By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
I want to go through the whole thing again. And it’s 7 minutes past 11 here in the East. I know at the top of the hour a number of people probably joined us expecting Crossfire. Not tonight. We‘ll continue our coverage of Robert Blake.
--NewsNight With Aaron Brown, April 18
On the morning after the arrest of Robert Blake -- I’m sure we‘ll all remember exactly where we were when that happened -- I was listening to The Jim Rome Show’s annual SmackOff. An elite group of Rome‘s best callers had been invited into the Jungle (as the show is known, after the Guns N’ Roses song) to see who could talk the best smack, which is essentially a white sports fan‘s rhythm-free version of rap. For more than two hours, the contestants boasted, brown-nosed their host, pontificated on the current state of the program (the Rome Show is as self-referential as Pale Fire), and generally dissed each other for being jackasses, rednecks, masturbators, practitioners of family inbreeding or devotees of barnyard sex.
Although neo-trog in its humor (really, guys, gay people aren’t all that scary), the SmackOff‘s head-on sarcasm felt bracing after the slipperiness of the previous night’s coverage of the Blake-Bakley murder case. I‘m not referring to our local newscasters, whose bottom-feeder souls know a juicy story when they see one and milked the arrest for every last drop of portent and sleaze. I mean CNN’s professionally wry, sensible and humane Aaron Brown, who approached the Blake case with all the hand-wringing fretfulness of a repressed preacher explaining adultery to an eager nymphomaniac. He wondered if the story would be so big if Blake weren‘t a celebrity. He noted that crimes like this happen all the time in other cities. And he situated the Blake story in the big picture:
“As we sit here tonight, there’s a ton and a half going on in the world, and all of it is, in the larger scheme of things, really important. This is interesting and this is breaking and this is news, but at some point there are these other things that need to be dealt with too, and that‘s one of the things that, I hope, we’ll see, will make it different from our end, from the media‘s end, in how we approach this thing.”
And then, having said all this, Brown proceeded to do exactly what you knew he’d do all along. He peeled off his cleric‘s collar and hopped into the sack with the Blake story -- bouncing up and down for hours. He trotted out O.J.’s Bronco, ran old Baretta clips, interviewed lawyers and celebrity journalists and lawyers who‘ve turned into celebrity journalists. In the process, Brown revealed himself as a classic example of today’s mealy-mouthed liberal who deplores the world‘s failings in wry, sensible, humane tones but somehow never gets around to doing anything about them. Watching Brown keep his distance from a story he was busily cramming down America’s throat, I was suddenly struck by the integrity of Geraldo Rivera. He at least is betraying nothing he ever believed in.
As American cardinals meet with their aging, sick, retrograde pope in Rome -- they hope he‘ll toss Boston’s arrogant Cardinal Bernard Law onto the sacrificial barbie -- Catholics back home remain aghast at the church‘s response to a degree of priestly sexual abuse that makes the Marquis de Sade suddenly seem like a realist. The issue isn’t simply the billion dollars in hush money paid over the years, nor the habit of transferring pedophiles from a violated parish to a virgin one. No, for many Catholics, the church hit spiritual rock bottom when it began fobbing off the blame on other people.
Last Sunday on Meet the Press, Washington, D.C.‘s Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, every pore oozing suavity, tried to justify the church’s failure to act against abusers by suggesting that it had gotten bad advice from therapists. It was precisely this sort of buck passing that launched This Week‘s Cokie Roberts into a livid rant about how Catholicism is a religion of personal responsibility -- your sins are your own, not somebody else’s -- and how nothing violates the faith more than the church refusing to come clean about its own lapses. How true. You don‘t see a lot of contrition in New York’s Cardinal Edward Egan, whose thin-lipped quasi apology for his cover-ups makes Bill Clinton look like the blubbering Jim Bakker, or in L.A.‘s Cardinal Roger Mahony, whose liberal-minded eagerness to talk of future church reform smacks of an even greater eagerness to avoid confronting his past.
Despite the show-biz razzmatazz of the summons to the Vatican, America’s church hierarchy hasn‘t begun to grapple with the underlying psychosexual questions these abuse cases raise, everything from the costs of celibacy (which is not demanded by Scripture) to the paradox that a church that condemns homosexuality has a large number of gay priests (an entirely separate issue from pedophilia, it’s worth emphasizing). Such concerns are far removed from the bluff, hedging, often clueless words of cardinals who have grown more used to conferring forgiveness than asking for it.