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Freak Show

The TV news has become a freak show again.

Turn on the cable TV news in prime time and you'll likely find a report about the Michael Jackson child molestation case, or the Bill Cosby scandal, or the Ward Churchill free speech controversy, or the tale of the radical New York lawyer convicted of helping terrorists, or the Canseco steroid allegations, or some other item that is certain to inspire rage or fear or revulsion or shock, but which ultimately doesn't matter a whit to our lives or the future of our society. The war? North Korea nukes? Social Security privatization? Environment, education, health care? All that stuff is so stale, so boring, it's like ... gosh, it's like Nightline material.

Last night on Fox, Bill O'Reilly opened his show with the Churchill case, and we were told that the Colorado professor, who derided 9/11 victims as "little Eichmanns," is not only anti-American and a jackass and possibly a criminal, but is also a fake Indian. Pretends to be one, but then a (real?) Indian came on the show and said Churchill's membership in a certain tribe has about as much meaning as being a member of Costco (my paraphrase). Then O'Reilly went to the New York lawyer case, and we learned that this lawyer helped a terrorist pass messages to his comrades. So roughly 20 minutes into O'Reilly's show, it's clear that the country is aswarm with terrorist sympathizers.

Even the Today Show felt compelled to do the Cosby story this week, which Matt Lauer admitted up front was a painful story. Cosby is, as recently noted in this space, possibly the biggest TV star of all time, so it's hard to argue that his latest troubles should get no attention. But this seems to be turning into a case of trial-by-media, particularly with the most recent development, the sudden surfacing of a woman with a claim that Cosby drugged and then groped her 30 years ago. In the media there is no such thing as a statute of limitations.

By Joel Achenbach  |  February 11, 2005; 10:50 AM ET
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