CNN’s resuscitated Crossfire unveils tonight with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter debating with Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., as to whether Congress should approve a military air strike on Syria. The show will premiere as the commercial broadcast networks are airing their interviews with President Obama on the same subject — and CBS airs yet more footage of Charlie Rose’s interview with Syrian President Bashar Assad, in which Assad warns the U.S. to “expect everything” in retaliation if an air strike occurs.
And yet, Crossfire’s Van Jones told reporters on the eve of the show’s return to CNN that Syria is exactly why the U.S. needs Crossfire, “so people can have these debates and we can hear the best from both sides,” he said modestly in a conference call. Jones, a former special adviser to President Obama, gave reporters a taste of his Crossfire style on the phone call, when he was asked why Obama is seeking congressional approval for an air strike on Syria in response to White House claims that Assad used chemical weapons on civilians last month.
“As best I can tell, the president was trying — he spent about two years trying to not talk about Syria,” Jones said. “He did a brilliant job with Libya. He’s contained Iran … but I don’t think he prepared the American people to understand Syria. And you can’t start a car in fourth gear, and that weird sound you hear in Washington, D.C. — the president trying to start a car in fourth gear when it comes to Syria.”
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Crossfire exec producer Sam Feist promised a “cease fire” at the end of every telecast — a kumbaya moment, in which the show hosts representing the left and the right “actually look for common ground”. Feist also insists that the old Crossfire, which debuted in 1982 and was cancelled in 2005 — not so long after Jon Stewart famously came on the show and told the hosts they were hurting America — was actually two very different programs. Feist claims the original was a more measured program, but it got supplanted by a version shot in front of a studio audience. A studio audience, Feist said on the conference call, “changes the level and quality of the debate a great deal” and not in a good way.
“Both the hosts and the guests felt a natural inclination to play to the audience that was in the auditorium,” he maintains. “That changes a level of debate. It leads to a conversation that may not be quite as sophisticated.”
New Crossfire star Gingrich then chimed in — agreeing with Jon Stewart, “If we degenerate into just shouting and yelling at each other, we will have failed the country and we will have failed CNN,”