Lou's Soapbox Exits CNN
One of my favorite videos to use in executive communications coaching is the interview Lou Dobbs conducted with John Chambers for CNN Moneyline on August 13, 2002. The CEO of Cisco was fresh from then-President Bush's Economic Forum and wanted to talk about what he and other business leaders had discussed. Interviewer Dobbs let Chambers talk for 1.5 minutes about the economic issues discussed at the Forum before he said, "Let's turn to another issue -- expensing stock options -- that was not discussed at the forum."
I always point out that what Chambers should have done is "bridge" away from this question, saying, "Lou, you're right. That wasn't discussed at this meeting, but what we did discuss was . . . " Instead, without missing a beat, Chambers plowed right into one of Dobbs' favorite soapbox topics at the time. Before the 6 minute and 45 second interview completed, at least 5 minutes was spent on this topic, including gems from Dobbs like "the technology industry has been emblematic of excessive egregious executive compensation." He almost got Chambers to admit he was rethinking his stance on expensing stock options, but Chambers stopped himself, laughing and saying, "You almost got me, Lou." If only he had bridged, he might have had five minutes of statesmanlike discussion of his company rather than having corporate greed discussed while his name, title and company were listed on the screen.
This is a perfect example of Dobbs' predilection for specific pet topics that he would hammer home with guests at every opportunity. Since CNN is struggling to create a viable identity as a "just the facts" news network vs. the right-leaning Fox Network News and the left-leaning MSNBC, it was becoming increasingly clear that Dobbs was becoming the odd man out there. It was a surprise -- but not as big a surprise, therefore -- that he announced yesterday that he was leaving CNN.
The network praised his work and his forthrightness, but is likely relieved he will be taking his brand of what many call "advocacy journalism," elsewhere. Although I will miss his willingness to swing hard at tough-to-rattle interview subjects, like the gentleman noted above, I applaud CNN's efforts to be a news medium, not a group of newsmakers expressing slanted opinions. Here's to hoping the network can resurge in the ratings by offering viewers the news rather than their shading of the news. That would help all of us get the information we need to form our own opinions.