Randy “Duke” Cunningham had it all: Decorated Navy Vietnam War veteran, ace Phantom fighter pilot, political smarts, articulate, re-elected to Congress eight times as a Republican.
But Cunningham had something else. He lusted for things, such as a Rolls Royce, a yacht and expensive antiques. And he was quite willing to take bribes from defense contractors in order to have those things.
On March 3, 2006, a federal judge sentenced Cunningham to eight years and four months in prison and ordered him to pay $1.8 million in restitution.
Now, imagine that soon after, CNN shoved a multimillion-dollar contract in front of Cunningham to co-host a new cable TV talk show alongside an attractive blonde with a Pulitzer Prize gleaming on her résumé.
Would never happen, right? Change “Randy Cunningham” to “Eliot Spitzer” and “solicitation for bribery” to “solicitation for prostitution” and you are in business. Or, rather, CNN is in business, having signed the disgraced former New York governor to co-host a widely publicized and promoted cable gabfest known as “Parker Spitzer” with Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker.
There is no need to recount the nastier details of Spitzer’s fall from grace, other than to say that when federal investigators wondered why his bank account featured mysterious cash transactions, they discovered shortly thereafter that New York’s chief executive was spending thousands on call girls.
Spitzer had to resign, of course, at which point many thought his public career was over and that he might even end up serving time in jail. But no charges were ever filed.
His agony ended when CNN came calling. The show is a ratings bust. But Spitzer has proven as adept in front of the camera as talk show co-host as he was as a New York politician prior to the FBI’s wiretap.
As a news organization, CNN’s job is to demand transparency so voters can hold public figures accountable for their actions. From that perspective, Spitzer’s most serious crime was accepting thousands of dirty dollars from a criminal enterprise.
The criminal enterprise was the Milberg Weiss class action securities firm, members of which contributed more than $166,000 to Spitzer’s various political campaigns.
Spitzer made headlines in 2006 after Milberg Weiss was initially indicted by returning $124,445 in contributions from firm employees. But, as The Examiner reported in 2007, he kept more than $42,000.
You think CNN asked Spitzer about that during their contract negotiations?
Mark Tapscott is the editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner and proprietor of Tapscott’s Copy Desk blog at www.washingtonexaminer.com.