Just before CNN’s Crossfire got canceled, Jon Stewart came on the show to, ostensibly, promote his book, America: The Book.
The segment was a total ambush, or a reverse-ambush—the guest ambushed the hosts. Stewart lambasted Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala for “hurting America.” Stewart said, “You have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.”
It was tough for me to watch because I was a big fan of Stewart and Crossfire. I still am; I watch The Daily Show every night. But even I recognized that Stewart was wrong.
The critique goes like this: Cable news turns every issue into a fight. A fight with two equal and opposing sides. But some stories are more complex than that. And sometimes there is a right side and a wrong side.
That’s a fair critique of cable news in general, but CNN’s Crossfire is the one show exempt. It’s the one show that owns up to turning everything into a partisan debate. In other words, it’s the one show with full disclosure.
I’d compare Crossfire to the Heart Attack Grill on Fremont Street. The Heart Attack Grill is not the reason that Americans are obese. When you go there for a burger and a lard shake, you know what you’re in for. The reasons Americans are obese are corporate chain restaurants serving food that many Americans don’t realize is incredibly caloric. (Like the people who watch Fox News and MSNBC without seeing the bias.)
Nobody remembers what Paul Begala said back to Stewart, but he had the segment’s funniest line. He said that criticizing Crossfire for turning everything into a debate “is like saying the Weather Channel reduces everything to a storm front.”
I hope the new hosts are as on-the-ball as the old ones, and I welcome Crossfire’s return.