As Current TV heads into what is likely to be protracted litigation with Keith Olbermann, who it hired away from MSNBC to be its star anchor and News Director, the network needs some good news. But I’m not sure that the announcement that Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom will be doing a weekly interview show on Current is exactly the proof the network needs to regain its momentum and to rebuke Olbermann’s charges that Current is a tin pot imitation of a serious news channel.
There’s nothing objectionable about Newsom in theory. But he’s hardly a national political figure, and he has no experience whatsoever as a journalist. Current has tried to sell former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to viewers in part by suggesting that her political experience means she can call out talking points and hypocrisy when she sees them. But Newsom’s job at Current will involve doing interviews rather than delivering opinion pieces, which makes his credentials seem even slimmer.
Beyond that, Newsom is a sitting public official in California. The two tranches of people Current’s release said he’d be interviewing are from Silicon Valley and Hollywood, key constituencies for the administration Newsom is a part of. It’s highly unlikely that Newsom will ask anything close to a tough question of someone who is a potential donor, or who makes a substantial contribution to California’s tax base. Current officials spend a lot of time arguing that their network, unlike MSNBC, will speak truth to power. But hiring Newsom feels a lot more like Current becoming an adjunct of an administration, providing a politician who’d awfully like to have a national profile with a platform where he can burnish his media credentials and make nice with the people whose money could launch him on to greater stardom.
What does Current get out of this? If they’ve tired of the combative model that Olbermann and Cenk Uygur represent, he could be a transition towards something gentler, and more Hollywood oriented. If they’re trying to assemble assets to make the network more attractive to someone in a sale, Newsom seems more like the contents of a junk drawer than a major asset. And it doesn’t precisely make Current look committed to the principles it’s articulated as the network’s main selling point to viewers.