Kathleen Parker is one conservative I find thoughtful and fair, even if I don’t always agree with her.  Eliot Spitzer, given his background as a politician, will need to prove that he’s not just a partisan apologist as the two team up for an 8 p.m. nightly CNN show.

So far, they’re saying the right things:

Parker: “If people want to just hear what they already believe, they have plenty of places to go. And so what we’re to do with this show is have a conversation and help people reach a conclusion through rational conversation, versus debate. We’ll come at it from different directions, because we’re very different people. It’s going to be a conversation — a roundtable — with guests and with some regular contributors. … We feel like we’re different enough to be interesting, but share the goal of trying to enlighten and advance the conversation about things we care about.”

Spitzer: “It’s going to be more to inform and challenge and be thoughtful. Where we disagree, we’ll be open about disagreements, but do it in a way that is obviously not only polite but is reasoned and say, ‘OK, I can see why you think that, but here is where I come out on the issue.

Then Spitzer took a shot: “The premise is that if people want to be validated in their underlying ideology and be made comfortable at 8 o’clock, they have a place to go. And that’s wonderful, and we applaud that. But if they want to be challenged and hear dissenting views and be informed, then we think we can create something very exciting and different. … People will be surprised how often we agree. This is not just an effort to highlight disagreement. It’s an effort to highlight agreement.”

Asked how they’ll make it exciting rather than snoozy, Parker said: “Rather than snoozy!? Come one, Mike, you really think we’d be boring?”

Spitzer: “I don’t think boredom is the issue. The issue is how you transform cantankerous argument into thoughtful conversation. And the answer there is fact — facts and cleverness. Kathleen will be the wit and the charm. And we’ll come back to facts over and over again, because so much of what you hear on TV these days is ideology untethered from facts. What we’re going to do is be rigorous about coming to facts and being true to them.”

This will test the theory that people actually want informed, rationale discussion.  But the format has not been set, and no one expects (hopefully prays) that the program will be just the two of them discussing the issues.  All we know is that it’s not a new “Crossfire or a combative battle of conservative talking points,” according to CNN executives.  That’s good, but what does that leave them?

Here’s what I’d like to see:

  • No more than 10 minutes of the two of them talking to each other.  Let the guests have the bulk of the time, with Parker and Spitzer evaluating, including fact checking, the discussion.
  • Book mostly policy experts.  Minimize the time given to politicians or interest groups with a predictable partisan point of view.
  • Let’s see the hosts asking provocative questions based on the merit of the policy stand and much less on the political implications.
  • Avoid labeling organizations or policy prescriptions as right or left, progressive or conservative.  left- or right-wing.  Once you do that, many in the audience make up their minds without considering the arguments.
  • Avoid trying to make news.  Make light, not heat.
  • I hope the hosts will interrupt a guest at the first mention of a highly debatable talking point.  This shouldn’t be a show where each side gets a free pass to lay out its arguments unchallenged.  The reason to interrupt early is that the rest of the argument may be predicated on an invalid fact or perception.  It will also keep guests on their toes, ensuring that they’ll have to adjust their arguments if their foundations are debunked.
  • Listen.  Listen, Listen.  All too often journalists or program hosts have a list of questions they want to ask, all too often in the hopes of making guests stumble or to embarrass them or simply to make news.  While doing so, it often seems they’re not listening to what the guest is saying and allow wild accusations or assumptions go unchallenged, which often happens when interviewers are thinking about their next question.

Robert Barnett apparently represents Parker.  He said:

It has been proven again and again that viewers like smart people debating important issues in a thoughtful but provocative way.

That is far from proven.  I’m hopeful but not optimistic that the intended format can attract a large enough audience.

P.S. How does Politico write this story without mentioning Spitzer’s downfall?  Has he really put all of that behind him?  If so, it’s an incredible rehabilitation.