New ‘Crossfire’ Offers Partisanship With A Side of Fake Friendly

CNN’s reincarnated segment reflects its ambivalence about where to fit into a crowded field of televised political commentary.

(Twitter/CrossfireCNN)
National Journal
Marin Cogan
See more stories about...
Marin Cogan
Sept. 10, 2013, 7:38 a.m.

Cross­fire was ori­gin­ally sup­posed to start Sept. 16, but CNN moved up the premi­er to Monday night due to the break­ing news on Syr­ia.

The de­cision was ques­tion­able — the show aired on the same night the pres­id­ent gave sit-down in­ter­views to the ma­jor tele­vi­sion net­works — but it is one that re­flec­ted the pre­vail­ing mood of Wash­ing­ton, with law­makers and staff re­turn­ing from Au­gust re­cess anxious to do something about the pres­id­ent’s pro­pos­al for in­ter­ven­tion in Syr­ia, even if that something is ac­tu­ally noth­ing, and amid deep skep­ti­cism that Wash­ing­ton is even cap­able of de­cid­ing, let alone ex­ecut­ing, a de­cision on one of the most im­port­ant is­sues it has de­bated in years.

It was only nine years ago that Jon Stew­art em­bar­rassed former Cross­fire host Tuck­er Carlson in the show’s most mem­or­able per­form­ance for hurt­ing the na­tion­al dis­course with its polit­ic­al hack­ery. When the show was can­celed a few months later, CNN’s pres­id­ent con­ceded Stew­art’s point.

Times have changed. (It is hard to ima­gine, in 2013, Carlson and Stew­art’s squab­bling over wheth­er Stew­art was in fact John Kerry’s “butt boy.”) But in hir­ing two of Wash­ing­ton’s most high-pro­file hacks — former GOP pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Newt Gin­grich and former Obama deputy cam­paign man­ager Stephanie Cut­ter — CNN ap­peared to be try­ing to strike a bal­ance between the cri­ti­cism that chased it off the air in 2005 and the un­deni­able suc­cess their com­pet­it­ors have had in rep­lic­at­ing its format.

Were they able to have it both ways? Both hosts seemed con­scious of upend­ing ex­pect­a­tions. In its first epis­ode, view­ers were treated to a wink­ing, con­geni­al Gin­grich, an un­fa­mil­i­ar sight to those who watched his un­likely rise as a can­did­ate for the Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­a­tion last year, and a nervous, hu­man-seem­ing Cut­ter, fam­ous in polit­ic­al circles for her hard-bit­ten ap­proach to polit­ics. They sat a little too close while Gin­grich re­coun­ted the latest news about the Rus­si­an of­fer to help se­cure Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al-weapons stock­pile.

They en­gaged in a stil­ted back and forth, em­ploy­ing false fa­mili­ar­ity by us­ing each oth­er’s first names too of­ten: “Now Stephanie, I’ve heard of lead­ing from be­hind, but did you ever think you’d see Putin bail­ing out Pres­id­ent Obama?” Gin­grich asked. “Well, Newt, I don’t know where you’ve been over the last two years, but we couldn’t even get Putin to ac­know­ledge that Syr­ia was a risk,” Cut­ter said in ri­poste.

The show broke down along the usu­al par­tis­an lines, with Cut­ter and Demo­crat­ic Sen. Robert Men­en­dez ar­guing in sup­port of the pres­id­ent’s po­s­i­tion and Gin­grich and Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Rand Paul ar­guing against it. But this time the po­s­i­tions were flipped in a way that re­flec­ted how much the polit­ics have changed since Cross­fire went off the air, with Men­en­dez mak­ing the hawk­ish case and Paul po­s­i­tion­ing him­self as the an­ti­war politi­cian.

In a nod to the show’s at­tempt at par­tis­an­ship without pu­er­il­ity, it ended with a seg­ment called “Cease­fire,” where the co-hosts make nice by re­cit­ing a few points they found they can agree on. But the seg­ment felt too pat, and their points of agree­ment were too ano­dyne to be in­ter­est­ing. Cut­ter said that the two agreed that the pos­sib­il­ity of a Rus­si­an pro­pos­al to se­cure chem­ic­al weapons was a good thing, and that the polling showed Obama would have a tough time get­ting Con­gress to ap­prove mil­it­ary ac­tion. Gin­grich said that they could agree that the break­ing news of the last 48 hours had been “tu­mul­tu­ous.”

Cut­ter said that they could agree that the polling show­ing most Amer­ic­ans op­posed to a Syr­i­an in­ter­ven­tion was not an ac­cur­ate as­sess­ment of pop­u­lar opin­ion be­cause “they were duped in­to war 10 years ago with weapons of mass de­struc­tion that didn’t ex­ist and now they’re forced to make a de­cision on weapons of mass de­struc­tion that do ex­ist.” Gin­grich cocked an eye­brow — ap­par­ently on this they didn’t agree — but, he ad­ded, they both agreed that you can fol­low the show on Face­book and Twit­ter to share your thoughts.

It was a per­fect re­flec­tion of CNN’s am­bi­val­ence about where it fits in­to the great­er tele­vi­sion land­scape. If the net­work can’t pick a side, it can at least let their hosts pick one.

What We're Following See More »
WEST WING REDUX
Allison Janney Takes to the Real White House Podium
6 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Carolyn Kaster/AP

STAFF PICKS
When It Comes to Mining Asteroids, Technology Is Only the First Problem
6 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Obama Reflects on His Economic Record
7 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Reagan Families, Allies Lash Out at Will Ferrell
8 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."

Source:
PEAK CONFIDENCE
Clinton No Longer Running Primary Ads
11 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-ex­pec­ted primary battle be­hind her, former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton (D) is no longer go­ing on the air in up­com­ing primary states. “Team Clin­ton hasn’t spent a single cent in … Cali­for­nia, In­di­ana, Ken­tucky, Ore­gon and West Vir­gin­ia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “cam­paign has spent a little more than $1 mil­lion in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone back­er in the Sen­ate, said the can­did­ate should end his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign if he’s los­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton after the primary sea­son con­cludes in June, break­ing sharply with the can­did­ate who is vow­ing to take his in­sur­gent bid to the party con­ven­tion in Phil­adelphia.”

Source:
×