Column: A “Crossfire” alternative

Ironic, the school named “most politically active” was the site of the downfall for one of the most well known political talk shows. Perhaps you remember the Friday of Colonials Weekend, when “Crossfire’s” guest was Jon Stewart. In what became one of the most well-known episodes of “Crossfire,” Stewart went on a lengthy diatribe against the show, begging the hosts at one point to, “Stop … you’re hurting America.”

Soon there will be a hole left in the School of Media and Public Affairs building. Whenever “Crossfire” is on, I enjoy telling those around me, “See where they are filming that? I had class right underneath there.” I would hate to not be able to do that anymore. Supposedly, “Inside Politics” will take “Crossfire’s” place. Should that fall through, I have some suggestions for a show that would improve on what “Crossfire” was.

My new show would be an hour long, without commercials. Besides the fact that commercials interrupt the flow of discussion, it is awkward debating prescription drug prices when the sponsors are Plavix, Cialis and Allegra.

One of the trademarks of “Crossfire” is its fast-paced debate. Though this allows for many topics to be discussed, it doesn’t offer much depth. My show would instead focus on one topic per show. President Bush is pushing Social Security privatization as a major initiative in his second term domestic agenda. This issue alone could take a few days for discussion. The one-topic-per-show formula has worked well for ABC’s “Nightline,” now in its 25th year.

At the beginning of each episode, there would be a five or six minute news report detailing the background of the issue to be discussed that day. This way, viewers would have a good background on the topic. Then the show would bring on experts on the topic to discuss it.

“Crossfire” likes to bring in politicians and political operatives for its debates. I would steer away from bringing in these kinds of guests. When politicians come on shows like this to be interviewed, they come not only to discuss the topic, but also their own agenda. A show like “Crossfire” can lure politicos on its set because it serves as a way to get out their or their party’s message. This is when “Crossfire” is at its worst – when they bring on two guests who sound like they are just reading off the daily talking points.

Political types can also be poor participants because their elected position restricts them from taking unpopular stances, even if that is what they really believe. Speech may be free, but for a congressman who has to answer to the constituents back home, it can have a price. One misspeak in the summer can turn into a string of attack ads in the fall. What is the point, on a discussion show, of inviting a guest who has to be careful of what he says?

Politicians wouldn’t be banned from the show, but my guests would tend to come from the world of academia. Professors do not have to worry about how they would answer to voters for the answers they give. Also, they are going to be more knowledgeable about the topic of the day because that area would be their specialty. While a congressman can know a lot about an issue, it is doubtful they have spent their entire professional lives studying it.

To break up the discussion, each show would have a segment in which the hosts interviewed the author of a new book on the subject of the day. This will be the most difficult part of the show to pull off. Browsing through the politics section in my local chain bookstores this winter break, I found very little worth buying. The selection entailed almost entirely of books extolling the virtues of one side of the political spectrum while demeaning the other. If you ever need to feel disturbed by the tone of political discourse in this country, I highly recommend a trip to the bookstore. This isn’t to say the book time would be only a forum for moderates, but only for writers who have put in research to make a point rather than rhetorically bash the other side over the head.

The hosts of “Crossfire” are entertaining, and well-versed in politics. The problem is, they are too attached to the political fray to give unbiased analysis. A shining example of this was during the presidential debates. The ratings given to Bush and Kerry after each debate on performance were always influenced by the person’s political leanings. I understand two people, especially ones with conflicting worldviews, are bound to have different opinions of the candidates, but keep in mind the hosts of “Crossfire” have seen and worked with countless candidates in debates. This wealth of experience should give them the ability to say how well a candidate performed, regardless of political affiliation. Instead of providing viewers with insight into the political process, too often “Crossfire” obscures the view with more spin.

-The writer, a sophomore majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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