SHEFFIELD: CNN puts the moves on cable TV

Spitzer’s new gig amounts to a reward for bad behavior

This just in: Normally reputable CNN has succumbed to ratings pressures and will join the ranks of sensationalistic media outlets that will do anything for attention.

Also disheartening: Kathleen Parker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative columnist, will lend her credibility to Eliot Spitzer, the tarnished and tawdry former governor of New York.

Mrs. Parker and Mr. Spitzer, who resigned after he hired a prostitute despite his earlier prosecution of prostitution rings, will co-host a political talk show this fall in CNN’s prime 8 p.m. slot. The gimmick is meant to compete with Fox’s Bill O’Reilly and MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, who are trouncing Ted Turner’s brainchild.

In its announcement, CNN made no mention of a report from state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo admonishing Mr. Spitzer for using state police to harass his political enemies, a breach far worse than buying the affections of a prostitute. Instead, the network touted his supposed bona fides as the “Sheriff of Wall Street.”

Though I disagree with Mr. Spitzer’s ideology and think his hounding of Wall Street moguls was less about fighting corruption and more about his own political profiteering, I feel for supporters of his creed who surely could find a less distracting crusader to publicize their causes. Regardless of their political stripes, pols who put their personal greed and pleasure ahead of the public interest betray their supporters and obviously do not exhibit the type of judgment worth promoting in prime time.

I witnessed firsthand Mr. Spitzer’s campaign to resuscitate his career last fall, when he was a guest lecturer while I was a student at Harvard University. In a stroke of extreme irony, he was brought in by Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics to lecture us on the morality of government intervention in the marketplace.

As a young woman, I was particularly disgusted knowing that the Sheriff of Wall Street believes the female body is a commodity that can be bought and sold (which would he prefer - NASDAQ or Dow Jones indexing?).

This move by CNN should have feminists everywhere livid, but instead, we have liberal ideologues including Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, defending Mr. Spitzer because of his willingness to apologize and take a few public lumps.

True, Mr. Spitzer has been contrite. But surely CNN has a stable of intelligent, charismatic progressive male analysts who would yield a more palatable choice to host a national television program. Instead, CNN is taking the Hollywood paparazzi route and rewarding bad behavior. The network echoes the tabloid New York Post’s decision to give a relationship advice column to Mr. Spitzer’s prostitute, Ashley Dupre.

As the news business continues to slump, these shenanigans do little to engender consumer confidence and build brand loyalty. To make room for Mr. Spitzer, CNN is shoving out Campbell Brown, a mainstream, shoe-leather reporter who paid her dues by working up the television market food chain, from Kansas to Richmond to Baltimore and then the District.

What hope is there for hardworking j-school students around the country who aspire to hold these perches of media power? Why should they hold out hope that journalistic outlets are actually vehicles for holding public officials accountable when they give harbor to the very scoundrels who abuse public trust?

In her syndicated column’s promotional materials, Mrs. Parker says, “My ambitious goal is to try to inject a little sanity into a world gone barking mad.” Unfortunately, it looks as if Mrs. Parker is succumbing to the madness. Mrs. Parker defended her decision in a column on Sunday, focusing on Mr. Spitzer’s Wall Street investigations. For someone who describes herself as a conservative, she sounded awfully excited about government officials meddling in the marketplace.

If there somehow was a groundswell of viewers and advertisers dissatisfied with this troubling trend, perhaps CNN would snap out of its ratings-crazed stupor and Mrs. Parker would actually stick to her ambitious goal.

However, Mr. Spitzer’s checkered past will limit the potential of this yet-unnamed talk show to serve as a legitimate forum. After perhaps a spike in curious first-time viewers, reality will set in and CNN’s ratings will, unfortunately, continue to plummet.

Carrie Sheffield is a former Washington Times editorial board member and a recent graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

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