I like Michael Kinsley quite a bit even though I have evolved away from agreeing with him most of the time, to agreeing with him on the low end of some of the time. He has some judicious if retroactively self-serving thoughts on the demise of Crossfire, his former TV haunt:
- In October, the nation’s philosopher-king, Jon Stewart, appeared on “Crossfire” and hilariously bested the show’s two co-hosts on the question of “Crossfire” itself.
Stewart’s performance was a bit of a cheat. He grandly begged his interlocutors to “stop hurting America,” then he repelled any counterargument by retreating into his shell like a turtle and declaring that he was jes’ a littl’ ol’ comedian, boss.
….the impact was that CNN canceled “Crossfire” after 23 years. Or maybe this wasn’t especially unfortunate. Twenty-three years is a good run.
I used to work as a co-host of “Crossfire,” and I got sick of it after six. During that time, I often heard the arguments against shout-fests. They boil down to two: First, the general level of discussion is low. Second, framing every issue as an argument corrupts the larger political discourse, which is headachy with argumentation already.
….The conceit that there are exactly 2.0 sides to every question, one “left” and one “right,” is a genuine flaw of “Crossfire”-type shows. So is their Groundhog Day quality: The argument goes on forever, nobody’s mind is ever changed. But this format has a great advantage over other variations of TV talking-head journalism in terms of intellectual honesty.
….The foundation of “Crossfire” and its imitators is the tendentious question: a question from an explicit point of view. This is liberating. You don’t have to pretend that you have no opinion on the subject you’re badgering a politician about, and you also don’t have to pretend that you know all about some topic that had never crossed your mind until that morning’s paper.
….”Crossfire” didn’t cause the ideological divisions in this country. It reflected them. Sometimes it reflected them so well that people got angry, and they shouted. But that anger was usually genuine. These were people doing democracy the honor of feeling deeply about it. That’s not so terrible. [LA Times]
All well and good, but what Kinsley doesn’t touch upon — perhaps for reasons of modesty — is that these shows are so personality driven that it is critical the combatants remain likable on some level and retain some semblance of credibility despite the exaggerated one-side-or-the-other format, something he but few others have been able to do. The hosts of the show have slid from the punditocracy to the puditocracy and hence its decline.