There’s a macabre and, yes, arguably tasteless observation made in the news business that the famous and infamous should pick a slow news day to pass on to their eternal reward if they want to maximize the amount of attention paid to their final bow.
Ironically, for a woman known for her ability to make an entrance, Elizabeth Taylor died on one of the hottest, busiest news days in recent memory. And all day long, the cable news networks had to juggle just how much prominence to give to the Taylor story in the face of an avalanche of hard news, including the increasingly controversial military campaign in Libya, the first bombing in Jerusalem in seven years, more violent unrest in Syria, Egypt and Yemen, and the discovery that Tokyo’s tap water was now too radioactive for babies to drink.
For instance, at 1 p.m. ET, CNN led with a rather touching 7-minute live segment with Larry King reminiscing about Taylor, his long-time friend and frequent interview guest. But for most of the rest of the day, tributes to the legendary screen goddess were teased for later in the newscast, behind the harder news stories.
The Fox News Channel gave the Taylor story much shorter shrift, putting it behind reports on a new immigration controversy in Arizona and calls for President Obama to give up his Nobel Peace Prize because of his decision to bomb Libya.
Even when Fox got King to come on Sean Hannity’s show Wednesday night – promoting its coup heavily throughout the evening – the interview was relegated to the midpoint of the show, and Hannity spent much of it asking King questions about himself, rather than Taylor.
CNN’s sister network, HLN, gave Taylor’s death the most extensive coverage, which was not surprising given its emphasis on all things entertainment.
MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell managed a nifty bit of synergy for her politically oriented show by snagging the first exclusive interview with former Sen. John Warner, a Virginia Republican and Taylor’s sixth husband.
Mercifully, no one tried to work the Taylor story in Middle East coverage with clips of her scenery-chewing turn as the queen of the Nile in the 1963 box-office bomb “Cleopatra.”