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11.10.10

Lou Dobbs' Big Fox Comeback

The former CNN anchor tells The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz why he’s dropping his political aspirations to return to television, how his stance on immigrants has changed—and what he’s planning for his new show.

One year after quitting CNN with a vow to help lead a "national conversation" about immigration, health care and other hot-button issues, Lou Dobbs has decided that politics isn't for him.

That's why he is returning to cable news, to launch a daily show for the Fox Business Network early next year.

"I spent about six, seven months really entertaining a lot of thoughts, discussing it with people who were urging me to do it," Dobbs told me, saying he looked at races in New Jersey and beyond. "My wife and I thought about it long and hard. It seemed clear that wasn't what would be satisfying to me."

Instead, he decided that "Fox is the perfect fit for me… I've known Roger Ailes a long time, have the utmost respect for him. He is one of the smartest guys, period, not just one of the smartest executives."

Ailes' Fox Business operation is equally enthused about the multiyear deal announced Wednesday. "Lou has always done a very good job at bringing the day's news and his point of view to viewers, and that's not going to change," said Kevin Magee, the business network's executive vice president. "He's been a controversial guy over the years. People who speak their minds and have strong opinions usually are."

“The differences I had with Jon Klein—he got fired, didn’t he?” Dobbs said, recalling Klein’s recent ouster. “Obviously I wasn’t the only one who had differences with him.”

Dobbs, who will continue his syndicated radio show, is returning to his roots. He hosted Moneyline for most of his nearly three decades at CNN before morphing into a wide-ranging political commentator whose right-leaning views—especially on illegal immigration—prompted clashes with the network's management. Dobbs had become a caustic critic of President Obama when he and Jon Klein, the CNN president who had been pushing him to tone down his rhetoric, agreed to part ways.

"The differences I had with Jon Klein—he got fired, didn't he?" Dobbs said, recalling Klein's recent ouster. "Obviously I wasn't the only one who had differences with him."

Dobbs infuriated liberal and Hispanic groups with his strident opposition to illegal immigration. When rumors surfaced last year that Dobbs might join Fox News, one of his sharpest critics, Fox commentator Geraldo Rivera, said that "Lou Dobbs is almost single-handedly responsible for creating, for being the architect of the young-Latino-as-scapegoat for everything that ails this country."

But Dobbs has softened his stance on the issue over the last year. "I've spent time building bridges to all factions in that debate, trying to work tow ard compromise," he said.

While Dobbs' affinity for Fox is no surprise—he's made a number of appearances on The O'Reilly Factor—his hiring is nonetheless a coup for the three-year-old Fox Business channel. CNBC retains a substantial lead in the ratings—Fox Business does not release its numbers—but the programming now reaches 57 million homes, compared with about 100 million for CNBC.

Some Fox Business shows, such as those hosted by Don Imus and Fox News Channel anchor Neil Cavuto, periodically draw more than 100,000 viewers, a network insider said. The channel boasts that it beat CNBC on Election Night last week. CNBC remains the dominant force in business television, but its ratings in the key 25-54 demo dropped 30 percent last month compared with the previous October, according to Nielsen figures.

Fox Business has built its brand by luring Charlie Gasparino, Liz Claman, and Dennis Kneale from CNBC, and also hiring Gerri Willis from CNN.

While Dobbs' new program will focus on business, he will have broad latitude to sound off on just about anything. "I'm never shy about dealing with controversial issues," he said.

As the economy increasingly emerged as the country's dominant story, Dobbs pined for a national platform, and sealed the deal with Ailes over the last two weeks. "I think he missed it," Magee said.

Dobbs didn't deny that, saying: "This stuff is in my DNA."

By an interesting coincidence, CNN founder Ted Turner, who hired Dobbs when he launched the Atlanta-based channel in 1980, is booked on Fox Business for Thursday afternoon. I'm told the subject will definitely come up.

Howard Kurtz is The Daily Beast's Washington bureau chief. He also hosts CNN's weekly media program Reliable Sources , Sundays at 11 am ET. The longtime media reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, Kurtz is the author of five books.