CNN moved swiftly to replace Lou Dobbs in its nightly lineup with John King, who said Thursday that all views would be welcome on his politically-oriented talk show when it debuts early next year.
Dobbs' abrupt exit prompted a victory lap by advocacy groups that had sought his ouster for outspokenness, particularly on illegal immigration. But CNN President Jon Klein said their pressure had nothing to do with the decision.
Klein said veteran political reporter King was the perfect choice for the passionate, nonpartisan reporting that CNN wants for its image. King will be leaving the Sunday political talk show he has been presiding over, creating another opening.
King will compete directly with another political hour, Chris Matthews' "Hardball" on MSNBC (Shepard Smith's general interest newscast on Fox News Channel is the cable news ratings leader at 7 p.m. ET). The CNN personality said he hoped to establish a show offering more meaty fare than his competitors.
"Anybody who has a major stake in a major topic will be invited to be on the show," said King, whose Washington-based program has no name yet.
Dobbs was a CNN original who was one of the TV business' leading financial journalists before taking on many other topics post-9/11, and increasingly offering his own opinion. Latino groups charged that Dobbs' emphasis on illegal immigration promoted an atmosphere of intolerance.
"We had hundreds of thousands of people who said `enough is enough,'" said Alex Nogales, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition. "That he is gone from CNN is a great blessing and a great victory for our community."
CNN supported Dobbs, particularly as the opinionated fare boosted his ratings. But his show increasingly became inconsistent with CNN's effort to present itself as the down-the-middle alternative to Fox and MSNBC, and Klein pressured Dobbs to do a straight newscast. Complicating things was Dobbs' new role as a radio commentator, and the personas were often confused.
"To his credit, he tried (a straight newscast) and I think eventually he found that his interests lay elsewhere," Klein said.
The men had been discussing an exit strategy for several months. Klein characterized it as "a mutual decision," and released Dobbs from his contract.
Beyond his radio show, Dobbs wouldn't say what else he would be doing. He promised he would be active in advocacy journalism.
On a conference call involving 11 groups that had actively sought Dobbs' ouster through petitions, pressure on advertisers and distribution of attack videos, Eric Burns of the liberal media watchdogs Media Matters claimed Dobbs left because of the campaign.
"I don't think there is any doubt that it was a result _ a direct result _ of pressure from these groups here today," Burns said.
But Klein said there were as many people expressing support for Dobbs' work than opposition.
"They may be pleased by the outcome," he said, "but they are not responsible for, or played any part in the decision whatsoever."
CNN is owned by Time Warner Inc.
Associated Press writer Suzanne Gamboa contributed to this story.