New York Post story about how Kathleen Parker
is soon to be dumped from CNN's "Parker/Spitzer
" may or may not be right. And it may or may not have come straight from...Eliot Spitzer
, even if it does put me in mind me of all those gossip items Donald Trump
used to hand-plant in the New York tabs about the various models who were supposedly chasing him. (According to show "insiders," the producers of "Parker/Spitzer
" just "love the job Spitzer
has been doing," are "standing behind Eliot," and "really like him," too.)
But if there's any truth at all to rumors that the network may replace the thoughtful, Pulitzer Prize-winning Parker with E.D. Hill
-- a woman so over-the-top that her "terrorist fist jab
" comment about the Obamas got her pink-slipped by Fox News
-- well, CNN couldn't have picked a worse moment to underscore that both politically and temperamentally, moderates on cable are as rare as snow days in West Palm Beach
The conventional wisdom, of course, is that bullies make good TV. But amid national soul-searching over the dangers of toxic blah-blah, can we not see the implications of a marketplace of ideas in which the loudest and least reasonable voices so regularly drown out all others?
The rap against Parker, according to the Post, is that she "seemed like a wilting flower next to the hard-charging former state attorney general, who resigned as governor in 2008 after admitting he patronized a high-price hooker ring.'' (The paper also refers to a Parker "hissy fit," a term I thought went out with veiled hats.)
Wilting, no. But unable or unwilling to verbally elbow her way past her jaw-flappin' co-host, yes. At times, Parker has been reduced to making humorous asides just to get a word in. Which is unfortunate for one thing because she is such an original thinker -- provocative in a good way in a world of sock-puppet slugfests as predictable as they are strident.
Why hire a writer known for nuance and then expect her to hip-check a self-described "f---ing steamroller"? Is "Rudeness Rewarded" really the message CNN wants to send? (Its answer to MSNBC's "Lean Forward," maybe?) At a moment when many Americans are thinking and talking about ways to neutralize some of the vitriol, mightn't it be time for a bold experiment in which anchors, too, dial it back?
In a related recent piece on women struggling to be heard over their noisier TV husbands, Politics Daily's Joanne Bamberger noted
that Deborah Tannen's book on gender and language, "You Just Don't Understand
," says "constant interruption is normal for men because they view conversation as a contest. Women, on the other hand, generally are socialized to speak collaboratively and one at a time, and have little experience in 'grab[bing] the conversational wheel' in the way that most men do." Some women -- Ann Coulter
and Rachel Maddow
among them -- do manage to make themselves heard, of course, and everyone on PBS
is allowed to do so.
But the problem goes beyond gender, and if middle ground is missing from cable, it's viewers who are to blame. A CNN spokeswoman declined any comment on "Parker/Spitzer," but if Parker is in fact on her way out, it's because network higher-ups are responding to the show's ratings, which have been low from the start. Ultimately, it's we who decide whether mano-a-mano TV is what we want, and we who can demand better by voting with our clickers.
Whenever I've watched the show, which launched in October, it's been Spitzer's solo act -- his grudging acknowledgment that he even has a co-host -- that made it hard to watch; I often wondered if anyone at CNN had thought of asking him to straighten up.
Watching on Tuesday night, however, I could have sworn someone had done just that, and the result was a better, more balanced show. When presumed Republican presidential aspirant Tim Pawlenty, who just stepped down as governor of Minnesota, lingered a couple of seconds too long laughing at a Spitzer remark about football instead of listening to the question Parker was trying to ask him, she reached out and tapped her guest's arm, unwilling to be ignored.
Later in the interview, she asked Pawlenty about the Tucson shootings in the context of shoot-'em-up political rhetoric, but he did not repeat his newsmaking comment
that he would not have done as Sarah Palin did in choosing to portray "targeted" House districts, like that of wounded Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, in the cross-hairs of a gun. On the contrary, he seemed to dismiss the debate about our discourse.
Spitzer followed up: "Don't you think the rhetoric could be toned down?" he asked his fellow former governor.
"Setting aside this incident," Pawlenty allowed noncommittally, "all of us could benefit from a more thoughtful discussion." And again, it's we who will decide if we get that upgrade.
Regular readers know we are political vegetarians at Politics Daily, where red meat is (almost) never on the menu, and even our reader comments are pre-screened to weed out hate speech, personal attacks and profanity. Tone matters, we believe, and our decidedly quaint founding principle is civil discourse -- an endeavor PD contributor Jeffrey Weiss dubbed the "civilogue." Just as before Tucson, we await any sign that it might be catching on.
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