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Why Fox News canceled Lou Dobbs

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Fox News’ official reason for canceling Lou Dobbs’ show — a post-election programing adjustment — doesn’t quite add up.

Dobbs was the highest-rated host on Fox Business. He often doubled his lead-in’s ratings.

Although Fox isn’t saying, the timing of Dobbs’ cancellation Friday appears to be no coincidence: It took place 24 hours after Dobbs and Fox were named in a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit filed by voting technology company Smartmatic.

Fox may see Dobbs as an acceptable sacrificial lamb.

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik said on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” Sunday that the network’s decision to cancel Dobbs’ show reminds him of the way Rupert Murdoch’s news tabloids in London handled their phone-hacking scandals about a decade ago.

“They would throw somebody over the side and see if that was enough,” he said. “This is an effort to cauterize the wound to distance Fox from this feverish conspiracy theory.”

Murdoch’s media company News Corp. faced a sequence of scandals, beginning in 2005, after journalists at British newspapers were accused of hacking into the phones of celebrities, lawmakers, royalty, murder victims and other figures in the news. As lawsuits rolled in, Murdoch attempted to put out a series of fires, issuing an apology for phone hacking via full page ads in seven national newspapers in 2011.

Now Murdoch is attempting to put out the fires that were attached to Lou Dobbs and his pro-Trump rhetoric. “Lou Dobbs Tonight” is off the air, effective immediately, a Fox spokesperson confirmed Friday, and an interim show will take Dobbs’ place starting Monday.

But Dobbs wasn’t the only one espousing conspiracy theories on air. Jeanine Pirro and Maria Bartiromo, who were also named in the Smartmatic lawsuit, remain on Fox.

“Dobbs is going away. That’s one show on one channel. There are many other shows like him,” CNN’s Chief Media Correspondent Brian Stelter said on “Reliable Sources.” “There is no sign that Fox is moving toward the center, back to the kind of centrist, reality-based middle. No sign of that at all. Dobbs seems like an anomaly.”

Demand for shows like Lou Dobbs’ remains high, Stelter noted. So why cut ties with Dobbs and not another host?

“I think he was partly dismissed just ’cause management had enough of him,” Stelter said. “They were just tired of his BS. But they’ve got a lot of other people there selling the same story.”

Driven by “truthiness and intuition” networks like Fox “cloak themselves” in the freedom of speech provided by the first amendment, University of Delaware professor Dr. Danna Young told Stelter. “Lawsuits have a way of forcing people and entities to reckon with empirical fact and reality,” she said.

But sources at Fox indicated that the Smartmatic lawsuit was just one factor in the decision to cancel Dobbs’ show. His weak performance with advertisers was also a significant factor, one source said.

Dobbs was one of Trump’s most vocal on-air supporters, which kept his show’s ratings high.

Folkenflik says Fox is being led by its viewers right now. “It doesn’t have a clear sense of how it wants to operate in the post-Trump world when Trump still commands so much loyalty from his core viewers,” he said.

— CNN Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy contributed to this report.

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