Eliot Spitzer, Playing to Form

The buzz out of CNN is that its struggling “Spitzer-Parker” talking heads show is on the ropes, and will soon be re-tooled, de-Parkered, or dropped altogether. Nobody who has tried to watch this virtually unwatchable program will be surprised to hear it, nor will anyone be surprised to see the show re-emerge as just “Spitzer” or perhaps “Spitz!” If that is the solution, it will be one more instance in which unethical conduct prevails over its good twin. This is show biz, after all.

It won’t prevail for long. Eliot Spitzer has revealed himself on the show as a selfish, unmannered bully, as well as an old-fashioned male chauvinist pig. Watching Spitzer badger guests, making MSNBC’s Interrupter-in-Chief Chris Matthews look polite by comparison, is unpleasant, but observing his complete disrespect for co-host Kathleen Parker is infuriating. Anyone who wonders what the dinner table discussions often looked and sounded like in the dining rooms of 19th Century American households, or perhaps more accurately, in 21st Century American homes where the husband is a spouse-abuser, will find “Spitzer-Parker” educational. He almost never pauses in his onslaught to offer Parker a chance to speak; when he does, he looks impatient, giving off a clear, “Yeah, yeah, get on with it, woman!” vibe to viewers. As she sits mute waiting for a chance to enter the fray without having to shout or break in, Spitzer seldom looks her way, giving helpful non-verbal cues, and behaves instead as if the only participants in the program are he and the guest. Debates between Spitzer and Parker alone have the feel of a mugging, with the former prosecutor treating Parker like a lying informant who has to be broken on the stand.

Parker was probably miscast from the outset. She has negligible presence on screen, seems reserved by nature, and as a columnist who is used to formulating her arguments in advance, she is at a natural disadvantage when teamed with an Alpha-male politician like Spitzer, who is comfortable issuing authoritative-sounding opinions whether he has thought about them or not, whether they make any sense or not. Wait—did I say teamed? There is no “team” here, because Eliot Spitzer either doesn’t know how to be part of a team or wants Kathleen Parker off of his.

This is where Spitzer’s conduct is most offensive. He and Parker were, in fact, hired as a team, and as a team member, it was Spitzer’s duty to work to make the team successful, not just him. This means caring about the other part of the team, employing empathy, respect, fairness, modesty, and generosity. Rather than exploiting Parker’s natural reticence to make her look like a paperweight, an ethical team member would try to help her be more effective, deferring to her on occasion, allowing her to score some points, helping her to do well. Not Spitzer. There may be no “I” in “team,” but there is also no “team” in “Spitzer.”

What there is in Spitzer, in abundance, is “jerk.” This should have been obvious to CNN at the outset, but TV executives, like too many of the rest of us, often act as if an individual’s past conduct has no bearing on his future behavior. This is a former New York governor who arrogantly risked harm to his state, destruction to his political party, humiliation to his wife, and betrayal of his staff and supporters because he enjoyed the services of a prostitution ring, one of the very same criminal enterprises that he rose to prominence by prosecuting. We can convince ourselves, as Spitzer tried to convince us, that this conduct was brought about by an emotional malady, or the corruption of power, or an instance of bad judgment, but Occam’s Razor suggests that the simplest explanation is the most likely: the man is a self-centered jerk—talented no doubt, enlightening on many topics, but a jerk nonetheless. This was fairly obvious when CNN took the dubious step of rewarding a felonious ex-public servant for his infamy by giving him a prime time show, and it is more obvious now.

Jerks do well in broadcasting, just as they frequently succeed in politics. In both professions, however, their continued success depends on the public being kept in the dark regarding their more jerky proclivities. In Eliot Spitzer’s case, the doomed run of “Spitzer-Parker” should have turned the lights on.

One thought on “Eliot Spitzer, Playing to Form

  1. Dear Jack: I’ve seen this show on one or two occasi0ns only, as my work schedule usually precludes it. I don’t mind a man being something of a bulldog in his business, but there is a question of character. Spitzer has none. His past expresses this like a blast from a 155mm howitzer! Yet, despite this, his name recognition got him his own TV show. As you say, Parker is there mainly for window dressing. They might as well have hired Pamela Anderson! But… how are reasonable people supposed to trust the opinions of a man who betrayed his own state and every ideal he once (loudly) professed in the manner he did, leaving his high office in disgrace? Are there any ethical standards of broadcasting left?

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