The addicts have fallen off the wagon. Again. Alert the media.
Of course, they won't listen to you -- because they are the ones who are addicted. After swearing off the trivial, the titillating and the trashy in the wake of Sept. 11, the media are once again overdosing on their overwrought, over-the-top, overkill coverage of the arrest of D-grade celebrity Robert Blake.
The telltale signs that the media machine is heading for a big-time Blake bender are all there: the "stop the presses!" breathlessness, the contrived sense of importance, the rampant speculation, the "special report" break-ins, the trotting out of all the usual experts. We even had Geraldo weighing in on Blake. From the Middle East, where some actual news was purportedly taking place -- although you wouldn't have known it from the coverage.
This is why I have decided to step in and stage an early intervention before things get completely out of hand. It's bad enough watching what the craving for scandal-driven ratings does to otherwise intelligent journalists. But what I really can't stomach is the thought of the inevitable next round: the orgy of thoughtful and noble-minded hand-wringing and self-flagellation that is sure to come after the Blake bacchanal runs its course and the media wake up with a head-splitting hangover, wondering "What the hell are we doing with this lampshade on our head?"
In the weeks following 9/11, you couldn't turn on the TV or pick up a paper without coming upon assorted media mavens offering heartfelt mea culpas, vowing with white-hot sincerity -- the kind only an ex-addict can muster -- that they had, once and for all, kicked the ersatz crisis habit. "From here on out, we're going to be serious. Seriously."
Taking personal inventory of their transgressions, they promised that, henceforth, they would be talking about real news, real issues and real problems instead of Gary Condit, shark attacks and stained blue dresses. "The networks," declared CBS News president Andy Heyward, "will be focusing on what they should be doing." I guess he forgot to add that this renewed focus would have a six-month expiration date.
The pathetic thing is that newshounds can't even enjoy the Blake buzz. It's too hard for them, after their post-Sept. 11 detox, to pretend to be unaware that what they're doing is wrong. They're like Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick in the last reel of "Days of Wine and Roses." They're no longer drinking to get high; they're just hoping to avoid delirium tremens -- which in TV land translates to "big time ratings slump." You know, just a little pick-me-up to "take the edge off."
This has led to some of the most schizophrenic television since Sally Field portrayed Sybil, with anchors careening wildly between loving and loathing the Blake-Bakley soap opera -- often in the same moment. Witness the brilliantly bifurcated exchange on last Friday's "Larry King Live," in which King solemnly asked lawyers-turned-pundits Mark Geragos and Nancy Grace if we could expect another "media circus." Geragos responded that, because of the "real explosion in cable TV news," it could be bigger than O.J. This seemed to buoy everyone's sprits. "That's tabloid heaven," enthused King. "We can count on both of you?"
"Front and center," chirped Grace, bellying back up to the bar.
Even CNN's resident intellectual, Aaron Brown, preempted his scheduled show to pump the Blake arrest. "There is news to report on the Middle East," he said almost apologetically. "There's been an awful train derailment in Florida, but the Blake case is breaking, and it is news." If you say so, Aaron. I guess if it's on CNN, it's news. But not, apparently, the other way around.
After all, who has time to cover the world when you've cut a sweetheart deal with the victim's sister? In exchange for airfare, hotel room, and a limo, CNN secured the exclusive rights to Margerry Bakley's reaction to Monday's arraignment. And, boy, did the network get its money's worth, booking Bakley on all its signature shows, including Paula Zahn, "TalkBack Live," Wolf Blitzer and "Larry King Live." It was All-Margerry, All-the-Time.
Getting loaded on the Blake story shows just how desperate the media addicts have become. Let's be honest, it's a pretty low-grade high. At least with O.J., they were under the influence of the Peruvian flake of celebrity scandals. With Blake, they've been reduced to huffing paint fumes. Which, as we all know from watching "Cops," causes brain damage. So I've decided to go cold turkey on this turkey. This column is the last I will have to say on the subject. And not only will I never talk about this sorry and sordid story on radio or TV, I promise to immediately switch channels anytime anyone else starts talking about it. Even if the only station not covering it is the Golf Channel.
And I invite you to join me in this multimedia intervention. Don't be an enabler. Let's boycott the big top when this media circus comes to town.