The post-Trump right-wing media landscape underwent a major change on Friday night, when the Fox Business Network took its highest-rated host, Lou Dobbs, off the air, according to the Los Angeles Times and multiple other outlets. Dobbs was far and away the biggest booster of the former president on Fox Business, and in the aftermath of Trump’s defeat in November, the 75-year-old former financial-news anchor had frequently used his show to promote the “big lie” that voter fraud had changed the outcome of the election — including giving copious amounts of oxygen to some of the most absurd conspiracy theories backing that baseless claim.
The news prompted a rare post-presidency statement from Trump, who said Dobbs “is and was great,” and that, “Nobody loves America more than Lou. He had a large and loyal following that will be watching closely for his next move, and that following includes me.”
The sudden cancellation of Lou Dobbs Tonight — which has been on the air since 2011 — came one day after after Smartmatic, a voting tech company, filed a massive $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News, Dobbs, and two of the parent company network’s other hosts, Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro, alleging they propagated lies about the company following the election. Per the Los Angeles Times, “people familiar with discussions say the decision to end Dobbs’s program was under consideration before the legal issues with Smartmatic arose.” Still, ditching Dobbs could theoretically benefit Fox News legally, the New York Times adds:
Don Herzog, who teaches First Amendment and defamation law at the University of Michigan, said it was possible the cancellation could help Fox in its defense of the lawsuit. If Mr. Dobbs had continued to discuss Smartmatic or promote election fraud on his program, the network could have found itself liable for each new claim, Mr. Herzog said. The network also could argue that the lawsuit made them aware of untruths that Mr. Dobbs had helped spread. And in a trial atmosphere, the cancellation of Mr. Dobbs’s program might help persuade jurors that the network was acting in good faith.
According to CNN, the lawsuit wasn’t the only factor that led to the move:
The pro-Trump propaganda bent juiced Dobbs’s ratings. But his far-right programming choices repeatedly caused consternation within the company, a source close to the matter said, and his program was a loss leader for Fox because many advertisers didn’t want to be associated with his content.
A Fox News spokesperson characterized Dobbs’s immediate ouster from the cable waves as a preplanned changing of the guard:
As we said in October, Fox News Media regularly considers programming changes and plans have been in place to launch new formats as appropriate post-election, including on Fox Business. This is part of those planned changes.
Dobbs hasn’t been fired, but rather benched while he remains under contract — which means, for now, he won’t be able to resurface on any of Fox News’ rivals, including OAN and Newsmax, which have both been vying to supplant Fox News as the righter-wing network of choice for disaffected Trump supporters in recent months.
Regarding the 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. time slots that Dobbs held down at Fox Business, a new show called Fox Business Tonight will replace his show at 7 p.m. starting on Monday, while Fox News said it would announce its plans for the 5 p.m. slot soon.