Stop the Anna Nicole Whining, Already
It's reliable as a Rush Limbaugh tirade the day after a Hillary Clinton speech: if a celebrity's shenanigans produce a huge amount of media coverage, somebody is going to complain about it.
As someone who often gets paid to do such work, I'm sympathetic. But i think people need to get a serious grip and realize what kind of media universe we live in.
The complaint these days is about all the attention paid to the death Thursday of Anna Nicole Smith. a celebrity of dubious talent whose fame came mostly from her horribly dysfunctional private life, Smith is the kind of celebrity who draws mostly sneers from those of us who work in the so-called mainstream media. So when her death was met with coverage rivaling a space shuttle disaster, the critics began clucking in earnest.
My friend Richard Prince quoted CNN's Jack Cafferty complaining about the Smith overcoverage on his own channel -- pushing out news of a helicopter crash which killed sevcen soldiers and reports on the Scooter Libby trial -- work which pushed CNN past rival Fox News Channel in a rare ratings surge.
The helicopter crash Cafferty was companining about happened a full day before Smith's death, on Wednesday. so news outlets had a full cycle to report that news. And, sad as it may be, the drumbeat of deaths in Iraq is steady and unyielding; three U.S. soldiers died during fighting in Aynbar province friday and three more died Saturday in an explosion. So far, 11 days into february, 36 soldiers have been killed in Iraq -- which means such reports aren't quite breaking news.
Similarly, the Libby trial has been in the news for weeks -- opening statements in the trial were delivered Jan. 24. Surely, Cafferty isn't suggesting that CNN couldn't take a break from covering a trial it has kept laser-like focus on for more than two weeks?
Now let's take Anna Nicole's specifically sordid public image out of the mix and look at the facts of her story. A 39-year-old celebrity, whose 20-year-old son died five months earlier, dies unexpectedly under similar circumstances. Because she often seems sluggish and out-of-it in public, there are strong concerns that her demise is drug-related. She's in the middle of a paternity battle related to her 5-month-old child, with a man who claims to be an ex-boyfriend. Now that she's dead, if the ex-boyfriend proves his paternity, he becomes the guardian of a child who may be worth $400-million thanks to Smith's ongoing lawsuit against the estate of her second husband, a 90-year-old billionaire at the time of his death. And we haven't even mentioned the faux marriage in the Bahamas to the creepy lawyer who claims to be the 5-month-old's daughter but is resisting a paternity test.
Toss in the tremendous amount of pop culture impact her death brings becuase of her sordid, sexy image, and you have the kind of story that merits serious attention.
So it's time for journalists to stop the whining and do our jobs already.
Yes, it's tough when public figures with a seamy side dominate the news cycle. But part of being a fair journalist is covering these figures when they commit real news, too. And not copping out by pretending their news matters less because we don't like who they are.
And yes, I now have written my third Anne Nicole-related post in a row just to make that point dramatically clear.