New “Crossfire” hosts (l-r) Stephanie Cutter, Van Jones, S.E. Cupp and Newt Gingrich.
When last we saw CNN’s “Crossfire,” it resembled a scene from “Animal House,” minus the togas.
Eight years later, “Crossfire” has learned its manners, according to CNN. Hosts will use their indoor voices, and will allow each other to finish sentences. The experiment begins at 6:30 tonight, with Newt Gingrich and Stephanie Cutter on set with two guests.
“You have to wait for someone to finish, then make your point,” says CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist, who began his CNN career as a “Crossfire” intern in 1989. “We get that. Obviously, it’s something to be mindful of. At the same time, we want to have passionate conversations.”
Even with what’s being billed as a kinder, gentler “Crossfire,” the question remains as to whether the conservative-vs.-liberal roundtable, launched in 1982, matters anymore in a radically altered cable topography.
Given that Fox News and MSNBC have become so polarized, a political program with both sides equally represented is more important than ever, says Charles Bierbauer, Dean of the University of South Carolina’s College of Mass Communications and a CNN correspondent for 20 years.
“Whatever happened to the guy in the middle?” he opines. “I, as a viewer, like more than one point of view on issues. We’ve evolved, or devolved, to the notion that tuning into Fox gives you a right wing, conservative perspective and tuning into MSNBC gives you a left wing, liberal perspective.”
Going a step further, Feist says CNN “is the only cable-news channel that is capable of hosting “Crossfire” in an authentic way…. We’re bipartisan. Our job is to represent all points of view. It’s hard to imagine viewers would trust other channels to offer a debate program with equally balanced hosts and guests.”
“Balance” often leads to a deafening decibel level. Toward the end, this was “Crossfire’s” hallmark, fueled even more by a vocal studio audience. In his infamous 2004 appearance, Jon Stewart decried the cacophony, which led, in part, to ex-CNN chief Jonathan Klein’s decision to euthanize the show.
“Crossfire’s” approach was emblematic of the time’s ‘argument culture,’ says Amy S. Mitchell, new director of Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.