The Secret Origin of Parker/Spitzer

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 5 2010 2:52 PM

The Secret Origin of Parker/Spitzer

There's a lot to love about Gabriel Sherman's look inside of the struggles of MSNBC and CNN to define themselves and compete with Fox News. I particularly liked the details about the origins of "Parker/Spitzer," a show that mystifies me, and not just because I'm an MSNBC contributor* and it's good for me if a competing network's program fails to dominate the landscape. It's just amusing to learn that test audiences warmed to Spitzer for the same reason that voters originally loved him, pre-Client #9.

This past May, Klein conducted a secret survey of about 700 people."Of course we tested to make sure we’re not fucking crazy," he told me.At first, Spitzer scored abysmally on likability and awareness. Outsideof New York, many people simply didn’t know who he was. But afterviewing a series of two-minute clips of Spitzer guest-hosting for DylanRatigan on MSNBC that spring, Spitzer’s scores improved. Surveyparticipants liked Spitzer’s strong anti–Wall Street views.

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That's all it took! Read this and then read Manu Raju on David Vitter's ability to make the Louisiana Senate race all about Obama, not about the senator's prostitution scandal. The secret to Spitzer's success is surely to redefine his personal problems as a side effect of his incredible passion for attacking Wall Street. Martin Luther King, Jr. had mistresses, so why can't Eliot Spitzer? Do you people want him to go away and let the bad guys off easy?

I do align myself with Lawrence O'Donnell's analysis:

CNN is struggling because the audienceknows where things stand and it becomes almost embarrassing to sit athome and watch hosts who don’t know where things stand. That’s why they’re struggling. Why would you watch that?

*Also, Spitzer got the job in part because of his columns for this magazine. I can't decide if I am being bold or stupid by continuing to opine here.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.