By Kathleen Parker
Sunday, June 27, 2010; A17
In the catalogue of life-altering surprises, few compare to the query I received a few weeks ago from CNN/US President Jon Klein: "How would you like to co-anchor a prime time show?"
Surely neither drum roll nor punch line is necessary at this point. My co-anchor would be Eliot Spitzer, former governor and attorney general of New York, variously known as the sheriff of Wall Street and the "disgraced" politician who resigned after it was revealed that he had consorted with prostitutes.
No one needs a rehash of those events, though there's plenty available for schadenfreude addicts.
My initial reaction was the same as most everybody else's when they first hear about it: Do what? The proposal was so counterintuitive on its face that I was disinclined.
Then I became curious. Why not hear them out?
Thus I found myself on a train from Washington to New York to meet Spitzer. We drank coffee and spoke frankly about the possibilities and the probable obstacles. I had read everything I could about Spitzer, including "Rough Justice," the story of his rise and fall by Fortune magazine editor Peter Elkind.
I suspect that most non-New Yorkers, especially those who skip the financial pages, knew little of Spitzer before his political downfall. But a great story preceded Spitzer's arrival in Albany.
As state attorney general, Spitzer brought legal action against Merrill Lynch for promoting worthless stocks to retail markets to increase the stockbrokerage firms' investment banking revenue. His efforts led to a 2002 global settlement of $1.4 billion between regulators and the 10 largest Wall Street firms. Later, his team of investigators found that some mutual funds were letting preferred clients take advantage of lower prices after markets had closed.
He was prescient about Wall Street, in other words, long before the recent financial crisis. Who wouldn't be interested in what he has to say about financial reform today?
I'm not defending Spitzer or condoning his behavior. Ultimately, I decided that his obvious intelligence, insights and potential contributions outweighed his other record. As far as I'm concerned, especially given that he has resigned from public office, the flaws that brought Spitzer down are between him and his family. Like most Americans, I believe in redemption.
On a personal level, this is all slightly out of body for me. I'm on record about my general dislike of the food-fight mentality of most television programming, which we hope to avoid. I've also expressed my kinship with aborigines who believe that the camera steals the soul. I think they're on to something.
I am, in fact, rather passionate about privacy -- my own and others'. Through most of my career I've worked alone, in a converted garage or basement, without staff. My current office, from which I watch the shins and shoes of passersby, is aptly named "The Bunker." Except when out for interviews and reporting, I mostly keep the company of one tiny blind poodle recently adopted from a shelter.
That relatively quiet life is about to end, and I leave it with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.
The trepidation is no mystery. It is the same for me as it would be for you. The excitement has to do with trying something new and challenging, as well as having resources at my disposal to explore the issues that really matter. For me those are the things we consider on our deathbeds -- not who is up or down on a given day but how we have occupied our allotted space. Did we leave it better or worse? Did we cause someone to smile or laugh?
Although the show is still in development, we intend to include regular contributors and guests selected in part from our own Rolodexes. Think of it as eavesdropping on a very interesting dinner party.
This adventure is experimental for both of us. We are not TV people, and television, of course, is unforgiving. There's no delete button. Critics await our every missed mark. With practice, we hope to overcome the inevitable pitfalls. I will continue to write my columns because writing is how I figure out what I think and because I don't know how to stop.
Eliot Spitzer and I come from vastly different worlds and naturally will have different perspectives, though we each expect to sway the other from time to time. We are convinced that pragmatic solutions can be discovered without rancor and, in fact, with humor and goodwill.
It is certainly worth a try.