David Zurawik

Sad to see O'Malley 'debating' Perry in debased 'Crossfire' forum

Governor Martin O'Malley in the Washington bureau of CNN.

I will leave it to The Sun's political reporters to write about who "won" or "lost" this cooked-up and dumbed-down TV cartoon of a debate between Gov. Martin O'Malley and his Texas counterpart Rick Perry Wednesday on CNN's "Crossfire."

I am only here to say how sad I am to see Maryland's Democratic governor and our political discourse bent to fit the phony dictates of cable TV this way.


When comedian Jon Stewart famously denounced the "Crossfire" format in 2004, he called the two hosts that night, Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala, "partisan hacks."

Compared to Stephanie Cutter and Newt Gingrich, the two new "Crossfire" regulars who chaired the O'Malley-Perry debate Wednesday, Begala and Carlson are Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.


Cutter and Gingrich define the diseased conflict-of-interest Washington culture better than almost anyone else on the Potomac these days.

The former Obama communications operative has recently been advising the White House on everything from how to craft its Syria spin to how to "talk up" Larry Summers, according to Fox News and The New York Times, respectively.

The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, reports that she's working on behalf of the Bank of America as it pushes back against efforts to tighten regulation on the very kinds of big banks that all but crashed our economy. (Is that what President Obama was really for: less regulation of the too-big-to-fail banks?)

Media watchdog FAIR quoted her referring to herself on CNN as part of the Obama White House communications effort. Read it here.

Gingrich, meanwhile, is reported to be involved in two PACs that are raising money for GOP candidates and helping him pay off campaign debts from 2012. Remember how he hung on and on and on to his analyst's pay on Fox News even as he was clearly running for the GOP nomination in 2012? For a while there, I thought Fox News chairman Roger Ailes was going to have to walk on the set and drag Gingrich off.

What an upside-down world it is when two elected officials like O'Malley and Perry, who are entrusted with the fortunes of the citizens of their states, submit themselves to the TV authority of these two hustlers and the executives at CNN who think it is OK to turn the conversation of democracy into a staged, made-for-TV carnival sideshow with such folks emceeing.

The first 15 minutes were a blur of competing statistics that it would take honest reporters a week to fact-check. And then, there was Cutter smiling into the camera and dissembling as only a hardcore political operative or a propagandist can.

When Perry boasted of the companies like Toyota coming to Texas, Cutter replied with, "But most of those jobs are minimum wage ... "


Do you think even she really believes most of the jobs at a company like Toyota are minimum wage? I wonder if the agency representing Toyota in its ad buys on CNN heard what she said about the car company.

She knew the game of confuse-them-with-a-blur-of-numbers that was being played the first 15 minutes all too well, when she said just before the halfway point, "Look, I think we're throwing a lot of statistics around ... "

Yes, you all were, and most of them were suspect. and I am being kind with that despcription. But this show has nothing to do with clarity or truth, does it?

She promised to come back after a commercial to ask Perry why he didn't want to take federal money for health care.

And once he started to answer with criticisms of Obamacare, Cutter, the Obama partisan, kept interrupting. She made Gingrich seem positively high-road, detached and fair-minded. And that is really saying something about that down-and-dirty, political infighter.

Poor O'Malley. Cutter spent so much time trying to dog Perry's answers that Maryland's governor had to hustle for any kind of comparable face time. And when he did get some at the end, he found himself put in the position of defending Obamacare with a lame-looking smile on his face.


Good luck on that one, Governor.

I'm guessing that you'll be seeing your "Crossfire" clip defending Obamacare on the campaign trail should you choose to run in the 2016 primaries, and it won't be a good thing.

If you do choose to run and want to be taken seriously, please stay away from "Crossfire."

Voters deserve better than the kind of confusion and partisan posturing this show is selling. Honest.