CNN anchor Lou Dobbs is on a crusade -- and oddly, his target is the U.S. business establishment. Nearly every night for the past year, in a campaign he calls "Exporting America," Mr. Dobbs has railed against companies that move jobs to low-wage countries.
On recent broadcasts of "Lou Dobbs Tonight," he has called for President Bush to fire a top economic adviser who said outsourcing U.S. service jobs is probably good for the economy, and lauded Congress for considering legislation to limit government work from being sent overseas. On his section of CNN's Web site, Mr. Dobbs has compiled a list of more than 200 companies that he says are "either sending American jobs overseas, or choosing to employ cheap overseas labor, instead of American workers."
The ferocity of Mr. Dobbs's attack has surprised and even angered some observers used to associating the well-known Republican financial journalist with spirited defenses of capitalism and cozy interviews with America's top chief executives.
"It's really one of the most dramatic shifts of attitude and persona that TV has seen," says David Bernknopf, a media strategist and former CNN vice president. "Lou was always seen by corporate America as a reliable and generally friendly journalist. Now he has shifted 180 degrees and has clearly dedicated his show to criticizing a lot of the way that corporate America does business."
Mr. Dobbs insists he hasn't dramatically changed his tune, saying he just wants the U.S. government to study the consequences of outsourcing so it can make wise policy decisions. "I am an absolute free market capitalist, but I believe in true free markets and the importance of clear, accurate information to create free markets," he says.
On the air, Mr. Dobbs sometimes takes a caustic tone with guests who disagree with him. "What is it with you people?" Mr. Dobbs asked after Mr. Glassman [James K. Glassman, a conservative commentator who sparred with Mr. Dobbs on the air earlier this month] commented on the benefits of a trade deficit. Later in the same show, Mr. Dobbs told Mr. Glassman: "You talk like a cult member."
Mr. Glassman says the interview was "an amazing experience. I knew he was going to be very argumentative, but I think he sort of lost it." Mr. Dobbs now says his comment was aimed at "the orthodoxy amongst too many economists, too many in business who simply say it's free trade and the hell with the consequences."
It may be premature to label Dobbs a "capitalist against Bush" as we have done for Warren Buffett and Seth Glickenhaus. But the sudden politicization of his ordinarily pro-business approach deserves watching.
Side note: "Mr. Dobbs conducted another crusade two years ago. When federal prosecutors went after the accounting firm Arthur Andersen LLP for its role in Enron Corp.'s collapse, Mr. Dobbs repeatedly denounced on-air what he saw as the federal government's effort to destroy 'the livelihoods of most of those 85,000 innocent people' who worked at Andersen."
The observation that 85,000 jobs of innocent Andersen employees were obliterated while Ken Lay roams free and wealthy three years later has been a pet peeve here in Skimbleland as well. We repeat what may not be obvious: Andersen was most likely destroyed by the feds not for being Enron's auditor, but for being Halliburton's auditor during the reign of Cheney. No auditor means no evidence, and Cheney's financial shenanigans are lost to history.