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Opinion: CNN Should Re-Launch 'Crossfire'

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Studio of CNN's Crossfire on the campus of the George Washington University just after taping. On stage were the hosts for that day, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

I could go on and on about CNN's problems and what they could be doing better, as I'd like to see a network like CNN, that doesn't tow the line for either party or ideological lean, succeed. It's true that CNN is doing just fine profits wise, but our country needs CNN to be more than just profitable. We need it to be influential, like MSNBC is among the left, and Fox News is on the right... and to be that, it needs to have a bigger audience.

They'd be much better off if they ditched some of their boring commentators - especially Wolf Blitzer. The person anchoring any show has a lot to do with their success, and someone that is so utterly unapproachable as Blitzer is the first example I can think of of what CNN is doing wrong. They did themselves a favor when they dropped the second most boring host recently, when they cut  the 'John King, USA' show.

One of the ideas that I like, if they do it right, is to bring back Crossfire. This may seem a bit odd, if you know the history of that show's demise, but I think they could do it right with a Crossfire 3.0.

Crossfire began as a debate show with two veteran journalists, one representing the left, and the other representing the right. They focused on one issue each night, and had people on to join the table that would represent sides of the issue at hand. It wasn't perfect by any means, but it actually was debate.

But, over the years, it devolved into more of a stage for professional partisan spinsters to toss their talking points at each other. I remember seeing this myself, when I was still a teenager. I didn't understand the nuances of the issues they were discussing, but I do remember noticing that they seemed to really just be talking past each other much of the time.

This wouldn't fly in a class debate, yet on cable news it's what has become the norm. Crossfire shut down in 2004, or perhaps more accurately put out of it's misery, but this devolved, Crossfire 2.0, style of tribal talking point regurgitation factory show was expanded and replicated into two entire cable news networks - Fox News and MSNBC (now just NBC News).

Both are beating CNN in prime time, and many are saying that CNN should take a similar tack, except perhaps representing the center. As much as there is a part of me that would like that, I do think CNN is right to not go down that road.

This Crossfire 3.0 could do better. Rather than just have the right and left represented, they could have a panel that tries to actually represent the spectrum of American political belief each night. Pick people who aren't prone to name calling, and can make an argument without resorting to hyperbole and just repeating talking points from their respective party.

Have a centrist like CNN analyst John Avlon represent people like myself, Tom Friedman or Patricia Murphy. To the right, people like Mark McKinnon, David Frum, Peggy Noonan, Buddy Roemer, Juan Williams or George Will. On the left, folks like David Gergen, Matt Miller, Dylan Ratigan, Chris Hayes or Howard Fineman.

No people like Tucker Carlson, Paul Begala or James Carville (as much as I think he's a hoot). Certainly no Bill O'Reilly, E.J. Dionne, Sean Hannity, Alan Colmes, Mike Huckabee, Paul Krugman, Charles Krauthammer, Rachel Maddow or super crackpots like Glen Beck, Ed Schultz or Rush Limbaugh.

You can disagree with the individuals I happened to think of as examples here, but the idea stands. I think there is a place for a show like this. I'd even say make the show a full hour. Have it focus on one issue each episode, with basic rules of decorum (not talking over each other alone would be a massive improvement) and how about working with Politifact or to go through each show and fact check the major points each of the pundits made?

Regardless, I hope CNN rolls the dice and experiments with some new ideas, rather than just accepting their role as a smaller, more journalistic, but profitable competitor to the partisan ideological mouthpieces at MSNBC / NBC News and Fox News. It just doesn't make any sense that you can't make good journalism and political analysis entertaining without slathering it with nakedly partisan narratives.

There has to be real-world Will McAvoy types out there out there... someone who's actually "fair and balanced", but still has some of that sort of charisma that can pull you in like some of the partisan pundits elsewhere have. CNN has the resources to find them, and is the only channel that might be a good home for them.