“Crossfire” by a Different Name
CNN is launching a debate program featuring one host from the Left and another from the Right. Why not call it "Crossfire"?
When news broke earlier this week that Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker would host a debate show on CNN, I had the same thought as Michael Kinsley. But, since he took the trouble of writing it down and I didn’t, let’s go with his version:
Why can’t CNN President Jonathan Klein have the guts just to admit he was wrong and call his new show “Crossfire”? Or at least to apologize to all the hard-working CNN employees working on Crossfire whom he insulted as he kicked them out the door? (Not me. By the time Klein killed Crossfire, I was long gone, out in Seattle starting Slate.) Crossfire, if you never saw it, was a CNN interview show with two “hosts,” a conservative and a liberal, and two or three “guests,” from the usual pool of camera-ready politicians. When I was involved (though not necessarily for that reason) it was the top show on the network many evenings, with an audience larger than Larry King himself and far larger than anything CNN attracts today.
But then, one fateful evening, Jon Stewart came on to push a humor book, and blindsided the hosts (at that time Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson) by going all gooey and high-minded, and declaring that Crossfire was “hurting America” with its strident argumentation. Klein, opining that audiences wanted information, not opinion, not only took Crossfire and several other CNN discussion shows off the air, but declared that he “wholeheartedly agreed” with Jon Stewart that his own subordinates were hurting their country.
Klein’s principled opposition to opinion lasted just a few months. Soon enough, Anderson Cooper was sobbing all over his black t-shirt in New Orleans and Lou Dobbs had completed his remarkable transition from corporate shill to snarling, pitchfork-bearing populist. And now this. Two hosts, one liberal and one conservative, newsmaker guests, a “spirited” discussion of the issues of the day. But oh no, not Crossfire. Heaven forfend!
And the difference? This show will be “organic,” not “artificial,” explained conservative host Kathleen Parker, a Washington Post columnist, to the Huffington Post. The liberal host, Eliot Spitzer, last seen hiking the Appalachian trail with fellow governor Mark Sanford, amplified: “Big issues, little issues, coming at it from different perspective, same perspective, agree, disagree…. Thoughtful, smart, funny, not boring, not predictable.” On Crossfire, of course, it never occurred to us to try to be thoughtful or smart or any of that pansy stuff. We were just a “simple left vs. right partisan shouting match.” But in the Huffington Post piece, Parker contradicted Spitzer on the partisanship point, saying that she and Spitzer “bring completely different perspectives…which is what this country is all about.” Maybe they can make this their first topic of discussion.
Now, in fairness to Klein, “Crossfire” had long since become stale by the time he pulled the plug. During its heyday, Kinsley and Pat Buchanan faced off with unconventional, incredibly smart debate. Neither of the posts were partisan hacks, which meant they weren’t always predictable, and both had a facility for conceding when the other side made a good point. But Bill Press and Bob Beckel and Paul Begala and James Carville were all in fact partisan hacks, and thus incredibly poor replacements for Kinsley. On the right, Bob Novak was a legendary columnist but he just came across as angry and contrived on television. Fred Barnes was too bland. And, while Carlson is divergent enough from the Republican mainstream as to be interesting, he was no Pat Buchanan.
I’d long since stopped watching regularly when Klein put the show out of its misery.