Holier-Than-Thou Week

What, if anything, should we take away from the political gospel according to televangelist Pat Robertson? His foot-in-mouth disease hijacked the TV news cycle for several days last week with his “Thou shalt kill some folks” comment about Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez.

First, we can conclude this: There were much better stories to cover, just as there were in 2001 when Gary Condit and shark attacks dominated the media right up to Sept. 11.

Last week, while Robertson was being commented on and condemned ad infinitum, there were military-base–closing decisions being made by the government that will affect tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of thousands of lives. There’s also a potential civil war brewing in, where was that again? Oh, yeah, Iraq.

CNN, for one, seemed to go out of its way to say it was being mindful of its news mission, with CNN President Jon Klein slamming Fox News for continuing to cover the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba, which he said CNN had taken pains to avoid until there was actually some more news.

There seemed no similar CNN restraint on the rantings of Robertson, however.

Fox did not give the conservative Christian Republican’s ridiculous comments similar blanket treatment. Instead, Brit Hume spent far too much time in his nightly news program pointing out that CNN had given over too much of its airtime to Robertson. (Take that, Mr. Klein!) And anyway, Fox commentators suggested, Robertson was a non-factor in the political sphere who was being turned into a factor by too much coverage elsewhere. Maybe those Fox folks missed non-factor Robertson on Hannity & Colmes just a week before he decided to call for a CIA hit on Hugo Chavez.

Here’s the kicker: Klein made his remarks in a story about how Bob Costas refused to guest-host an edition of Larry King Live because the subject matter was to be…Natalee Holloway. Klein told The New York Times that he was talking about CNN’s not covering Holloway non-stories in its newscasts; Larry King didn’t count. Ohhhhh.

Fortunately, Jon Stewart was there to perform a much needed reality check on both sides. On The Daily Show, Stewart contrasted Klein’s high-road take on Aruba with a montage of what CNN had been talking about instead. The clips included Robertson, Pamela Anderson’s new barbed-wire tattoo, and the Guinness World Records-setter for longest eyebrow hair. Stewart also pointed out Robertson’s recent appearance on Fox.

Which brings us to our second point: Apologies. (Robertson eventually made one.)

Public apologies have become a minor-league version of the political cover-up, with stages that mirror those of the grieving process. Anger, denial and acceptance—or resignation in extreme cases like President Nixon.

It would seem that one of the upsides of the explosion of news outlets and blogs would be that it would be harder for a person to pretend he or she didn’t say something. Instead, people would be forced to bypass the denial stage and go directly to acceptance and apology. Like the cover-up, it is the ludicrous denial and the non-apology apology (“I’m sorry if my words offended anybody”) that keep the story going.

So ends the lesson for today. Maybe this week, somebody will actually cover news.