Against Eliot Spitzer as Olbermann's Replacement

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Though I'm on the same side of most big issues as Keith Olbermann, I've never been a fan. His belligerent self-certainty is great for preaching to the choir, but it complicates the winning of converts. No doubt it also complicates life for his bosses. On both of those grounds I won't complain about his ouster from Current TV.

Instead I'll complain about his replacement, Eliot Spitzer. It isn't so much the prostitution scandal, though in an ideal world that might have counted against him. My bigger problem is this: If Current TV is going to anoint a guy to carry the progressive banner, couldn't they check out his foreign policy positions as well as his domestic policy positions?

Granted, Spitzer's foreign policy views aren't well articulated, because he's never had a job that involved foreign policy. So all we have to go on is isolated bits of evidence. But they're not encouraging.

First, he supported the Iraq War. Of course, lots of liberals supported the Iraq War. But Spitzer's state Democratic Party opposed it (as did his intra-party rival, Andrew Cuomo). And, anyway, once the war turned out to be a disaster, shouldn't that lower the stock of pundits who supported it, and raise the stock of those who opposed it?

Second is Spitzer's performance as a guest host on MSNBC right after Israel's lethal Gaza flotilla raid. I'm not talking so much about the fact that he defended the raid itself (though that certainly wasn't the reflex most liberal commentators evinced). After all, the legal issues involved were complicated, and you could make the case that--leaving aside the morality or wisdom of the raid--Israel didn't violate international law. I'm talking mainly about Spitzer's attitude toward the thing that prompted the flotilla--Israel's blockade of Gaza, which had been going on for years, giving Spitzer plenty of time to develop a well-informed position on it.

As you'll see in the clip below, Spitzer not only seems sympathetic to the blockade; in keeping with right-wing talking points, he makes it sound as if the basic purpose of the blockade is to keep weapons out of the hands of Hamas. In truth, the blockade--especially at the time Spitzer spoke, before it was eased in the wake of the raid--was out-and-out economic strangulation. It not only targeted a vast array of non-military items, including foodstuffs; it suppressed Gaza's exports as well. All of this helps explain why the Gaza blockade isn't something that has divided liberals the way the Iraq War did. In fact, though there must be a few liberal pundits who would defend the Gaza blockade, I don't recall ever hearing one do so. But Spitzer sure sounds sympathetic to the blockade in this exchange with Glenn Greenwald right after the flotilla raid:

You might be tempted to give Spitzer credit for at least having Greenwald on the show--but not after you read Greenwald's account of how Spitzer stacked the deck against him. Spitzer not only scheduled two supporters of the raid before Greenwald's appearance--he brought one of them back on to rebut Greenwald after Greenwald's appearance was over.

I can see the appeal of Spitzer to the people at Current TV. As a trained lawyer, he can vigorously cross examine guests. But if they want a trained lawyer who will cross-examine guests from the left rather than the right, I'd nominate somebody else. Maybe Glenn Greenwald?

[Update: The alert Chris Shea (@cshea4) tweets "But if goal is to minimize impact of Spitzer's views, wouldn't you *want* to see him sign an exclusive deal w/Current?" He makes a good point...]

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Robert Wright is the author of, most recently, the New York Times bestseller The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic. More

Wright is also a fellow at the New America Foundation and editor in chief of Bloggingheads.tv. His other books include Nonzero, which was named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book in 2000 and included on Fortune magazine's list of the top 75 business books of all-time. Wright's best-selling book The Moral Animal was selected as one of the ten best books of 1994 by The New York Times Book Review.Wright has contributed to The Atlantic for more than 20 years. He has also contributed to a number of the country's other leading magazines and newspapers, including: The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, Time, and Slate, and the op-ed pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Financial Times. He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award for Essay and Criticism and his books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

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