Countdown to ‘Crossfire’: A pre-show look at what goes on behind the scenes

5:40 p.m. MPA lobby
I meet GW’s “Crossfire” guru, Heather Clapp, and CNN publicist Stacie Paxton, my tour guide for the evening. Soon, Clapp is whisked away by security about a “minor problem” backstage.

5:55 p.m. MPA 4th Floor
Paxton explains that three “Crossfire” staffers usually arrive to an “off-site bureau” here at GW by about 4 p.m. Their day starts, however, at 9:30 a.m. with a conference call between hosts and producers to talk about the day’s news and relevant topics to discuss that evening on the show.

6 p.m. Tucker Carlson’s office, MPA 456
The right-leaning host sits at a laptop with the evening’s script next to his fifth Diet Coke of the day. He says one of the scheduled guests, convicted sex offender Daniel Fullmer, has just canceled because his employer said he would be fired if he did the show.

Carlson describes this as “one of the perks of booking a convicted felon – they tend to be flaky.”

He next discusses Hussein Ibish, also scheduled to appear, whom he describes as “kind of a revolting character.” The topic? Racial profiling, which Carlson says he agrees with to some extent, and plans to “crush (Ibish) like an insect.”

Carlson explains that he arrives at GW at about 3 p.m. each day, but also participates in the morning conference call to make sure “each side knows where they’re coming from on each issue.”

He said there are rare instances, such as allowing pilots to be armed in the cockpit, on which he and the liberal host of the night, Paul Begala or James Carville, will agree.

Carlson also debunks the rumor that conservative guests are shying away from the show, and provides some insight on its origin.

“That’s total bullshit,” he says. “Clearly James (Carville) made that up.”

He says one thing separates the rightist and leftist hosts on the show –
“manners.”

“You ask any waiter, and I know this because I’ve been a waiter, if you have the Republican convention in town or the Democratic convention, who tips better.”

Will he ever, as some Republican viewers ask, be as rude to the liberal hosts as they are to him?

“Never,” Carlson says.

6:10 p.m. MPA 4th floor hallway
Executive Producer Sam Feist passes briefly, on his way to a closed meeting with the hosts. A CNN staffer hurriedly prepares last-minute research in the off-site bureau.
Downstairs, the audience is taking their seats and interns are making coffee and preparing the make-up room backstage on the first floor. Paxton looks around for that evening’s booker, but says she could very well be at CNN’s Washington office getting another guest for the evening.

“It’s all about communication,” Paxton says, when a guest is late, switching segments or receiving good questions from the audience to make a segment run longer. “An hour ago is a long time in television.”

Feist said the latest the show ever confirmed a guest was about 15 minutes before airtime, when the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was on fire in late May. He said the Israeli consul-general turned his car around on his way home in New York to appear via satellite.

Everyone on staff has a walkie-talkie, she explains, from staff in the audience to Feist in the production truck.

6:15 p.m. Jack Morton Auditorium
The “Crossfire” set is up, and two students are on stage so cameramen can test the lighting.

6:40 p.m.
Clapp gives the audience an overview of the show and instructions.

6:50 p.m.
Hosts film a tease to be shown during the preceding CNN show, “Lou Dobbs Moneyline.”

7 p.m.
Showtime.

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