. I believe that, particularly given the tortured relationship between Obama and business people. I think it will be very negative for markets should Obama be reelected.
Romney has not been very specific about his tax plans -- except the fact that he will cut 20 percent across the board. He says he'll get rid of loopholes and deductions, but he doesn't mention which ones. Should he?
Those specifics will be resolved and negotiated with Congress. As the governor of your great state of Massachusetts, that's how he worked and negotiated with others. The same reporters who are demanding specificity on Romney's plan have not questioned Obama's record. It's more urgent to focus on the 23 million people who are unemployed. Why is that not the national agenda?
The national media has given the president a pass. He has not met with his labor secretary for over six months and rarely meets with the cabinet.
You've said that the president has a "woman problem" and a "Hispanic problem."
That was said with some sarcasm. But what I observed was that in two polls Romney had made gains with women and Hispanics, two groups which had been a problem for him. The president is losing ground across the spectrum, including with women and Hispanics.
Mitt Romney did something very smart. He talked about the values of Hispanic Americans and that the Republican Party is their natural home -- it was an important and compelling statement.
How about "self deportation"?
I think Romney said what he meant. He sees it as unconscionable that the four million people trying to get in legally have to go through such hurdles. But he did also reach out to young immigrants who are already here and want to make a path for themselves.
OK. A couple more questions about media and business. You beat CNBC's Larry Kudlow in the most important demographic (25-54 year olds) during the third quarter, the first sustained win like that for FBN over CNBC. Why do you think that is?
I'll leave that to others to discern. What we try to do is put together a broadcast with perspective and analysis. We've got a great team here. I don't particularly watch competing shows, as I want us to come up with our own ideas.
You've complained about the $445 million the government spends on public broadcasting each year. And Romney mentioned in the first debate that he wasn't "going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it." Full disclosure here, I host a show on an NPR station in Boston about innovation. But the money we spend on all of public broadcasting each year amounts to less than half of 1/100th of 1/100th of our public debt. Aren't we taking our eye off the big-money items in the budget?
I understand the affinity for public broadcasting. And there are areas in which it contributes. But I don't think taxpayer money should go to public broadcasting to sponsor what are often a lot of liberal voices. Taxpayer money shouldn't go into a closed liberal feedback loop. What is the purpose of taxpayer money? And, Kara, half a billion dollars is a lot of money.
It is a lot of money, but it depends on the context. Not compared to the big programs that the government spends the vast majority of its money on.
Are you looking down your NPR nose at this issue? Shouldn't we let public programs compete in the market?
Well, the question is what those programs would look like in a few years if they were always competing to feature the latest McDonald's commercial. Would NOVA be able to focus as much on science and learning?
NOVA makes a lot of money. It would be fine. It would become like the Discovery Channel or The Learning Channel.
But The Learning Channel [TLC] now features Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
[Laughs] By the way, I love NOVA, Masterpiece, Masterpiece Mystery. We should have this discussion as a country. There are a lot of old, rickety institutions that we should ask questions about -- not just public broadcasting -- the Department of Education, The Department of Defense, state and local governments.
Kara Miller is the host and editor of "Innovation Hub" on WGBH, an NPR station in Boston. Her writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, The National Journal, Boston Magazine, TheAtlantic.com, The Huffington Post, and The International Herald Tribune.