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'Parker/Spitzer,' E.D. Hill and Our Toxic Rhetoric: Is 'Rudeness Rewarded' CNN's Motto?

3 years ago
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This 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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11 Comments

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whitneymuse

Yes, not a CNN watcher; but, there she was on Tuesday night's show, taking the thoughtful Parker's place with her fists unbound and ready to work out
Spitzer's jabs. Somehow they fit each other, too.

March 02 2011 at 11:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
RICK

Put Ann Coulter with Spitzer. That would be good TV!

February 25 2011 at 7:22 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
wtmorton73

I really never understood the commotion over E.D. Hill's "terrorist fist jab" comment. I'm pretty sure it was said tongue-in-cheek.

If I were as scorned as Ms. Hill for my bad jokes, I would have faced the firing squad in the second grade.

January 26 2011 at 11:08 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wtmorton73's comment
whitneymuse

You're right; I don't think that was the reason for her being "non renewed" either. She had too much personality for the women at FOX, (and I watch that channel) often, too. If Shine and the powers at Fox didn't renew her for that, then they missed the mark. They were bumping her around months before that "fist pound" thing; however, I was surprised when she was (((gone))).

March 02 2011 at 11:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
johnnycandiru

I totally agree with this article. I have stopped watching CNN solely as a result of it's hiring Spitzer.

January 26 2011 at 10:18 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Bonbon

Isn't Spitzer the guy from that scandal with the ladies of the night? CNN what has happened to that network! wow.

January 12 2011 at 6:15 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
valfaro58

I like this show. Ms. Parker's first week, she looked like a deer staring at headlights;She's relaxing a bit. I think it's a good show. I like that guests aren't allowed to just spew rhetoric without facts. People needs facts, not Opinions, FACTS. They also need just unalderated NEWS. What happened to reporting NEWS!

January 12 2011 at 10:40 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
rann948

Spitzer is a former prosecutor because he patronized "ladies of the night", while at the same time prosecuting them and their johns. He is a blathering egotist. It is all about him. His groveling to the sheriff in AZ and then attacking the tea party as others were asking for reason is only one of his disgusting performances. Hardly the kind of interviewer to work with a partner. I can't imagine that there are NO other talented news-people out there besides this creep. How about an anti-View ladies' duo?

January 12 2011 at 9:39 AM Report abuse +16 rate up rate down Reply
stoneledge937

"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. Our decidedly quaint founding principle is civil discourse -- an endeavor PD contributor Jeffrey Weiss dubbed the "civilogue." And before and after Tucson, we await any sign that it might be catching on."

One of the first articles to come across my screen on the day of the shootings in Tucson was a PD piece with a large photo of Sarah Palin. I don't understand how that's civilogue.

January 12 2011 at 9:16 AM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply
stoneledge937

"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."

You mean like on "The View?"

January 12 2011 at 9:11 AM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply
atlasusa

Perhaps it is time for these cable news shows to invite guests on who answer questions rather than dodge them. Tim Pawlenty is a wimp. He writes a book "COURAGE to Stand" when the ex-governmor of Minnesota is nothing more than a wuss. We need strong leadership, not spineless jellyfish.

January 12 2011 at 8:39 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

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