By Ken Tucker
July 05, 2011 at 12:00 PM EDT

Bill O’Reilly and Geraldo Rivera got into a shouting match, and Nancy Grace presided over a lynch mob of lawyers eager to top each other in venting their rage over the Casey Anthony trial verdict on Monday night. The networks tried to act as though they were above it all, while every one of them featured the verdict prominently.  Scott Pelley led off the CBS Evening News by saying the case “became a sensation on cable television,” but that was just spin, in order for Pelley’s broadcast to exploit the Anthony case for its own purposes. Later, CBS preempted the legal fiction The Good Wife to present a legal reality: a “special edition” of 48 Hours Mystery about Casey Anthony.

The hypocrisy was thick as one news outlet pointed to another to suggest excessive coverage. On The O’Reilly Factor, the host scoffed at the way the Headline News channel “went 24/7” on the case; “they ran wild with this,” he said. And then he proceeded to spend most of his hour talking about the case with guests. “I am so angry about this verdict!” he said loudly to guest Geraldo Rivera. “I can see the seething,” said Rivera, feeling Bill’s pain … that is, until their segment turned into a shouting match when Rivera tried to suggest some reasons why the jury reached the conclusions it did.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, O’Reilly hauled out Bernard Goldberg, who sneered at Rivera and asked whether the latter would be so “open-minded” if a “militiaman” had “killed a Hispanic immigrant.” What? Gee, why did this ethnic example spring into Goldberg’s swampy mind when talking about Geraldo Rivera?

Over on HLN, Nancy Grace spilled over into Dr. Drew’s show for an extra-long squawk session. “The devil is dancing tonight!” Grace proclaimed. One of her guests, Sue Moss, seemed to be on the verge of exploding her own eyeballs as she screamed, “We’ve been OJ’d!”

I’ll be honest: I haven’t followed the Casey Anthony trial on TV; details about a murdered child are too upsetting, and I try to avoid them. But I was certainly aware of the repulsively excessive media coverage of this case, and so I watched a lot of what’s been aired since the verdict came down this afternoon.

Grace’s show was certainly the creepiest forum, with her endless array of experts eager to tell us that Casey Anthony is going to “go out drinking, dancing, and sexing” when she is eventually freed. But CBS was just about as bad, using HLN regulars, for instance, to go over the more sexually explicit accusations made about Casey’s parents. On ABC, Nightline hauled in Tru TV’s Ashleigh Banfield to narrate the story and even gave network airtime to Nancy Grace — how disappointing; Ted Koppel would probably not have gone down that road.

It’s time to acknowledge once again that in its quest for ratings and ad dollars, TV news does a lousy job of reporting the news, of placing a news story in proper perspective. Was the amount of airtime this verdict attracted really more important than, say, more extensive coverage of the debt-ceiling crisis? No.

Twitter: @kentucker