By Jason Horowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 20, 2010; C10
Eliot Spitzer likes being on television.
The former New York governor often rises early to banter on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" talk show. On Monday, he taped an interview with Julie Menin, a community board activist for her show "Give and Take," on a local channel called New York Nonstop. On Tuesday, he talked about New York politics for an "exclusive" special edition of NY1's roundtable, "Inside City Hall."
Several television and radio outlets have approached Spitzer, who resigned in a prostitution scandal in March 2008, about hosting possibilities, according to a source close to the former governor. Last Thursday, he had lunch with Dan Rather at Michael's, the media industry's see-and-be-seen eatery in midtown Manhattan.
So it seemed mildly plausible that CNN might have approached the tele-energetic Spitzer about occupying the 8 p.m. time slot soon to be vacated by anchor Campbell Brown and her eponymous show, as the Washington Examiner asserted Tuesday night, albeit without any attribution. The next morning, Web sites, from the Huffington Post, to Gawker to Newsday, mused aloud about Spitzer's televised comeback.
Spitzer himself told the Examiner there had been no talks, ("Nope, nope," he said), and CNN declined to comment on any speculation about Brown's replacement. People close to Spitzer said that the CNN job would fail to offer Spitzer the platform he is looking for.
According to the source close to Spitzer, the aggressive, lantern-jawed ex-pol has expressed some interest in a radio or television gig, but only if the venue allowed him to be as partisan as he wanted.
"He'd want to be unburdened to say what he thinks," said the source close to Spitzer.
In a surprising public mea culpa, Brown issued a statement admitting that her show was failing, and that she found herself utterly eclipsed in her time slot by partisan heavyweights to the left and right. Keith Olbermann's program on MSNBC proved more compelling to liberals. Bill O'Reilly's talk show on Fox News drew conservatives. According to Nielsen Co. ratings, Brown's program took in an average of 591,000 viewers, while 1.03 million people checked in to watch Olbermann and 3.34 million tuned in to watch O'Reilly. Brown even lost out to Nancy Grace, whose vendetta-themed show on HLN drew an average of 724,000 viewers.
"Simply put, the ratings for my program are not where I would like them to be," Brown said. Apparently CNN agreed.
The network has hired new political commentators including the conservative firebrand Erick Erickson and the centrist former Rudy Giuliani speechwriter John Avalon. The return of a "Crossfire"-like format to bring the two extremes together has been speculated about for months, with CNN prospecting and testing many potential contributors. An official at the network acknowledged the pilot projects but cautioned against narrowing focus onto any particular talent.
Spitzer, who did not return a call for comment, appeared several times on Brown's program, but he has appeared with much more regularity on MSNBC, where the left-of-center politics are more amenable to his analysis about regulation reform, Wall Street abuses or other issues he is asked to comment on. On Monday afternoon, Spitzer subbed for MSNBC anchor Dylan Ratigan.
According to one CNN contributor, "Spitzer has been courting MSNBC, and they have been courting him."
Over the past year, one thing has become certain. Spitzer, once a media darling known as the "Sheriff of Wall Street" for his investigations of financial powerbrokers in the financial industry, has sensed in the economic collapse a unique opportunity to demonstrate his unique expertise and pre-Mayflower Hotel record and rehabilitate himself in the eyes of potential voters. Far from cowering in exile, Spitzer has ambitiously used television to be seen and heard.
"The way he views it is that he has a lot to say," said the source close to Spitzer. "And if people are willing to listen to him, he will continue to speak."
Or, as Spitzer, appearing on "Inside City Hall," put it when asked whether his increased visibility signaled a return to public office, "Am I ruling it out? No."
"Everybody asks," he added, " 'Is this some orchestrated reemergence?' The answer is, it's not. It's an effort to be responsive to folks that I speak and share my views, not because I have any particular wisdom, but because there's a lot of air time to fill. So I have gotten requests and I'm happy to comply."