NEW YORK — Lou Dobbs says he doesn't feel like he was pushed out of CNN, the news organization where he worked for all but two years of its existence until last Wednesday.
"Not at all," he said in a weekend interview. "I don't know if people will believe it, but we had a very amicable parting on the best of terms. I spent 29 years there building that company, and I wish everyone there nothing but the best, and they have reciprocated with me."
He announced his resignation on "Lou Dobbs Tonight," finished the newscast and walked out of CNN.
It's hard to know whether the abruptness or the lack of rancor surrounding the exit was more noteworthy. Dobbs' outspokenness had made him a political target — so much so that there were parties celebrating the departure over the weekend — and an uncomfortable contradiction to what CNN says it wants to be.
Dobbs said he plans to take time deciding what he wants to do, beyond his daily radio show. He promised to reach out to groups who criticized him, most prominently because he advocated stern measures to halt illegal immigration. A petition campaign seeking his ouster took root in recent months after Dobbs gave attention on his show to questions about President Barack Obama's place of birth.
Dobbs spoke his mind freely on his radio show, unrelated to CNN, but tried at management's request for the past several months to do a straight television newscast. He and CNN President Jon Klein spoke frequently about the direction of the show.
Although the decision to leave was characterized as mutual, Dobbs said he approached Klein to say it wasn't working for him. There was no "eureka" moment, Dobbs said.
"What they do is their business and I tried to accommodate them as best I could, but I've said for many years now that neutrality is not part of my being," he said. "I have strong views about a lot of issues that are important to the country and I think are important to my audience."
CNN has tried to promote an unbiased approach to establish a middle ground between opinionated hosts on Fox News Channel and MSNBC. Dobbs was quickly replaced by John King, the straightforward political reporter who used to work for The Associated Press.
Still deciding what's next
Dobbs said he will take weeks — perhaps months — to sift through ideas before deciding his next step.
The future could include journalism. He said his separation agreement didn't have a non-compete clause, something TV news organizations frequently use to keep people off the air for a while. Dobbs denied reports that he had met with Fox News chief Roger Ailes or had talked to anyone at Fox about a job.
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He said he's eager to meet with some of the groups that have criticized him. Most prominent are Latino organizations that had contended his anti-illegal immigration stance was insulting and encouraged an atmosphere of prejudice.
"This has been an orchestrated campaign of both distortion and outright propaganda for the purpose of the open border and unconditional amnesty agenda," Dobbs said. "That's politics. I understand that. But I'm going to reach out to everyone with whom I've had a disagreement and see if there's a way in which we can calmly and dispassionately discuss our differences and talk about solutions."
Roberto Lovato, whose Presente.org group helped organize the anti-Dobbs petition effort, said Dobbs has called him a "flea," a "bozo" and a "nonentity" on his radio show. He declined an opportunity to face off with Dobbs on his turf, the radio program, and said he wouldn't be on Dobbs' CNN show unless Klein also appeared. It didn't happen.
Still, if Dobbs wants to meet privately to talk, Lovato said he would.
"At the end of the day, we are human beings, all of us," he said.
Is politics next?
Dobbs' outwardly congenial departure from CNN is in sharp contrast to his exile from 1999-2001. He feuded with then-CNN President Rick Kaplan, even making his displeasure with management known over the air, and returned after Kaplan left.
A determined effort not to burn bridges with an important news organization? Seeking rapprochement with former foes? It almost sounds political.
During his CNN announcement last week, an American flag graphic fluttered behind Dobbs' face. On his radio show the next day, Dobbs took calls from listeners who urged the New Jersey resident to run for the U.S. Senate, or even for president. (His producer cued up a recording of "Hail to the Chief" during those calls)
Dobbs didn't encourage such talk. He didn't discourage it, either.
The former Republican makes political independence a central theme of his radio show, which could be a skillful positioning during a time of intense partisanship. "I've aligned myself with no group, no organization," he said. "I am truly an independent. I carry no one's water. I'm aligned with no interest group, no organized political party, nor do I intend to be. I relish being an independent and having my freedom."
A run for public office interests him, Dobbs said. It's one of several options he said he's considering.
"I know certain things that are immutable and one of them is that I'm going to be engaged in the public arena," he said.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.