The Short Happy Life of Eliot Spitzer as TV News Journalist

When the cable TV channel, CURRENT TV, was sold to Al-Jazeera in 2012, Eliot Spitzer’s news program, “Viewpoint,” the finest news program on TV, ended when Spitzer left the channel. We’re much the worse for his no longer being there to tell us what is happening. Here “us” doesn’t mean very many people. Hardly anyone else in our vast media was explaining things to the few of us interested.

I wrote the following a few months before Spitzer’s “Viewpoint” ended.

The best TV news program these days is Eliot Spitzer’s “Viewpoint.” He replaced the sportscaster and secular evangelist, Keith Olbermann, following Olbermann’s predictable falling out with the CURRENT TV management. The best viewership-ratings information I can find on “Viewpoint” puts Spitzer’s current audience at around 50,000 for the broadcast every weeknight but indicates that a growing number of “the powerful” are tuning in, possibly out of fearful intelligence-gathering in some instances.

That ratings data is several months old, and I’m hoping more viewers are tuning in these days. It seems doubtful, though. You may recall that a year or so ago Spitzer briefly had a program airing weeknights on CNN, but unfortunately for Spitzer he seemed misguided enough to presume that he should try to be incisive and focus on major issues and problems. I guess he failed to understand that Anderson Cooper’s “Keeping Them Honest” segments, delicately floating puffballs, showed the permissible limits for CNN. I’m guessing too that Spitzer managed to keep Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s medical schlock off Spitzer’s CNN program, for I don’t recall any appearances by the man who may replace great white sharks with emergency room procedures as the major staple of TV news. As it was, Spitzer was forced to co-host his CNN program for a while with a person who I am sure is a graduate of some school and whose name shall not live in infamy because no one can remember it.

On his CURRENT TV program, which is on a very tenuous cable TV enterprise, there are too many commercials about Mesothelioma and a reverse mortgage Fred Thompson highly recommends. But Spitzer, a dangerous and avid man, a hunter, the guy you’d want to go up against Jack Palance/gunfighter Wilson in that forlorn saloon looking out at the Tetons in case Shane has the flu, creates a miracle of reporting and analysis every night. He goes to fundamental issues only and displays great intelligence, great command of the language, menace, presence, and is beginning to hit his stride; to be comfortable crafting rich and profound segments within tight time constraints.

If you hadn’t known about his “fall from grace” at the Mayflower (and elsewhere), you’d not be surprised to learn of it while watching him on “Viewpoint.” As they say, he Comes Across. (Those people who came across on the Mayflower, were they still with us, might like Eliot since they didn’t like the Establishment where they came from.)

Spitzer’s nightly report turns on James Carville’s, “It’s the economy, stupid” amended with “Round up a posse.” Spitzer describes Wall Street as “a crime scene.”

He talks here and there about foreign policy, but it’s less his interest than the economy and DC politics.

Monday through Friday evenings, Spitzer, still bleeding and bearing a distinct-yet-vague pain, flaws and claws unhidden and his jaws cast in a smile close to a grimace, inimical to all the PR/ratings consultants who’ve built the Orwellian frames brought into play by late findings in the social sciences and which are nearly invisibly herding us toward the cliffs, races toward the dark heart of our national troubles in the loneliness of the long distance runner; and no one else in the media, it strikes me, certainly to include the PBS “Newshour,” has even shown up at that stadium track, nor should any of us wait even a minute for them to do so. The stadium has stood empty in latter times except for an occasional walk around the track by the veteran Charlie Rose, one-time record-holder. Spitzer’s top guests include Carville and young Matt Taibbi, the Rolling Stone investigative reporter and deadly enemy of Wall Street fraud: there aren’t enough hours in the day for young Matt, who most probably won’t be on hardly anyone else’s show and who seems the only grandchild of those great investigative reporters of the Viet Nam war. And also showing up here and there is the Always-Trying, the Ever-Hanging-In-There, Bernie Sanders, a good man.

Spitzer can’t help himself. He’s going after Geithner these days but he hasn’t yet allowed himself to do it when Geithner is talking on the corner with Obama: It’s after they’ve parted and Geithner is coming up the street alone. But it’s all Spitzer can do to wait until Geithner’s alone. Romney’s unthinkable, so Spitzer waits. But it’s hard to say how long he’ll be able to do so. Like Woodward and Bernstein about Nixon and his charges, and certainly unlike Geithner, Spitzer hopes for trials of at least one or two command-level fraudsters from that crime scene in Manhattan. He wants it badly.

Last night, Carville came by to talk with Spitzer to open “Viewpoint.” It was memorable. Carville’s collar was open, he wore no suit coat, he was entirely relaxed, and he might as well have been just talking quietly, reflectively, in some harboring place, maybe a summer front porch down there in Louisiana. He said that Obama’s campaign attack has to be the defense of the middle class. Carville’s written a new book on the economic decline of the middle class in which he features one of those charts showing productivity rising in US corporations as jobs diminish at those corporations. If you read people like Stiglitz, you’ll see a very good picture of the complexities here (along with only a tepid hope for a jobs recovery in the face of entrenched and inevitable political corruption). Carville is interested in winning in November, and he wants Obama to set up a commission to study the sources of economic pain for the middle class.

I think Spitzer is not all that patient. He smiled his tight smile. Clearly he and Carville like one another. But Spitzer has long had a good idea about the jobs problem, its why and how. And you have to think he’s found a place in which for a while he will not self-destruct. He’s out of retirement. He’s turning into one superb analyst, and you have to wonder how long he’ll wait a ways up that street.

He’s definitely habit-forming. One of Milton’s Fallen Angels who is somehow, and certainly ironically, vital.