News & Politics

Media Soirees Welcome New Faces, Including Newt Gingrich at a Rebooted CNN “Crossfire” (Photos)

Small and large, the parties coincided with President Obama’s Syria address.

The co-hosts of the rebooted CNN Crossfire, Van Jones, Newt Gingrich, S.E. Cupp, and Stephanie Cutter at their launch party at the Carnegie Library. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

Conventional etiquette is that having the TV on at a party is a “no-no.” But this
is Washington, where convention and etiquette, like Congress, the White House, and
the media, aren’t always on speaking terms. TV is a lifeline, especially on a night
when the President addresses the nation about a possible military strike, as President
Obama did Tuesday night. That address had an impact on two media soirees, both welcoming
new staff:
Margaret Carlson invited a few dozen friends to her cozy Connecticut Avenue apartment to welcome
Emily Lenzner to Atlantic Media, and CNN hosted 300 at the Carnegie Library to welcome the new
hosts of a revival of that old cable chestnut,
Crossfire. There are four in the cast, but the focus at the party was on just about every move
made by former speaker of the House
Newt Gingrich and his wife,

At Carlson’s party the TV was placed discreetly behind the bar and tuned to MSNBC,
which was interesting because Carlson is a former CNN chat show panelist, and spent
many years with
The Capital Gang. Ah, but alliances matter. She now pops up as a political commentator on MSNBC. Carlson,
who’s also a cook, held court in the open kitchen, fussing over the party food (which
was delicious). Evening sunlight streamed into the large windows of the sixth-floor
apartment. The mood was upbeat as media folks reconnected after summer holidays. There
was a large contingent from Atlantic Media, including
John Fox Sullivan,
Elizabeth Baker Keffer,
Bruce Gottlieb,
James Bennet, and
Steve Clemons, plus
Shelby Coffey of the Newseum,
Jennifer Nycz-Conner of
Washington Business Journal,
Frances Sellers of the
Washington Post,
Marilyn Geewax of NPR,
Michelle Cottle of the Daily Beast,
Robb Harleston of C-SPAN, and some non-media, including Senator
Sheldon Whitehouse, Siemens North America president
Eric Spiegel, and
Carol Wilner of AT&T.

Crossfire party at the Carnegie Library downtown offered a lavish and louder scene. A jazz
band provided music, and sky-high TV screens, large enough to dominate the cavernous
party space, flashed highlights of old and new
Crossfire clips, and later the President’s address. Every now and then an image of CNN’s founder,
a much younger Ted Turner, loomed over the room. If high hopes can be measured by
money spent on a party, then CNN is wildly optimistic about the reboot of
Crossfire with hosts Gingrich,
S. E. Cupp,
Van Jones, and
Stephanie Cutter. Possibly it will find a niche in an era of heightened partisanship, but it’s an
interesting move for CNN president
Jeff Zucker to make.

The original
Crossfire aired from 1982 to 2005, and was for most of those years a go-to for political debate.
It died an inglorious death that was hastened by a controversial episode—really a
debacle—that featured an interview with
Jon Stewart. During the exchange with hosts
Tucker Carlson, who handled the right-wing point of view, and
Paul Begala, who spoke from the left, Stewart derided the format and called them both “partisan
hacks.” It went downhill from there. Several months later, Carlson and
Crossfire parted ways and CNN announced cancellation of the broadcast.

Carlson today is cofounder and editor of the Daily

He’s also magnanimous about CNN and
Crossfire. “Unfortunately I missed the launch and launch party last night,” he wrote to us
in an e-mail. “But the format of the show always made sense to me: evenly matched
peers debating the news of the day along clear ideological lines. There’s got to be
an audience for that if done right. And I love S. E. Cupp, so I’m rooting for her.”

At the party, Zucker made clear
Crossfire was personal to him. “When I came to CNN seven months ago the first two things I
wanted to do were one, bring back James Earl Jones [who does CNN voiceovers], and
the second thing I wanted to do was bring back
Crossfire . . . because I remember that it was my favorite show in television news when I was
growing up, and I started watching television and news, and it always held a very
special place in my heart.” Zucker lauded the four cohosts, who each took a turn to
speak. Gingrich, for his part, said he was excited to work with the CNN team. “I think
we’re off to a terrific start,” he said. He added that the broadcast is “rapid fire”
and “brings the country a real choice in an educated way that both entertains and

So far, reviews have been grumpy and the ratings in need of a lift. It’s no surprise
that the first to bite their own are other media. The
Week magazine called it “doomed.” Huffington Post reviewed the premiere episode Monday
as “awkward,” similar to the review from Politico. The
New Republic said there was “very little fire.”
Business Insider called it a “disappointment.” As for ratings,
Variety said the debut brought “modest overall numbers” that were “an improvement relative
to the time period.” This means the show could either go up—or, dare we say, go the
way of its predecessor.

But Tuesday night was about a party, big TVs, music, bars, food, and the presidential
address. The crowd comprised lots of media folks, plus some Hill and government people—ambassador-designate
Caroline Kennedy, DNC chair
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, senator
Rick Santorum, representatives
Darrell Issa,
Mark Sanford, and
Tulsi Gabbard—and a contingent of CNN executives, as well as anchors
Wolf Blitzer,
Jake Tapper, and
Candy Crowley. From the competition there was
Greta Van Susteren of Fox News.

What should comfort the
Crossfire hosts and staff is Zucker’s commitment. He announced to the crowd, “We have an incredibly
dynamic team that will be a part of this show and this network for a long time to
come.” Out of the mouths of TV executives . . .