For cable news, it was a gift from the gods (or, rather from God, via televangelist Pat Robertson) — an eye-grabbing “story” for cable anchors to reference all day today, handy for filling minute after minute of air time, summarized and sourced thusly: Terrorists are going to strike the United States next fall and we’re all going to die, Pat Robertson said God said.
What happened to God’s ominous message, once in the conscientious hands of cable news types?
Have a look:
Among Fox News’ 14 (as of this writing) mentions of this “story” was Steve Doocy’s abridged version on Fox and Friends early this morning (on-screen caption “Dire Prediction”): “Evangelist Pat Robertson predicts a major terrorist attack in a major city this year. God told him millions of people may be killed. Last year he predicted major storms and a possible tsunami for America. That did not happen.” (Doocy’s colleague, Judge Andrew Napolitano, teased the “story” moments earlier with this: “Pat Robertson with New Year’s predictions. We will give you a hint. It’s not good.”)
The Fox and Friends team gave this “news” a closer look soon after 7 a.m. (on-screen caption “What God Told Pat Robertson”). Gretchen Carlson paraphrased Robertson: “He’s saying now there may be some sort of a — not nuclear — but a big huge terrorist attack before the end of this year.” Napolitano, playing Devil’s Advocate, jumped in, “He has made other predictions in the past, hasn’t he? Some wacky ones.” Doocy supplied the details: “He predicted Bush would win re-election in 2004. He did win … In 2005 he predicted Bush would win legislative victory after legislative victory, that his Social Security reform would be approved and that [Bush] would be able to nominate a number of conservative judges. This past year Pat Robertson said a tsunami would crash into the U.S. coastline in 2006; however, he did later say that heavy spring rains and flooding partially fulfilled this prediction.” And Carlson offered this articulate advice: “You know what? Here is the deal. Pat Robertson probably does really great work but I’m not so sure that any religious leader should be in the business of being prophetic as well, especially when you are not always right. People might not start believing you after a while.”
(And we’re not so sure that any news program should be in the business of reporting prophecies, especially when they are not always right. People might not start believing you after a while.)
An hour later, the same group went at it once more, with Doocy again playing Robertson apologist, Napolitano reprising his role as Devil’s Advocate and Carlson again offering a gem of an insight.
NAPOLITANO: What about the tsunami?
DOOCY: Well, you know what, [Robertson] did predict a tsunami, although if you remember, there was a — let’s see, a couple of months ago, we did have an earthquake in the Hawaiian island chain, and do you remember the fact there were tsunami warnings in the Northeast and there wound up being a six-inch wave …”
NAPOLITANO: Didn’t [Robertson] also say that God punished the Northeast liberals with the collapse of the World Trade Towers? I mean, this is just crazy …
CARLSON: Well, let’s hope he’s wrong on this prediction because if he’s calling for a major terrorist attack sometime after September, there’s not a living soul here in the U.S. or anywhere else who hopes that that comes true at all. So hopefully, he’s wrong. We’ll have to wait and see, unfortunately.
Here is how Fox’s E.D. Hill teased the story just before 11a.m.: “Pat Robertson predicting a nasty new year filled with death and destruction. What he says God told him …” Hill supplied more context minutes later: “The religious broadcaster typically makes predictions for the year ahead around this time. Some accurate, some not.”
CNN, too, reported What Robertson Said God Said (eight times so far today). There was, for example, this from American Morning’s Soledad O’Brien just before 8 a.m.: “TV evangelist Pat Robertson says God told him the U.S. will suffer a terrorist attack that will cause mass killing.” Twenty minutes later O’Brien provided more detail and a dash of — was it? — skepticism: “…. [Robertson] has made predictions before. Back in 2004, he predicted Bush would easily win re-election. Depends what your definition of easily is. … He predicted Social Security reform would be approved back in 2005 … Not! Didn’t happen. He predicted Bush would nominate conservative judges to the federal courts. I could have made that prediction for you. Not exactly going out on a limb. But he was right, Alito and John Roberts were nominated. So I’m not sure if that counts as a good track record or a bad track record.”
And the awkward segue award goes to O’Brien’s colleague, business reporter Ali Velshi, who followed O’Brien’s report with this: “If you believe [Robertson], then my next story [“Million Dollar Trailers”] is something you’ve got to think about. You won’t want to over-invest in property if you think bad things are going to happen …”
Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.
Here’s a prediction: The Devil told us that he has reserved a special circle of Hell for cable news operations that squander their airtime on crap like this instead of actually committing journalism.