In a move akin to staging a car crash in hopes people will pause to view the carnage, CNN has hired Eliot Spitzer, the disgraced former governor of New York, as co-host of a new news and discussion show.
Spitzer, who once patronized prostitutes, will share the anchor spot with Kathleen Parker, a syndicated national columnist who received the Pulitzer-Prize for commentary this year. The show, Parker Spitzer, airs tonight at 8 p.m. and I for one won’t be watching.
It’s not that Spitzer’s transgressions offend me as a woman – yes, I felt bad for his wife, but no marriage is perfect, and I certainly don’t begrudge his efforts to get on with his life. But as a former journalist I can’t help think the profession has enough credibility issues without elevating someone who was named in a federal prostitution case to prime time status.
In a sound bite, CNN is rewarding Spitzer’s vice with a platform for his views and hoping to trade on his notoriety for ratings. This sends a chilling message, one that follows all too familiar lines that it doesn’t matter how you get a name as long as a whole bunch of people recognize it.
This is shameful.
To those who disagree, please don’t tell me that Spitzer is really smart and knows his stuff when it comes to politics and policy. It’s not about intellect it’s about integrity and Spitzer traded his for a $3,000 a night hooker.
At one time, the job of a television reporter was held in high regard. Remember Walter Cronkite? People trusted the veracity of the news because they respected Cronkite’s moral compass. Since then, television news – in some cases at least — has become an oxymoron, nothing more than celebrity gossip packaged for an apathetic public with short attention spans. But there’s still an expectation of those tasked as political watchdogs to steer clear of controversy, personal and otherwise, or at least not break the law.
As attorney general of New York who made his reputation for fighting public corruption, Spitzer not only broke the law, he thumbed his nose at it. Not even Parker’s Pulitzer can polish the hypocrisy off that one.
Beside, since when did news in the form of political commentary become the dumping ground for the fallen? As a profession, journalism is not immune to scandal. Stephen Glass of The New Republic, Jayson Blair of the New York Times and Janet Cooke of the Washington Post all fell from grace after fabricating stories. But they were booted from the newsrooms of mainstream media, their bylines forever linked to scandal and ethical morass, declared unfit to inform.
For the most part, the news media polices its own because one rotten egg makes everyone smell bad and even Parker must share some blame for accepting Spitzer as a co-host. She addresses this in a recent column by saying, “As far as I’m concerned, especially given that he has resigned from public office, the flaws that brought Spitzer down are between him and his family. Like most Americans, I believe in redemption.”
I do too, Kathleen, but what I can’t stomach is the reward of criminal behavior with a lucrative contract.
Kathleen Parrish is a public relations professional and an award winning former journalist. She is the co-author of “My Life on the Run: The Wit, Wisdom, and Insights of a Road Racing Icon” with Bart Yasso.