Once again, extremist televangelist Pat Robertson has said something outrageously morbid: that Ariel Sharon's moves to take settlers off the Gaza Strip prompted God to bring the Israeli Prime minister's current health problems.
(This put Robertson in agreement with Iran's president, who also recently said the Holocaust didn't happen. Religious extremism makes strange bedfellows for sure)
It's certainly not the first time the doddering Robertson -- who managed to keep his 700 Club TV show on air by contractually requiring its broadcast when he sold the Family Channel cable outlet to Fox -- has said something awful. He has implied other denominations such as Episcopalians and Methodists embody the spirit of the Antichrist, he has said the 9/11 terrorist attackes were caused by gay people and the ACLU, he has said America should assasinate Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and that the people of Dover, Pa. shouldn't be surprised if God brings a natural disaster after voting out school board members who supported the teaching of intelligent design.
(Chavez and Fidel Castro, thanking Robertson for generating a tidal wave of world sympathy for them)
Robertson's comments also bring a predictable media response. The cable newschannels and network TV morning shows, always hungry for controversy, crank out stories that spread word of Robertson's comments, prompting columnists and pundits to jump on board.
But when a daffy minister makes his umpteenth statement making God sound like some supernatural hitman, isn't there a point when skeptical journalists should stop listening?
Columnist Terry Mattingly wrote passionately for the Poynter Institute's web site about how mainstream journalists seem to use Robertson's off-the-wall comments to reinforce a stereotype about conservative Christians as nearly nutty ideologues. Rather than explore whether Robertson actually has any clout anymore, or how other conservative Christians feel about his often un-Christian remarks, many of us are content to simply wallow in the outrage.
It becomes a cynical exchange: Robertson basks in the attention such stories bring while news outlets rejoice in another button-pushing news story. And, yes, I've done it too.
I would love to see major news outlets take a pass the next time Robertson says something outrageous. I have a feeling the air would run out of his particular balloon awfully quick without worldwide media attention.
Follow Eric Deggans on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Deggans