Thursday, January 06, 2005

Crossfire: Politics as Foodfight

CNN will soon cancel it's late afternoon partisan debate show, Crossfire, after 22 years on the air. Tucker Carlson seems to have caused some unrest for the future prospects of the show by wanting a nighttime show of his own, which CNN couldn't accommodate. But the new president of CNN says the show would have been cancelled anyway as CNN moves toward more "roll up your sleeves journalism" - certainly a good thing. Carlson may be moving to MSNBC to resume his "head-butting debates."

Crossfire had it's earnest and good moments, but after Bill Press left, the incindiary flames grew higher and higher. In December, when "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart went on to rake CNN in general and Crossfire in particular over the coals, he said that such partisan bickering and hacking was "hurting America." Stewart's lambasting of "Crossfire" seems to the headstone for the show's demise.

Stewart was right on.

Even with skilled liberal wonkers like Paul Begala and colorful liberal wildcatters like James Carville, the show had become more of a food fight than an ideas fest. It had succumbed to the FOXification of news in this country.

I met Carlson and Begala in January, 2003, as they reported on the Dean campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire. Yes, we were all in the room when Dean gave his famous "scream speech," which Carlson seemed to appreciate at the time but soon maligned on the air. Off camera, Carlson is astonishingly self-confident, bright AND even diplomatically bipartisan. On "Crossfire," he relentlessly turned on the neo-con heat, not quite a dittohead but close. Which just goes to show that the producers of our news programs are not immune to the same sorts of sensationalism that the producers of other TV shows are, including melodramatic reports on Dateline and even 60 Minutes, and of course, "reality" TV. Badgering argument has become the modus operandi of some very popular news coverage.

There may be a place for Carlson at MSNBC. I hope it is a more mature forum where topics receive their due, but Carlson is said to want more of the same.

There is certainly a place for well-waged political debate on television in this country. Too bad "Crossfire" had gotten so far off the mark.

To be informed and considerate, we need a lot fewer foodfights and more wise counsel, even if the ratings are at risk.


At 1/11/2005 10:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen. - Chief Ninja Monkie at


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