So it’s official: Eliot Spitzer, one of America’s top ten favorite former governors forced from office by sex scandal, will be co-hosting a nightly opinion roundtable show on CNN. (His co-host: conservative political columnist Kathleen Parker.) To sum up: expressing hugely unpopular opinions about Israel = media-career-ender. Getting it on with a hooker = media-career-maker!
It’s fun to joke about Spitzer’s journey from being Client No. 9 to CNN Rising Star No. 1, but really I’m not concerned with TV shows, news or otherwise, rewarding or punishing people’s moral behavior in their hiring practices. This is, after all, the business that employs Charlie Sheen. So if CNN decides that the route to primetime goes through the doors of the Emperor’s Club, I won’t criticize. There are too many other things to criticize.
The first is not that Spitzer has been chosen despite his sex scandal. It’s that he seemingly was chosen, at least in part, because of the scandal: that is, because of the short-term blast of notoriety and buzz that he will bring with him. Now, for all I know, CNN genuinely sees special and distinctive broadcasting talent in Spitzer, but if they do, it’s eluded me in his long recent history as commentator and guest-host on CNN and MSNBC, where—to my ears, anyway—he comes off grating and supercilious. If he didn’t come with the name and the headlines, I have a hard time believing he’d been chosen on the basis of ability alone.
(As for Parker, I’m not familiar enough to say whether she’s a good choice or not, though her résumé is strong enough. But I do have to guess that—call me cynical—given Spitzer’s history it would have been hard for CNN to even consider pairing him with a man. Not that the underrepresentation of men in cable news is exactly a problem, but the idea that pairing Spitzer with a woman makes his choice any better is just icky.)
Further, it seems like CNN is trying to answer a problem cable news doesn’t have, and fill a need viewers aren’t looking to fill. CNN hasn’t named the fall program, but it sounds as if, in some sense, it is essentially reviving Crossfire. I suppose that will be counterprogramming in a sense to Fox and MSNBC’s commentary shows headed by individual hosts, but it’s not exactly as if cable is starved for opinion.
Now I’m not saying that cable news viewers are suddenly interested in hard news over opinion: the ratings say otherwise. But there’s a difference between that and what viewers look to CNN for. CNN’s brand is what it is; people turn to it for information. As I argued in a column earlier this year, the issue today is that the kind of information people are looking for has changed. Unlike in 1980, CNN is not the only source of 24-hour raw news. Instead, in an increasingly politicized information environment, people—at least the sort of people who will watch CNN in primetime—need someone to step in and adjudicate arguments, call B.S. and be willing to say where (as best as they can judge) the truth lies, even if that should be seen as biased. What they don’t need is someone throwing up more he-said-she-said dust and letting the viewer figure out who’s right (possibly based on whatever that viewer wanted to believe in the first place).
CNN has decided to go the he-said-she-said route instead. I’m not convinced it will be good for CNN. I don’t believe it will be good for news viewers. But it’s great for Eliot Spitzer! Truly, the American Dream is alive.
Excerpts from the announcement follow:
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Kathleen Parker and former New York governor Eliot Spitzer will co-host a spirited, nightly roundtable discussion program on CNN/U.S., it was announced today by Jon Klein, president of CNN/U.S. The new program, set to debut this fall, will air weeknights at 8pm Eastern time.
Spitzer, a legendary prosecutor and progressive governor, and Parker, an iconoclastic conservative commentator, will host a dynamic exchange of opinions and analyses – their own, and those of their guests and regular contributors – on the most important, compelling and amusing stories of the day.
“Other cable news channels force-feed viewers one narrow, predictable point of view; in contrast, CNN will be offering a lively roundup of all the best ideas – presented by two of the most intelligent and outspoken figures in the country,” said Klein. “Eliot and Kathleen are beholden to no vested interest – in fact, quite the opposite: they are renowned for taking on the most powerful targets and most important causes.”
Parker is one of the nation’s most prolific and popular opinion columnists, appearing twice weekly in more than 400 newspapers. A self-described “rational” conservative, she is known to take a common sense approach to life and writes with humor and wit. In May she was awarded the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her political opinion columns, which she launched in 1987 while a staff writer for the Orlando Sentinel. It was nationally syndicated in 1995 and she joined the Washington Post Writers Group in 2006. She has written for magazines including the Weekly Standard, Time, Town & Country, Cosmopolitan and Fortune Small Business, and is a contributor to The Daily Beast. She also serves on USA Today’s board of contributors and writes occasionally for the paper’s op-ed page. In 1993 she won the H.L. Mencken writing award and in 2004 and 2005 she was named one of the country’s Top Five Columnists by The Week.
“As a veteran print journalist, I am appropriately respectful of the challenges posed by the medium,” said Parker. “But I’m thrilled by the opportunity to discuss the issues that matter to me —and that aren’t heard often enough on television—in a conversation with one of the nation’s most brilliant, fearless and original thinkers. With Eliot Spitzer as my co-host, Wall Street and Main Street will finally meet. It can’t possibly be boring.”
Spitzer, a renowned prosecutor and former Governor of the State of New York, is frequently referred to as the “Sheriff of Wall Street,” having prosecuted abuses among major Wall Street firms as well as numerous other industries, both as a young lawyer and as New York State Attorney General. As Attorney General from 1998 to 2006, Spitzer led several high-profile cases battling corruption throughout the financial services sector and led groundbreaking cases in the areas of environmental protection and civil rights enforcement. As Governor, Spitzer restructured New York’s system of education finance, began the process of fundamental health care reform and focused economic development on New York’s upstate economy.
Spitzer was born and raised in the Bronx and is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. Following law school, Spitzer clerked for Federal District Judge Robert W. Sweet; was an Assistant District Attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, where he prosecuted organized crime and political corruption cases; and worked at several prominent private law firms. Spitzer is currently a contributor to Slate.com.
“Kathleen is an extraordinary intellect whose sharp observations and wit are certain to resonate with viewers,” said Spitzer. “I look forward to working alongside her in a discussion that will inform, challenge, and entertain. I am grateful to CNN for the opportunity to co-host a show that will advance the discussion of the defining issues of our time.”