Campbell Brown’s exit leaves CNN in a crossfire

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(NNPA)—Campbell Brown’s decision to quit hosting her weeknight program on CNN because of poor ratings has left a void that some network officials are considering filling by hiring former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, possibly using him in an old “Crossfire” format. Yes, that’s the same Eliot Spitzer who had to resign two years ago after patronizing prostitutes.

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Spitzer was forced to step down after arranging for a New York prostitute contracted by Emperors Club VIP to meet him at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., on St.Valentine eve. According to authorities, Spitzer paid the 22-year-old prostitute $4,300 in cash, which included a $1,100 deposit toward future services. The former New York attorney general and governor was said to have paid the agency more than $15,000 over six months, which was part of the $80,000 he was said to have spent on prostitutes over several years.

With his wife, Silda, at his side, Spitzer said, “I have acted in a way that violates my obligation to my family and violates any sense of right or wrong. I apologize first and most importantly to my family. I apologize to the public to whom I promised better.”

CNN obviously can do better than tarnish its brand by hiring Spitzer. But if it chooses to go that route, it should go all out and hire former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor as Spitzer’s co-host. Taylor was arrested in May and accused of paying $300 to have sex with a 16-year-old runaway. He was charged with third-degree rape as a result of having sex with a minor as well as patronizing a prostitute.

On their first show, the two could discuss how best to negotiate for the services of a prostitute. Spitzer could explain why he agreed to pay the expenses associated with getting a prostitute to travel from New York to D.C. to service him. Excluding the deposit for future services, that came to $3,300. He could have probably saved a couple of thousand of dollars by patronizing the local ladies of the night.

Taylor, an All-Pro during his football playing days, proved that he is an All-Pro negotiator, compared to Spitzer. He spent $2,900 less than the New York governor. But Spitzer could, in turn, give Taylor some advice on making sure the prostitutes are at least of legal age. Both Spitzer and Taylor apparently prefer talent from BYU—Bring ’m Young University.

The fact that CNN executives would even consider hiring Spitzer, with or without Lawrence Taylor, shows how desperate they are to climb out of the ratings cellar.

Its star hosts have lost 40 to 50 percent of their viewers over the past year. Larry King, for example, lost 771,000 viewers in the first quarter of 2010, compared to the same period last year. Moreover, Rachel Maddow of MSNBC frequently draws a larger audience than King in the 9 p.m. slot. Sean Hannity’s show on Fox reaches four times the number of Larry King viewers.

Anderson Cooper, who follows “Larry King Live,” has lost 42 percent of his audience this year. Meanwhile, Fox News had its best year in 2009, with Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck and Greta Van Susteren significantly improving their ratings.

As CNN struggles to reverse its slide, the logical person to replace Campbell Brown is Roland Martin, who substituted for Brown when she was out on maternity leave. Unlike most CNN hosts who come across highly informed but boring, Martin is a perfect fit for cable TV. He’s knowledgeable, brash, opinionated, energetic and lives and breathes social media, including Facebook and Twitter. Equally important, he represents the future.

Although Fox News is riding high in the ratings, their days are numbered.

In a memo to Time Warner employees last month, CEO Jeff Bewkes, said: “For Time Warner to keep growing, our great content must appeal more than ever to a broad and increasingly diverse audience.”

Bewkes, who heads the parent company of CNN, noted:

The Hispanic, African-American and Asian communities make up one-third of the U.S. population (103.5 million people).

The annual buying power of U.S. minorities totals $2.5 trillion.

Eighty-five percent of U.S. population growth is because of the gains among Hispanics (56 percent); African-Americans (16 percent) and Asians (11 percent).

Forty-five percent of American children under the age of five are minorities.

“What that tells us is that, within the next three decades, Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians and other minorities, as well as young consumers, will become the country’s new majority,” Bewkes said. “This increasing multiculturalism provides Time Warner with perhaps its greatest growth opportunity.”

Rather than panicking by hiring someone as disgraced as Eliot Spitzer, CNN needs to diversify its on-air talent as well as those working behind the scenes. The way to outfox Fox is not to emulate it.

(George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. He can be reached through his website, http://www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at http://www.twitter.com/currygeorge.)

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