A nation mourned Wednesday night, as CNN’s Lou Dobbs, an outspoken critic of illegal immigration, announced his retirement from the network. Though it’s still unclear which nation is in mourning, experts have conclusively ruled out Mexico.
According to the Associated Press, the controversial newsman “angered CNN management this summer by pressing questions about President Obama’s birth site after CNN reporters determined there was no issue.”
I myself was skeptical of the president’s birthplace until he drank a domestic beer — Bud Light — at the July 30 “beer summit.” Then I remembered that Anheuser-Busch, the makers of Bud Light, sold their company last year to InBev, a Belgian company. Thanks to CNN’s shortsightedness, we may never find out if InBev is secretly run by Kenyan expatriates.
This isn’t the first time Dobbs has left CNN. He was one of the network’s original anchors in 1980 when it debuted, overseeing financial news and hosting Moneyline. But in April of ’99, after being reprimanded by the network’s then-president, Rick Kaplan, for cutting away from a speech by President Bill Clinton on the Columbine shootings, Dobbs announced that he was departing CNN, saying he wanted to focus on a new website he’d founded, Space.com, because in space no one can hear you call your boss an idiot.
(I was working at CNN in a bottom-rung position in 1999, and I would bet money that Kaplan’s voice, which combined the omnipotence of God with the volume of a T. Rex, can be heard in space. If I remember correctly, he was also nine feet tall.)
Kaplan left CNN the following year, clearing the way for Dobbs to return in 2001. Moneyline was renamed Lou Dobbs Moneyline, which became Lou Dobbs Tonight in 2003, which almost became Lou Dobbs’s America Is for Lou Dobbs and Lou Dobbs’s Friends Only, So If Your Name Isn’t Lou Dobbs or You’re Not One of His Friends, Stay the Hell Out in 2007.
The exit of Dobbs — whose book Exporting America: Why Corporate Greed Is Shipping American Jobs Overseas can be purchased at Borders, naturally — is a big blow for CNN. Earlier this year its sister network, Headline News, lost Glenn Beck to Fox News Channel, leaving CNN without any middle-aged conservatives who dye their hair a color I like to call “faded doorknob.” The dye jobs gave the ultra-right-wing anchors a youthful look, which some might amend to “a Hitler Youth-ful look,” but not me. I think these guys are just acting.
Remember when Bill O’Reilly was a guest on The Colbert Report in 2007 and said, “I’m not a tough guy … This is all an act”? He was admitting that on TV he plays a “version” of himself. (Colbert’s reply: “If you’re an act, then what am I?”)
Similarly, when President Obama says he was born in Hawaii, he’s speaking as a version of the man who was actually born in the deepest, darkest, and therefore most foreign part of Kenya. And when Glenn Beck portrays himself as an unfunny, emotionally unstable bigot on TV and radio five days a week, that’s merely a smokescreen for the gentle, mild-mannered teddy bear that lies beneath.
Or the devil. I haven’t decided yet. But either way, he’s making it work for him.
Besides, as the New York Times reported last week, he’s a big supporter of fiction, especially political thrillers. Everyone enjoys make-believe, particularly claims that the president has a “deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture,” as Beck said on the July 28 edition of Fox and Friends. It cost him a bunch of advertisers, but what a great racially charged premise for a beach read!
The trend of actors playing versions of themselves in comedic films has become very popular in the last decade, including John Malkovich in Being John Malkovich (1999), Elisabeth Shue in Hamlet 2 (2008), Neil Patrick Harris in the two Harold and Kumar movies, and Topher Grace, Bruce Willis, and Julia Roberts as Tess Ocean as Julia Roberts in Ocean’s Twelve (2004). Plus, on TV you’ve got Chris Kattan in this year’s IFC miniseries Bollywood Hero, Larry David and his various real-life celebrity friends on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Matt LeBlanc and musician Rick Springfield, who are set to play “themselves” on Showtime’s upcoming series Episodes and Californication, respectively.
There’s also Comedy Central’s Michael & Michael Have Issues. One of its creators and stars, Michael Ian Black, recently described the show-within-a-show concept to the Onion AV Club: “Although we’re playing ourselves, I still very much feel like I’m playing a character, and it’s the character of myself. What that means is, I have to understand who I am — and you can substitute ‘my character’ for ‘I’ — in the context of this television show, and in the context of this television relationship. So the conversation that [costar and cocreator Michael] Showalter and I are always having is, ‘Would I do this here?’ That character is still evolving. Any project has its own voice, and you have to find that voice.”
Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs found their voices a while ago. Now it’s time for CNN to find a new one. (Forget placeholder John King. With that square jaw of his, he should be protecting the world from supervillains, not interviewing pundits.)
May I suggest myself? Yes, I may, because I’m pretty sure the Cable News Network still owes me some backpay from ten years ago. I may not have hair the color of a faded doorknob — in fact I have no hair whatsoever these days — but what I lack in locks, I make up for with a surplus of “version”-al technique. Here are a few of the questions I get asked by readers on a regular basis:
Q: Is Aimiee really your girlfriend?
Q: But why would any woman with even a shred of self-respect put up with a guy like you?
A: I don’t know. Maybe you should ask her yourself.
Q: Okay. Where is she?
A: Sorry, she can’t come to the computer right now.
Q: I think you’re making all of this up.
A: No. I swear I’m not. Except for these “questions,” of course.
Q: Wait. You’re saying I’m not really the one asking these questions? That I’m not in control of what I’m saying?
Q: My head just exploded.
A: Good, because I really need to get back to this column.
So, as I was saying before I rudely interrupted myself, I enjoy all the mirrors in the funhouse. But I promise I won’t be hurt, CNN, if you decide I’m not a big enough “name.” May I suggest an alternate option to replace Lou Dobbs?
He’s a conservative. (Yay!) He’s also a foreigner. (Boo!)
He loved President Bush. (Yay!) He called President Obama “some tanned guy.” (Uh …)
He’s a billionaire. (Yay!) In 2006 he said, “I am the Jesus Christ of politics. I am a patient victim, I put up with everyone, I sacrifice myself for everyone.” (Hold on a second …)
He produced the 1992 film Folks!, starring beloved Oscar winner Don Ameche. (Never seen it — but yay! Old people good, death panels bad!) It was a slapstick comedy that derived most of its laughs from Ameche’s character having Alzheimer’s. (What the…?)
After 9/11 he said, “The West will continue to conquer peoples, even if it means a confrontation with another civilization, Islam, firmly entrenched where it was 1,400 years ago.” (At least he didn’t compare himself to Jesus that time.)
Earlier this year he said he would deploy 300,000 soldiers in the streets of his country to combat crime, but when asked by a reporter if that number would be enough to prevent women from being raped, he replied, “You can’t consider deploying a force that would be [large enough] to prevent the risk … We would have to have so many soldiers because our women are so beautiful.” (Aww, that’s kinda sweet— wait, no it’s not!)
And he once told the following joke in front of an audience: “An AIDS patient asks his doctor whether the sand treatment prescribed him will do any good. ‘No’, the doctor replies, ‘but you will get accustomed to living under the earth.'” (Who is this monster?!)
He’s Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi! Who knows what’s really going through the man’s mind at any given moment, but you certainly can’t say any of his various versions are boring.
Right now the 72-year-old politician and business tycoon is a little busy dealing with criminal charges of corruption and tax fraud back home, not to mention a sex scandal involving prostitutes and young women. But once his dance card is empty again, I’m sure he’d love a crack at his own op-ed show here in the States, where he’ll find a whole rainbow of people to offend.
Berlusconi started out as a cruise-ship entertainer, and although Lou Dobbs says he wants to concentrate on “advocacy journalism” in the next phase of his career, he could easily end up adrift if he doesn’t work on his people skills.
What’s that saying? “Immigrants take the jobs no one else wants”? Dobbs may find himself in rough waters when suddenly even the immigrants decide nothing’s better than something.