WEB UPDATE: 'Crossfire' silences debate after 23 years

by Christina Mueller

Posted Saturday, June 4, 2:53 a.m. "Crossfire" host James Carville pointed out on the air Friday that the improbable can happen, such as "Deep Throat" revealing himself, the Red Sox winning the World Series and "Crossfire" ending its 23-year run.

The show, one of cable television's longest-running programs and the first debate program of its kind, made its final broadcast ever Friday afternoon. Carville offered "a big thank you to The George Washington University" for hosting the program for the last three years.

The audience, comprised of students and adults, was sprinkled with CNN executives, former "Crossfire" employees and even young children, all ready to witness the end of an era for CNN. The show aired after an "Inside Politics" tribute to Judy Woodruff, who hosted her final show Friday just before "Crossfire."

Hosts Carville and Robert Novak, who GW students have come to regard familiarly, hosted the farewell show alongside host Paul Begala, who participated via remote feed from Boston.

"I would like to dedicate this show to our political, passionate, and partisan viewers," said Begala, from his perch on a large television screen. More specifically, he dedicated it to his 91-year-old grandmother, who he said has not missed a day of the show.

In 2002, "Crossfire" came to GW through a partnership with CNN that was developed by Vice President of Communications Michael Freedman and coordinating producer Heather Clapp Date. Since its arrival at GW, the show has aired 736 times from the Jack Morton Auditorium and employed 206 students as staff, interns and volunteers.

"When 'Crossfire' came to campus, it added a level of energy and excitement to the program," Date said.

Date emphasized her gratitude to everyone who helped with "Crossfire" at GW, particularly the dozens of students who worked on the show.

"I think it was an emotional day for all of us involved ... it's hard to say goodbye," Date said.

CNN president Jonathan Klein announced "Crossfire's" cancellation in January in an effort to shift the network's focus toward hard news. Since its debut in 1982 with hosts Pat Buchanan and Tom Brayden, the show has worked to present both the conservative and liberal perspectives on numerous political issues, oftentimes breaking into intense and raucous debate.

On the Friday afternoon of the hosts' final broadcast, friendly handshakes and hearty laughter pervaded the studio in a performance that lacked its famous partisanship.

"You do a damn good job," Carville said with a smile to Novak before the show began. The hosts set a relaxed tone early on as they joked with the audience. The three hosts, later joined in a surprise appearance by former host Tucker Carlson, spent the half-hour on a nostalgic tour through the years of appearing on and later hosting "Crossfire."

Among the clips that were shown included Carville wearing a trashcan over his head after the 2002 mid-term election; Begala and Carlson crowd-surfing before a presidential debate; and Novak and Carville posing with the Boston Red Sox mascot in Fenway Park.

"Take what you do seriously, don't take yourself seriously," Carville said of the clips.

After Carlson, who left CNN to host his own show on rival MSNBC, made his appearance, viewers saw a clip of him eating a shoe-shaped cake presented by Sen. Hillary Clinton. Carlson had pledged to eat his shoe if her book sold a million copies.

"There's few secrets in Washington, and it was fun to keep that from Tucker," Date said after the show.

In a more serious moment, the hosts emphasized their pride for their questioning of the decision to go to war with Iraq.

"No one told us what to say," explained Carville. "It was what we really thought." Carville congratulated his fellow hosts, claiming there was more skepticism of the war on "Crossfire" than on any other show.

In a farewell speech before the program, Freedman thanked the GW community, including President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, for their participation with "Crossfire."

Freedman, a former CBS executive, was jubilant as he discussed the show's run at GW.

"This had never been done before," Freedman said. "It truly speaks to the dynamism that is GW: instead of grabbing the media, we became the media; not just seeking internships for our students, we brought internships here - to them."

Last month, Freedman said he was "absolutely confident" that the CNN-GW relationship would continue in the form of another show.

"I don't see this as the end of anything besides the end of 'Crossfire' at GW," Freedman said last month. Originally "Inside Politics" was planned to replace "Crossfire" at GW, but that show will soon be cancelled in the wake of Judy Woodruff's decision against renewing her contract.

Ironically on Sunday, just days after the final "Crossfire," CNN will return to the Jack Morton Auditorium to broadcast "Reliable Sources," the network's weekly media show. This week's theme will be Deep Throat and the media's use of anonymous sources. The show will air from 11 a.m. to noon; tickets are sold out but those interested can begin waiting for standby tickets at 10 a.m.

Students reacted strongly to the debate show's departure as well. Rising sophomore Kirk Haldeman said while he was disappointed the farewell show did not feature the usual debate, he thought it went well.

"It was a nice trip down memory lane," rising junior Andrew Schimmel said. "The whole show was steeped in nostalgia. Although, I did notice they didn't air any clips from the show with Jon Stewart," he added.

In October 2004, several months before Klein announced plans to axe "Crossfire," comedian Stewart appeared on the show and blasted it, saying the often over-the-top debate was "hurting America."

A three-hour block of programming from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. hosted by Wolf Blitzer will replace the two shows. The new Blitzer program will start airing some time this summer.

-Ryan Holeywell contributed to this report.

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