The Self-Inflicted Nonpartisan Problems at CNN

Internal problems at CNN have jumped from the gossip pages to the New York Times. Brian Stelter reports today (12/8/10) on behind-the-scenes clashesat the new program Parker Spitzer, which is co-hosted by liberal-leaning former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and conservative columnist Kathleen Parker. Stelter writes:

The ratings for CNN‘s latest experiment are stagnant. The show has been troubled by backstage tensions that have spilled out in gossip columns and have given rise to speculation–and some wishful thinking among his supporters–that CNN could make Mr. Spitzer the sole host.

CNN executives and the co-hosts flatly ruled out that outcome in interviews last week. Disappointment with the ratings was evident, even as they emphasized that the show was just starting to get its footing.

The reports adds that the show

pairs Mr. Spitzer, a liberal with a prosecutorâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s bent, and Ms. Parker, who calls herself a rational conservative. “We wanted very much to bring a nonpartisan alternative to television viewers,” Ms. Parker said, a wink at the red- and blue-hued shows on Fox News and MSNBC.

Much of the gossip concerns Spitzer’s apparent domination of the show. This is not terribly surprising; up to this point he’d been making pretty regular appearances on various MSNBC programs, and came across as forceful and reasonably telegenic.

The problem here seems to me to be with CNN‘s self-concept as a the news channel that doesn’t take sides–what supposedly makes it different from its more successful competitors at Fox and MSNBC. If someone wanted to give Eliot Spitzer a show, they could have done that. But to the “take-no-sides” management at CNN, this would have been seen as being overly partisan. Instead, they thought it wise to pair Spitzer with a conservative, so as not to be guilty of the offense of giving a liberal a show. The fact thatthishasn’t drawn a lot of viewers doesn’t seem like a tremendous surprise.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.