Careers in media are made in many ways, but rising from a squalid sex scandal while serving as governor of New York is fairly unique. Yet that’s apparently what’s happening with Eliot Spitzer, whose reign as the Empire State’s Number One law and order icon famously lasted just 15 months, strangled in its crib by the revelations of his taste for prostitutes—reportedly at a cost of some $80,000, dating back at least to when he was New York’s attorney general.
Spitzer kept an understandably low profile in the immediate aftermath of his resignation, but he’s been dipping his toes into the spotlight with increasing frequency since December 2008, when Slate first started publishing his columns, first on the economy but since then on a wide range of subjects, most recently on the continued relevance of the Gettysburg Address.
In recent weeks he’s also appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher, The Colbert Report, CNN, and on May 28 as the substitute anchor of MSNBC’s Dylan Rattigan Show. Predictably enough, both CNN and MSNBC are now wooing him as a program host, possibly as early as this fall. An AP story quotes Baruch College politics professor Doug Muzzio as saying, “It seems to me that he craves the spotlight and I think he craves relevance. He really deeply believes that he has something to offer that is uniquely Spitzer and that drives him. The fact that he blew it on so many levels pushes him more. This is almost redemption.”
(It also quotes a retired NBC News exec saying, “It’s not a good idea, in my opinion, for a news division to associate itself with a guy who not only got himself in trouble with his sexual escapades but also wasn’t a very effective governor.”)
If Spitzer goes through with his transformation into a media presence—and not, as some still believe he will, return to politics—it will be the culmination of a remarkable turnaround. It’s tough to imagine any of the various governors who’ve been forced from office over the past few years—New Jersey’s Jim McGreevy, Connecticut’s John Rowland, California’s Gray Davis—rebounding so spectacularly at all, much less in two years’ time.
But even more impressive (for the moment, at least) is how quiet Spitzer’s reinvention has been. It’s hard to believe that the mailrooms at CNN and MSNBC aren’t already waist-deep in vitriolic letters from Tea Partiers and GOP zealots over how giving regular airtime to Democrat Spitzer won’t end in tears for us all. Perhaps once he’s actually broadcasting.
Of course, he’ll also still always be fodder for a punchline. As David Letterman—who is still beating the “Bill Clinton’s a horndog” drum—put it last month, should Spitzer get his own show, “That would be a switch—somebody paying him for an hour.”
If The Eliot Spitzer Show does come to pass, the ex-gov may find himself laughing along for a change. After all, Oxycontin and loofah jokes haven’t much affected Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly’s popularity—or their bank accounts.