In January of last year, I flew from New York to Virginia Beach to interview Rev. Pat Robertson for TIME’s 10 Questions feature. It was a somewhat surreal experience. We taped the interview on the set of The 700 Club, sitting in fancy club chairs and mugging for a non-existent audience. Robertson, who is 80, seemed slightly infirm. When I asked for his signature (at the time, the layout of the feature required the autograph of each interview subject) his aides bustled off and returned with a scrap of paper bearing his name–forged, I suspected, to mask the shakiness of his hands.
The piece never ran. Three days later, a massive earthquake rocked Port-au-Prince, and Robertson publicly attributed the catastrophe to the old, apocryphal tale that Haitian leaders made a pact with the Devil in the 18th century to throw off French colonial rule. TIME’s High Sheriffs decided to spike the interview–correctly, in my view–to avoid giving publicity to a guy making reprehensible remarks. (And yes, we realized this wasn’t the first time Roberson had popped off like this.)
Why is this relevant? On his radio show today, Glenn Beck became the latest in an ignominious chain of people to blame human error for a natural disaster. From the Beck-watchers at Media Matters, here’s his take on the horrific temblor that hit northern Japan:
BECK: We can’t see the connections here. Now look, I’m not saying God is, you know, causing earthquakes. Well — I’m not saying that he — I’m not not saying that either.
God — what God does is God’s business, I have no idea. But I’ll tell you this: whether you call it Gaia or whether you call it Jesus — there’s a message being sent. And that is, ‘Hey, you know that stuff we’re doing? Not really working out real well. Maybe we should stop doing some of it.’ I’m just sayin’. And — yesterday I got home and I was thinking about all the messages that I could bring in, all the things that I could tell ya, and oh I’ve got stuff on Hezbollah. Oh, I have stuff on radical Islam in America that’ll make your eyes fall out. Or I could just tell you the answer, and the answer is: Buckle up. Buckle up, ’cause it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Make sure you keep your arms and legs inside the car at all times. Because, things are gonna get bumpy and, just a few reminders there at the beginning as this rollercoaster takes off, always a good safety tip: Keep your arms and legs in. Don’t do anything stupid, what do you say we follow the big top ten. You can call them Moses’ ten commandments, or ten rules of um. What do you say we start doing those things? Because the things we are doing really suck and they’re not getting better.
The comment isn’t that surprising, I suppose; Beck has made a fortune sussing out conspiracies most of us can’t detect. That doesn’t make it any less odious. The death toll in Japan is expected to top 10,000. Thousands are still missing, whether trapped in rubble or submerged in the ensuing tsunami. To attribute a natural disaster caused by seismic shifts to human fallibility — the U.S. national debt? Abortion? Japanese imperialism circa World War II? — is both vintage Beck and, perhaps, the reason his numbers are slipping. It reflects poorly on Fox, which has correspondents doing real reporting from grief-racked Tokyo. If David Carr is right that Fox is pondering life beyond Beck, this could be the nudge they needed.