Fox News Media has put longtime ratings workhorse Lou Dobbs out to pasture a day after being sued for defamation to the tune of $2.7 billion.
The company released a statement asserting that its jettisoning of Fox Business's highest-rated show, "Lou Dobbs Tonight," was all in its grand plan.
"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,” the statement said.
On Friday, the day after elections technology company Smartmatic sued Fox Corp, Dobbs, and fellow Fox hosts Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro, as well as Donald J. Trump lawyers Rudy Guiliani and Sidney Powell, Fox's David Asman appeared in Dobbs's place in his usual slot.
"Such was the sudden nature of Mr. Dobbs's exit that even the anchor who filled in for him on Friday, Mr. Asman, did not appear to have been briefed on the news [of the programming change]," reported The New York Times. "At the end of the 5 p.m. broadcast, Mr. Asman smiled at the camera, wished his viewers a happy weekend, and added a parting note: 'Lou will be back on Monday.'" (Dobbs is reportedly still under contract, albeit not on air.)
NBC News reported that Fox is for the present replacing Dobbs with "Fox Business Tonight," with Asman and Jackie DeAngelis rotating as hosts, with Fox adding that "a new 5 p.m. program will be announced in the near future." As of this morning, Fox Business's "full schedule" online shows "After the Bell" starting at 4 p.m. and running up to 6 p.m., when "The Evening Edit" takes over.
Given Dobbs's ratings (the show drew $5 million-plus in ads over the past 12 months) — and given that Trump, whose base remains crucial to Fox, has long been a big Dobbs fan (after Dobbs was cancelled, Trump told the Times that Dobbs "is and was great") — it's a bit tough to believe that Fox is enthusiastic about replacing the host.
But it's not hard to believe that Fox considered various programming options prior to Smartmatic's lawsuit filing.
After all, legal jeopardy has been looming for some time now.
Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems — the other elections tech company falsely accused of engaging in election fraud by various hosts and guests on Fox and other right-wing outlets — both began threatening lawsuits back in December. For instance, the recipients of 21 letters Dominion sent on Dec. 24 warning about imminent litigation included Fox News, Dobbs, Bartiromo and Fox News host Sean Hannity, as well as Newsmax, One America News Network and others.
Indeed, by late December, Fox's Dobbs, Bartiromo and Pirro were airing preproduced segments debunking the false conspiracy theories about Smartmatic that had been repeated over and over around election time. And by late January, Dominion had sued the two Trump lawyers, while making it clear that it was still considering more litigation.
Nor is this the first time Fox News employees have disappeared from the air temporarily or permanently after a controversy.
After being instrumental in an early, ultimately correct call of Arizona for Joe Biden on election night, veteran Fox politics editor Chris Stirewalt wasn't seen on-air for some weeks before leaving the company in late January. While he left amid a round of layoffs, according to the Times, CNN and other outlets, Stirewalt was fired.
Even Trump stalwart Pirro (whose ex-husband got a last-minute pardon from Trump) was pulled off-air — temporarily — in March 2019, after making Islamophobic remarks about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).
In response to the Smartmatic lawsuit, which cites more than 100 instances of alleged falsehoods about its company made on Fox, Fox News Media stressed that it “is committed to providing the full context of every story with in-depth reporting and clear opinion. We are proud of our 2020 election coverage and will vigorously defend this meritless lawsuit in court.”
After the election, in mid-November, Fox News debuted a new marketing campaign with the slogan, "Standing Up For What's Right."
Well, it's certainly clear that the parent company won't hesitate to do what it feels is necessary to protect its primary allegiance to its own bottom line.