The sheer volume of coverage devoted this week to Sen. John Kerry’s “botched joke” has been stunning, even to our jaded eyes.

To maintain our sanity, we’ll break off a small chunk of the problem and focus our complaints for now on cable news — specifically, CNN (you know, the network whose mid-term election coverage has included exploring such critical questions as: “What Would Alex P. Keaton Do?”) and, specifically, on CNN’s “surround the story” coverage of BotchedJokeGate Wednesday afternoon and evening.

In sum, CNN couldn’t get enough of it. There were reports on Kerry’s original comments. Reports on assorted responses to Kerry’s comments. Reports on Kerry’s non-responses and responses to those responses. And reports on various responses to Kerry’s non-responses and responses.

Wolf Blitzer kicked off The Situation Room Wednesday afternoon by informing viewers that “there’s been no let up today in the Republican demands for an apology from Kerry,” before turning to White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux to ask the incisive question, “What precisely are they saying today, Suzanne?” Reported Malveaux: “For the White House, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.” (Thanks in no small part to CNN and its coverage of each cynical twist and turn.) Blitzer interrupted Malveaux’s report to read Sen. Kerry’s “carefully worded statement” of apology.

Moments later, during an interview with Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), Blitzer asked, “Is this over with now that [Kerry has] apologized?” and followed that up with, “So this story is over with as far as you’re concerned?” (Er, why was Blitzer looking for cues from Boehner as to when or whether a particular story “is over?” Isn’t that a call for Blitzer and CNN to make?) Boehner’s reply? “It is.”

Actually, it is not —- because, as Blitzer noted after the Boehner interview, “Up next, we’ll have more on the John Kerry controversy. Will the continued war of words have an impact on next week’s election?” In chimed Malveaux with “some reaction to John Kerry’s apology from officials at the White House.” Malveaux then read a statement from a Bush spokesperson (Kerry’s apology was “late, but the right thing to do”) at which point Blitzer commented, “It sounds like the White House is ready to move on as well…”

So, the majority leader says the story is “over.” The White House is “ready to move on.” What about CNN?

Not even close.

Moments later on the Situation Room:

BLITZER: “He’s apologized, but is it too late for John Kerry? Will the controversy hurt his chances in the next race for the White House? Or will it impact this year’s election at all? Jeff Greenfield standing by to weigh in…Jeff, with the apology, story over with now?”

GREENFIELD: Yes. I think — I think you just heard from John Boehner that, what are they going to do now, you know, ask him to go run through the streets and flog himself?”

But no. The story was not “over with now” for Blitzer, who later wondered aloud: “He’s apologized now. Is it enough?”

Not “enough” for CNN. Soon thereafter, Suzanne Malveaux returned to add this: “It’ll be interesting to see just how much legs this story really has. Vice President Cheney, in excerpts released by the White House, is supposed to make a joke, saying that Kerry was for his joke before he was against it, in a campaign rally in a couple of hours. We’ll see whether or not he actually makes those remarks…”

From there, Blitzer and his Situation Room colleagues went on to examine BotchedJokeGate from multiple new angles. To wit:

BLITZER: “John Kerry’s comments in California are being felt on the front lines. We’re seeing instant reaction almost from members of the U.S. military online. Our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner standing by with more on that.”


BLITZER: “Coming up, from the top of the heap to untouchable in only two years. We’ll take a closer look at the declining fortunes of Senator John Kerry. Can he now bounce back, though, for another potential presidential run?”

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.