CNN's Crossfire' could use a good ''SNL'' spoof. It's bogged down by the self-importance of its rotating hosts -- James Carville and Paul Begala ''on the left,'' Tucker Carlson and Robert Novak ''on the right.'' They hype their own segments, leading off the broadcast with ''the best political briefing in television,'' which is actually an embarrassingly cursory trot through the day's headlines. Begala and Novak are both hopeless, utterly predictable not just in their opinions but in the maundering way they deliver them. Carville is a pistol, but too often on ''Crossfire,'' he plays to the crowd at George Washington University, where the show is taped. He's all applause-begging bluster, scowling and scoffing before his opponent completes a sentence. His drawling sneer is a tired act.
Carlson, however, is a different matter. He's a real creep. On the July 5 edition, he insinuated that John Edwards made his name as a trial lawyer by ''specializing in Jacuzzi cases.'' This was an allusion to the horrific disembowelment of a young girl who'd been sucked into an open swimming-pool drain. When informed of the facts behind his cruel phrasing, he snapped, ''Oh, I know. I've heard that,'' and then pressed the point that Edwards took money for getting the girl a $25 million settlement. Carlson is a quicker debater than any of the ''Crossfire'' hosts, and he's a good-looking twerp. But he's got cold, dead eyes that seem to match his heart. He's a prime example of the Triumph of the Telegenic. Recently rewarded with his own show on the now-utterly-soulless PBS, Carlson can spew his bile all over the tube.