Beck, Dobbs ignites cable throwdown

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    Lou Dobbs has been at the center of a new wave of cable talk show battles over all issues Obama.

    Cable news personalities turned vicious this week, feuding over fringe conspiracy theories and hurling incendiary remarks on race. Ugly though the scene may be, network executives – fresh from producing lengthy tributes to the judicious, sober legacy of Walter Cronkite — are sitting back enjoying the fight. 

    On Tuesday night, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said CNN’s Lou Dobbs is promoting the “off-the-deep-end, wing-nut, racist conspiracy theory” that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Maddow’s slam came in response to Dobbs having called her a “tea-bagging queen” earlier that day on his radio show. In that same segment, Dobbs also called Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera, another critic, “intellectually challenged.” 

    From that same platform, Dobbs had previously described critics of his birth certificate coverage as “limp-minded, lily-livered lefties.” Jon Stewart had blasted Dobbs the night before on “The Daily Show.” There, Stewart pointed out that while Dobbs was away, a guest host had debunked the “birther” theory. Stewart posed the question, "Do you even watch CNN?" 

    But there were more fireworks on Tuesday, as Fox News host Glenn Beck ignited a controversy by calling Obama “a racist,” while claiming that the president has a “deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.” (Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade quickly questioned the factual basis of that statement given that Obama’s top advisers are white). 

    About 24 hours later, MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” crew was taking shots at Beck on the air, with Donny Deutsch reading a list of Beck’s advertisers on Wednesday afternoon, and encouraging viewers to reach out to them over the host’s “disgusting” comments. Chris Matthews kicked off “Hardball” with a discussion of Beck’s remarks. And NBC political director and chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd blasted the Fox News host on his “First Read” blog. 

    “What's most amazing about this episode is that what Beck said isn't a fireable or even a SUSPENDABLE offense by his bosses,” Todd wrote. “There was a time when outrageous rants like this would actually cost the ranters their jobs. But not anymore; if anything, it's now encouraged.”

    Former CNN chairman Tom Johnson agreed that times have changed. 

    “It always was my policy (and that of Ted Turner) that anchors and reporters should not present their own personal opinions on the air,” Johnson told POLITICO in an email. “We did not permit Lou Dobbs or any anchor or correspondent to do that.”

    Though executives may not be actively encouraging such talk, they at least seem to be turning a blind eye to the echo chamber infighting. CNN president Jon Klein told reporters Tuesday that the network has “no control over what [Dobbs] says on his radio show,” a platform where much of the ‘birther” talk has taken place — only to be followed-up later on the television show.

    “It’s not a CNN radio program so he does what he does on the radio separate from what he does on our air,” Klein said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “So we ask you and anyone writing about this, to look at what he says on CNN. It’s the only thing we control.”

     

    But no one’s canning Dobbs, who brought in an average of 720,000 viewers during July, according to Nielsen, and whose show airs two hours later on sister-network, HLN.

    Klein has attempted to influence Dobbs’ coverage of the issue by having CNN political researchers look into the matter, and after finding no conspiracy, told Dobbs staffers over e-mail “it seems this story is dead.” And yesterday, Klein reiterated that to reporters: “[Dobbs] is not exploring the question of whether Barack Obama is an American citizen. That is settled. It is a dead issue as far as CNN is concerned.”

    That same night, Dobbs said on CNN that there were "new developments" in the birth certificate story, before thanking Fox's Bill O'Reilly for defending his right to ask questions on the matter. (O’Reilly, however, has called the birth certificate skeptics’ claims “bogus” and said Monday night that Dobbs is pushing this for ratings).

    So with Dobbs still beating the “birther” drum, liberal watchdog group Media Matters — which has been covering the issue comprehensively — slammed CNN on Wednesday.

    “Jonathan Klein’s flailing attempt to again brush off this controversy — with falsehoods — raises even more concerns about the standards of journalism at CNN,” said Media Matters president Eric Burns, in a statement. “Rather than misleading the public, he should credibly address CNN’s still growing Dobbs problem by simply telling the truth.”

    (CNN did not make an executive available to discuss the issue; Fox News did not respond to a request for comment).

    Bill Shine, Fox’s senior vice president for programming, told TVNewser yesterday that Beck “expressed a personal opinion which represented his own views, not those of the Fox News Channel. And as with all commentators in the cable news arena, he is given the freedom to express his opinions."

    Burns said on the Beck controversy: “It’s nice to know that Fox News doesn’t endorse Beck’s view that the President is a ‘racist.’ However, the network’s attempt to duck responsibility is laughable on its face. Fox News, like all networks, must be held responsible for what is said on air. Avoiding accountability is hardly the ‘fair and balanced’ approach to good journalism.”

    Not surpringly, MSNBC hosts have been quick to condemn.

    On Twitter, Joe Scarborough wrote: “ARE YOU SERIOUS??? Did Glenn Beck really say the president has ‘a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture’? Outrageous.”

    While Scarborough wasn’t on the set Wednesday when the “Morning Joe” crew discussed Beck’s remarks, others were quick to criticize the Fox host.

    "I'm highly-annoyed," said the Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart. "How is it possible that this guy can sit on national television and call the President of the United States a racist?"
    "Glenn Beck, and people like this,” Capehart added, “need to stop this.”