NEW YORK — In a surprise announcement, CNN host Lou Dobbs resigned on the air Wednesday after a recent history of controversial comments on immigration, among other topics, drew heated protests from liberal groups and created friction within the cable network.
Dobbs said that CNN/U.S. President Jon Klein released him from his contract so he could pursue other opportunities. He did not offer specifics but suggested that he is seeking a role in which he will not be constrained from speaking freely.
"Over the past six months, it's become increasingly clear that strong winds of change have begun buffeting this country and affecting all of us," Dobbs said as he opened his daily program. "And some leaders in media, politics and business have been urging me to go beyond my role here at CNN and to engage in constructive problem-solving, as well as to contribute positively to a better understanding of the great issues of our day. And to continue to do so in the most honest and direct language possible."
The website AllYourTV.com reported:sources-lou-dobbs-prepping-presidential-run&catid=1:latest-n ews that the longtime anchor is considering a political bid, perhaps even running for president.
Dobbs worked at CNN for more than a quarter-century, starting at its inception in 1980. As one of CNN's original anchors, he led its business coverage for 19 years and ran its sister network CNNfn before leaving abruptly after a coverage dispute with then-network president Rick Kaplan.
After starting an astronautical news website called Space.com, Dobbs returned to CNN in 2001 and soon began showcasing a populist persona out of step with the network's emphasis on neutral reporting. On "Lou Dobbs Tonight," he has railed about illegal immigrants and raised questions about the validity of President Obama's citizenship.
His outspokenness was a source of tension within CNN, especially as the channel sought to emphasize its journalistic grounding and differentiate itself from the kind of partisan commentary featured in prime time on Fox News and MSNBC. Several months ago, Klein discussed with Dobbs tamping down the opinion on his show, something he agreed to do. But that arrangement apparently proved unsatisfying.
On Wednesday, Klein praised the anchor for "fearlessly and tirelessly" pursuing "some of the most important and complex stories of our time, often well ahead of the pack."
"All of us will miss his appetite for big ideas, the megawatt smile and larger than life presence he brought to our newsroom, and we're grateful to have known and worked with him over the years," the CNN president said in a statement. "With characteristic forthrightness, Lou has now decided to carry the banner of advocacy journalism elsewhere."
The network plans to announce Dobbs' replacement today.
Liberal groups, which have been calling for CNN to get rid of Dobbs, celebrated his resignation.
"Our contention all along was that Lou Dobbs -- who has a long record of spreading lies and conspiracy theories about immigrants and Latinos -- does not belong on the 'Most Trusted Name in News,' " said Roberto Lovato, co-founder of Presente.org, an online advocacy organization that spearheaded the coalition BastaDobbs.com. "We are thrilled that Dobbs no longer has this legitimate platform from which to incite fear and hate."
While Dobbs started at CNN as a financial journalist, in the last several years he assumed the role of commentator, a move he was able to make because, as managing editor of his program, he controlled its content. He decried free trade and illegal immigration, both on CNN and his syndicated radio show. At one point, he said some Mexican Americans want to return California to Mexico. He also suggested that leprosy cases were on the rise because of illegal immigrants.
It is unclear whether Dobbs will pursue roles at other cable networks where he could showcase his opinions. On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the Fox News and Fox Business networks said executives there were not in discussions with the anchor.
In offering his resignation, Dobbs lamented that important national issues "are now defined in the public arena by partisanship and ideology rather than by rigorous empirical thought and forthright analysis and discussion."
"I will be working diligently to change that as best I can," he said.