Eliot Spitzer, as Current as Ever
HOH sat down recently with former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer to talk about his new gig as the host of “Viewpoint” on Current TV. What follows are edited excerpts.
HOH: Do you think of yourself as a journalist?
ES: I think of myself as a person who was in the political arena, who was attorney general and governor, who wants to continue to participate and — journalism is traditionally referred to as the fourth estate — you have traditional government and you have the other realms as well. But I think journalism is a critical means by which concerned citizens try to contribute, inform [and] lend their views. By participating through my columns at Slate and Current TV, an hour every night, this is a way for me to participate and be involved in the decisions that are so central to the direction that we’re going to take for the next 20 years.
HOH: Why is it so important to remain a participant?
ES: I’m not so sure it’s “important.” I don’t want to suggest that, “Gee, my involvement is important.” I think it’s important for everybody to participate, and I think we all choose to do it in different ways — from voting to talking to your neighbor to hosting a TV show to being an elected Member of Congress or Senate or state government. So I think every one of these is what contributes to a democracy that is vital. In my case, I feel that obligation as every citizen does. Plus, I enjoy it.
HOH: Which is helpful.
ES: Right, exactly. If this was something I didn’t enjoy, I wouldn’t do it. I enjoy it. It is fun.
HOH: Do you think the massive explosion in media has actually helped the quality of news since the days of Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow or even in the past 10 years?
ES: The short answer to your question is: No. And I think it will be an issue that will be debated for a long time. But we tend to look back and see a grandeur that wasn’t there. Now, obviously Walter Cronkite is an icon from any perspective. On the other hand, we have voices today of great resonance and stature. I would say, like, Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are very different in their nature, but I think that is the modern equivalent for a different generation.
HOH: There was this image of you as AG and governor as this kind of tough nut to crack who was holding people’s feet over the fire … and maybe enjoying it a little bit?
ES: That was the imagery, and I understand the imagery. The enjoying part, bizarrely, was not really the case. I mean, there was a piece of me at the end of my tenure as AG, who was maybe a little relieved. I mean, I loved that job.
HOH: Was that your perfect job?
ES: No, my perfect job’s feeding the cows upstate.
ES: Yeah. It’s fun. It’s peaceful. They don’t talk back. Being attorney general required that you bring a certain dedication and fortitude to that and passion to it. It wasn’t always fun. Passing judgment on people is a wearing proposition, because — well, I think passing judgement should be a wearing proposition. Saying “you’re good” and “you’re not good” is not always easy and is sometimes unsettling.
HOH: Did that feeling change over time?
ES: I don’t know if it changed over time. It was what I sensed the job required. To a certain extent, being a cable host allows me to pass judgment. We make no bones about it. The name of my show is “Viewpoint.”
HOH: So, you’re saying you have a point of view?
ES: Oh, absolutely. That’s the reason I want to do it. If I was being asked to be a neutral arbiter of the day’s events I would not want to do it.
HOH: What are your weaknesses as a cable host?
ES: I think it is summed up in the fact that they are guests and sometimes I refer to them as witnesses. Sometimes I catch myself and say, “Wait a minute. Stop cross-examining them.” So, there’s that. Sometimes I ask them a question so I can get a one-word answer, so I can ask a 10-minute follow-up and I think, “ Wait a minute, you invited them here. Give them a chance to speak.”
HOH: Do you feel more freedom at Current TV then you did at CNN?
ES: I guess, a little bit. I had a great time [at CNN], and I am grateful for the opportunity I had there. Having said that, I get to have a two-minute editorial every night, which I call my view. That’s great. It’s my view. It’s not in the DNA of CNN to have that be part of their broadcasting. This is an opportunity for me. I am thankful to be able to participate in this way.