No more head-butting — give us fisking instead

No more head-butting — give us fisking instead

: So Jon Stewart killed Crossfire.

Thank you, Jon. Good work, guy.

But in the announcement today that Tucker Carlson’s going to tie his tie elsewhere and CNN is killing Crossfire, network boss Jonathan Klein got it half wrong.

Mr. Klein said he wanted to move CNN away from what he called “head-butting debate shows,” which have become the staple of much of all-news television in the prime-time hours, especially at the top-rated Fox News Channel.

“CNN is a different animal,” Mr. Klein said. “We report the news. Fox talks about the news. They’re very good at what they do and we’re very good at what we do.”

Mr. Klein specifically cited the criticism that the comedian Jon Stewart leveled at “Crossfire” when he was a guest on the program during the presidential campaign. Mr. Stewart said that ranting partisan political shows on cable were “hurting America.”

Mr. Klein said last night, “I agree wholeheartedly with Jon Stewart’s overall premise.” He said he believed that especially after the terror attacks on 9/11, viewers are interested in information, not opinion.

Yes, we want to end the head-butting and the cockfights. Stop hurting America, boys.

But the conversation is valuable. And that means that opinion is good. Talking about the news is often necessary.

Too often, cable news gets the conversation wrong on one extreme or another. Either they have head-butting and shouting, which tells us absolutely nothing and no longer entertains, either. Or they become slavish to getting one from Column A and one from Column B for every story and every opinion and we’re left with acid and alkaline canceling each other out; we’re left with water.

The problem is, they treat opinions as people. What they should be doing is dealing with the issues, not the actors. They are producing a show when they should be producing a debate.

From my experience, they have me on to fight the FCC and defend the First Amendment and they have someone from the “other side” on and we either yell at each other or we go back-and-forth in a boring game of issue ping-pong and nothing comes of it. How much better it would be if a good anchor — a reporter, a journalist — tackled the issues instead of letting the guests tackle each other. In the old days, reporters knew they were supposed to play devil’s advocate. So that anchor should go after me about whether the FCC should manage the public airwaves and what it means for the airwaves to be owned by the public. Push me on the questions. Fisk, don’t fight.

It’s not just cable that is grappling with how to deal with opinions as a prism on the news, of course. Newspapers play the Column A and Column B game on their op-ed pages. And that can be just as frustrating, for it appears over time; it’s syncopated. This week, The New York Times ran two opeds with very specific opinions on what to do with Social Security. I know if a few days, they’ll have letters to the editor arguing with them. But that’s quite unhelpful. Again, what I’d prefer is that they put out an issue and then an idea and then debate about it right then and there. Freeze-dry the fisking and put it in print.

Through the conversation, I believe, I’ll be served with the facts and arguments that help me make up my mind. And that is supposed to be the point of all this, isn’t it: informing the public.