Q&A: Stephanie Cutter

During the 2004 election, Jon Stewart appeared on CNN’s Crossfire and so thoroughly eviscerated the political slugfest that the show disappeared for almost nine years. Now it’s back! The network relaunched Crossfire a few weeks ago, with Raynham native and Democratic strategist Stephanie Cutter serving as one of four hosts, alongside Van Jones, Newt Gingrich, and S. E. Cupp. Cutter made her bones in 2012 as a top Obama spinmeister, but the former Ted Kennedy aide says that in her new gig, she wants to go beyond the talking points.


Photograph by CNN/Peter Yang

So you’re colleagues with Newt Gingrich now.

Who would have ever thought that? I know one person who’s laughing in heaven, and that’s Ted Kennedy. But Senator Kennedy and Newt Gingrich did work together on a number of issues, so that is a hallmark of a time that’s passed.

You’ve spent a lot of time being interviewed as a combatant on shows. How is hosting different?

Being an advocate for someone is a totally different situation than hosting a show and trying to have a full discussion of the issues. It doesn’t mean that I won’t make it clear what I believe in, but I’d like to bring out opinions of the guests, have some spark, but have some fair discussion.

A full and thoughtful discussion hasn’t always been the trademark of cable news.

Well, this is a half-hour show and we pick one issue to discuss, so we can go a little deeper than some of the talking points you see on other cable shows. We’re not looking for a partisan screaming match.

How’d you get into politics in the first place?

My grandfather, who was from Taunton, was very politically and civically active. I spent a lot of time tagging along with him to meetings at the fire department, town hall, all over the place. Every parade. That’s what initially got me hooked. In high school I raised money for Ethiopian hunger relief, and I was on the mock trial team. In college, I did a little bit of debate. It’s not the only thing I ever did, but I’ve had my toe in that water for a long time.

During the 2012 campaign, did it ever start to feel like it wasn’t even real life? Like you were in some sort of bizarre alternate-reality cyclone?

No, because it’s been my cyclone for so long. It was my reality. For somebody jumping in, they probably would be shocked by it. But when you’re on a campaign like that, you get a little tunnel vision and everything becomes about getting across the finish line on election day.

The New York Times did a big profile of you in 2012 that described you as “Mr. Obama’s one-woman attack squad.” The premise seemed like it was, “Oh my God, here’s a woman saying things on the campaign trail.” 

That profile at one point compared me to Carrie in Homeland, and also a ninja. So it’s funny, when there are profiles of women, lots of descriptors are always used. The people around me and people I’ve worked for have never really paid much attention to my gender, but yes, certainly, there are still some inequalities and stereotypes that exist.

Now that you’re on cable news, I’ve got to ask, what do you think of cable news?

Sometimes cable news can trivialize some of the important issues that are underneath the back and forth. That’s one of the things that drew me to Crossfire, that we could dig beneath that. Most days in the presidential campaign I never turned on my TV because I didn’t want to get distracted by what the back and forth was, because I knew, at the end of the day, that the voters in Ohio didn’t care about it and they weren’t paying attention to it.

We all love to bash cable news, but on the flip side, networks play to what people want to see. Miley Cyrus is the lead story because there’s demand for it. Do you think there’s an appetite for serious discussion?

I’m by no means bashing cable news. It serves a purpose, and if it didn’t serve a purpose, it wouldn’t be on air. You’re right, Miley Cyrus was something that people wanted to hear about. Is there room for substantive discussion? Yeah, I think there is. You have 24 hours in a day, and there is plenty of room for substantive issues, entertainment, and a whole lot of other things.

That Jon Stewart clip is famous now. Is his criticism of Crossfire as a big, divisive shout-fest something you guys have been conscious of while rebooting it?

Yeah, we don’t want this to get into a screaming match. We want this to be a real discussion. And I think we’ll achieve that.