Jon Stewart Is Hurting America. Funnily Enough, Crossfire Can Help
Ramesh Ponnuru has a fantastic column about the problems with cable television shows about politics. He says some complaints about these shows (e.g., they are responsible for incivility) are overblown. He's more worried about how the discussion on these shows is dumb, one-sided or both:
Their main function seems to be to provide Team Red and Team Blue with their daily talking points and with fresh causes for outrage at the other side. A lot of people seem to like this kind of thing, and it has its place in a robust democracy.
There is a way to elevate the political debate a little bit, though, and it’s simple: One of the cable networks should bring back “Crossfire.” Yes, that’s the CNN show that Jon Stewart attacked in 2004 for “hurting America,” shortly before its 23-year run ended.
Ponnuru concedes that the show had degenerated in later years. But the original format is worth going back to:
The show ran for half an hour and examined one question. There were two hosts: one liberal, one conservative, both opinion journalists rather than operatives for a political party. In the early 1990s, Michael Kinsley (now a Bloomberg View columnist) and Patrick Buchanan did the job. There were two guests, usually politicians or public-policy experts on each side of the debate. There was no studio audience.
Each of these features made “Crossfire” better. The one-subject rule made it impossible for the politicians to make it through the show on sound bites alone. That both hosts were journalists made for a fairer debate than the usual practice of today’s political shows, which put journalists up against political operatives.
The show would avoid political strategists, whose sole job is to spin. That was the problem with the Crossfire that featured James Carville and Paul Begala. They were smart and funny at times but they were practicing politicos. The studio audience that TV executives added only made things worse, with hosts and guests playing to the crowd.
Ponnuru thinks CNN or another cabler should think about bringing back the old-style Crossfire:
“Crossfire” was balanced by design, and I bet there would be an audience for it once again. Of course, I’m not a professional TV executive. Then again, the professional executives at CNN sank millions into “Parker Spitzer.” Maybe it’s worth listening to someone else.
He ends by saying that the show would force partisanship to be more intelligent and honest, a service we could use now more than ever. I'm convinced.
At the very least we need a show for people who have graduated from the sophomorics of The Daily Show.