UPDATE: CNN has announced that veteran John King will replace Lou Dobbs in the 7 pm slot in early 2010.

The network signaled that it intends to stick to its guns in attempting to have a non-partisan nightly lineup, as opposed to the opinionated lineup at Fox News Channel and MSNBC.

"The program will reflect what CNN is all about: straight facts from our anchors and the widest range of opinions from across the political spectrum," CNN president Jon Klein said in a statement.

"John has enthralled CNN viewers with his vast political knowledge, and he has spent the past year reporting from beyond the Beltway on pressing policy issues and the real people they impact," he continued. "Every night, he’ll share his passion and his insights about what is really going on in Washington and across America."

The evolution of CNN anchor Lou Dobbs from financial news wizard to populist defender of American jobs to right-wing promoter of "birther" conspiracies appeared to have come to an abrupt end with his announcement Wednesday evening that he's leaving the network to "pursue new opportunities."

"This will be my last broadcast here on CNN, where I've worked for most of the past 30 years," Dobbs told an unsuspecting audience on Lou Dobbs Tonight.

Dobbs said, "Over the past six months, it's become increasingly clear that strong winds of change have begun buffeting this country and affecting all of us. And some leaders in media politics and business have been urging me to go beyond the role here on CNN and to engage in constructive problem solving."

Dobbs said he "talked extensively" with CNN President Jonathan Klein and "we have agreed to a release from my contract that will enable me to pursue new opportunities."

Dobbs' sudden departure is certain to fire up speculation over whether the veteran news anchor was pushed out or decided himself to leave the network, and whether anger from some political activists over Dobbs' increasingly conservative coverage of news issues played any role in the decision.

Viewers of CNN may remember Dobbs as the host of Moneyline, a business-focused show that aired during the heady days of the 1990s tech boom. In the past decade, Dobbs' show morphed into Lou Dobbs Tonight, a more populist brand of TV news that championed two principal issues: The outsourcing of American jobs overseas, and the phenomenon of illegal immigration.

Dobbs' focus on illegal immigrants inflamed a great deal of controversy, particularly among Latino advocacy groups. Last month, numerous immigration activist groups joined together to create BastaDobbs.com, a Web site that pressured CNN over its "hypocrisy" in seeking Latino viewers while giving Dobbs a nightly platform for criticism of immigration policies that some observers said spilled over into xenophobia.

But, in the months since Barack Obama took the oath of office, media observers have accused Dobbs of evolving from populist reporter into dogmatic conservative pundit. Last summer, media watchdogs and progressive groups raised the alarm over Dobbs when he became one of very few non-Fox News reporters to give large amounts of airtime to the "birther" conspiracy that states Obama is not the legitimate president of the United States because he wasn't really born in the US.

That editorial approach may have backfired, as Dobbs' ratings reportedly dropped following criticism that his show had abandoned responsible journalistic practices. And, in a subtle sign that Dobbs' birther coverage may have upset his bosses, news reports came in that CNN President Jonathan Klein had declared in an email that "the birther story is dead."

But speculation over Dobbs' departure may also focus on the news anchor's personal safety. Dobbs' home was recently hit by a bullet, something that Dobbs reportedly blames on his political views.

The following video, of Dobbs' resignation announcement, was broadcast on CNN November 11, 2009, and uploaded to YouTube by MediaMatters.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/v/2aI-8DwjDgk&hl=en&fs=1& expand=1]