There is such a thing as bad publicity

THERE IS SUCH A THING AS BAD PUBLICITY…. It’s possible that CNN’s executives see an upside to the uproar surrounding Lou Dobbs’ Birther antics of late. The bad news, as far as the network is concerned, is that one of its leading on-air personalities has become an outrageous and insulting laughing stock, dragging down the CNN brand and name. The good news, perhaps for some of the network brass, is that everyone seems to be talking about one of their leading on-air personalities.

If Dobbs’ madness helps bring more viewers to CNN to see what the provocative nut might say next, that might be a tradeoff the network is willing to make — less integrity and credibility, but more eyeballs for advertisers.

As it turns out, CNN is failing on both counts. Dobbs is not only humiliating himself, according to a report in the New York Observer, he’s also driving viewers away.

According to The Observer’s analysis of Nielsen data, in recent weeks, as criticism of Mr. Dobbs has continued to go up, his ratings at CNN have continued to go down.

Mr. Dobbs’ first began reporting on Obama birth certificate conspiracy theories on the night of Wednesday, July 15. In the roughly two weeks since then, from July 15 through July 28, Mr. Dobbs’ 7 p.m. show on CNN has averaged 653,000 total viewers and 157,000 in the 25-54 demo.

By contrast, during the first two weeks of the month (July 1 to July 14) Mr. Dobbs averaged 771,000 total viewers and 218,000 in the 25-54 demo. In other words, Mr. Dobbs’ audience has decreased 15 percent in total viewers and 27 percent in the demo since the start of the controversy…. [I]f Mr. Dobbs’ affinity for “birthers” is a ratings ploy, it’s a pretty ineffective one.

CNN President Jon Klein has been willing to let Dobbs say anything he wants on the air, no matter how wrong, racist, or ridiculous the comments may be. Perhaps the drop in ratings will prompt Klein to reconsider?

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.