Eliot Spitzer Creepily Exploits Military Family's Financial Troubles for Political Gain

Just hours before a last-minute deal was struck between Republicans and Democrats to prevent a government shutdown, CNN's Eliot Spitzer did some politicking of his own on Friday's "In the Arena."

The former Democrat governor of New York interviewed the wife of an army private and delved into the family's medical and financial information – a rather awkward spectacle – all to make the case against a government shutdown and cast a bad light on House Speaker Boehner's position on budget cuts.

After playing the father's good-bye message to his own family as he was leaving for Iraq, Spitzer thought that "John Boehner would cry if he saw that, no doubt," making an extra jab at the House Speaker's emotional temperament. "That's what he should be crying about, those army families not getting paid," Spitzer added for good measure.
 

He then brought on Amy Tersigni, wife of Army private Kevin Tersigni, and referenced that the family has a three year-old child with special needs. "I hate to put you on the spot in front of the nation – tell us how tight is your budget and what will it mean if you don't get a paycheck," he asked the mother of two.

Spitzer continued to look into the family's financial situation – arguably private information – as he asked Tersigni for her husband's annual income and if any extra savings were ready in case the government shut down and he was not paid.

 "I don't want to ask you an embarrassing question," he prefaced, before asking Tersigni to reveal her husband's annual income.

"There is no more powerful voice than yours right now," he told her, concluding the segment.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on April 11 at 8:18 p.m. EDT, is as follows:

SPITZER: Last night we spoke to Amy Tersigni, the 21-year-old wife of army private Kevin Tersigni. Amy told us how tough it is going to be if Kevin's pay is cut off, a struggle just to buy groceries and diapers for her two children. Remember, these families are putting their lives on the line for this country. Just listen to this goodbye message Kevin recorded for their son Grayson the night before he left for Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN TERSIGNI, ARMY PRIVATE: Hi, Gray. Hi, buddy. It is your daddy. If you're watching this, I'm probably in Iraq and I'm missing you a lot, you and your mom. I can't wait to get back. I miss you, buddy. Only 364 days left. I love you so much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SPITZER: All right, I think John Boehner would cry if he saw that, no doubt. That's what he should be crying about, those army families not getting paid. That's what we're talking about, folks, cutting off the pay for military families trying to make ends meet here at home.

Amy joins me again now from south field, Michigan. Amy, how are you holding up with all this unbelievable uncertainty about what's happening in Washington?

AMY TERSIGNI, MILITARY WIFE: Just trying to do the best we can. It is getting more and more scary as every hour counts down the stress levels go up. It is not -- it is not something you can prepare yourself for. We haven't been --

SPITZER: Did you have a chance to speak to Kevin today? Have you been keeping him up to date on what is going on in Washington or what's not going on in Washington?

TERSIGNI: Yes, I talked to him a little bit ago, actually. They all out there are extremely frustrated and downright pissed off. They're out there risking their lives and defending our country, and they're not going to be paid.

SPITZER: But you do know the members of Congress are going to get paid. Did you tell Kevin that, even though they're not doing their job getting our budget done, they're getting paid?

TERSIGNI: Yep. They're pretty ticked off.

SPITZER: Now, I understand your three-year-old daughter Lucy has some special needs. What does that mean in terms of your budget? Quickly, I hate to put you on the spot in front of the nation –  tell us how tight is your budget and what will it mean if you don't get a paycheck.

TERSIGNI: My daughter has -- she needs a special formula because she has digestive issues and not quite sure exactly yet. Money is tight, no matter what. When you add extra expenses because your daughter needs formula that costs $250 a month, where does it come from? When your paycheck doesn't come, where does your -- how do you buy formula? How do you buy diapers? How do you feed your family? How do you pay your rent? How do you pay your bills?

SPITZER: Do you have any savings that you've been able to build up on the military salary that you can look to draw down if you don't get a paycheck for the next couple of weeks?

TERSIGNI: No. You don't make enough in the military. For the amount that these people put on the line, their lives, sacrificing their families, being with them, you don't -- you don't make enough to save. You don't. You don't have reserves. You're just stuck.

SPITZER: I don't want to ask you an embarrassing question. What does Kevin get paid?

TERSIGNI: What does he what?

SPITZER: Get paid? How much do you get in each paycheck every other week?

TERSIGNI: Every other week, in total in a month we make about just over two grand.

SPITZER: Per month?

TERSIGNI: So not much.

SPITZER: That's $24,000 a year. Would it bother you to know that these members of Congress, I think I may be off a little bit, I think they make $150,000 a year for not doing their job?

TERSIGNI: Yes, it kind of ticks me off. But obviously they're better off than I am and then many other families in my same situation are. And they can sit in their offices and still not come to an agreement knowing that so many of us are going to be affected, so many of us that don't make the kind of money they make, that don't have the reserve and the bank accounts and the saved up money that they do.

SPITZER: Is there a particular message you would like to send to the senators and the congressmen and the folks in the White House including the president about what you want to see them do right now?

TERSIGNI: We would like them to make a decision. They need to come to an agreement and they need to realize how many people are going to be affected and how affected we're going to be. If they want to take on my rent Bill and my food bills and pay for my daughter's formula and all the other families in my same situation, shut it down. Until then --

SPITZER: You know, Amy, all you're doing is asking them to pay for the work your husband is doing defending this nation in Iraq, putting his life on the line while they sit in Washington doing nothing. Sounds like a pretty straightforward request to me.

Amy, all I can say is I hope folks are watching, listening to you. There is no more powerful voice than yours right now. Thank you so much for joining us.

TERSIGNI: Thank you.

And let's hope we get the right outcome here. We'll be right back.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014