The recent and intense media focus on Charlie Sheen and his manic breakdown has begged the typically cliché media questions:
“Should we be glorifying rich celebrities with drug problems?”
Or, “Why do we continue to enable the obviously misplaced white male privilege?”
The baseline query here is “Why are we covering this?” especially when, for example, innocent civilians are being shot in Libya.
While this story is by no means a product of new media and the internet, our new technologies seem to exacerbate the issue.
That said, it’s merely the latest in a long line a stories that have caused the media to wonder whether it is really, yes, winning.
Lindsay Lohan is the postergirl for self-hating media coverage. Her multiple arrests, car accidents, DUI's, and multiple stays in drug and alcohol rehabilitation have been heavily covered by tabloids since the early 2000s.
In 2011, after violating the terms of a court-ordered probation and a three-month stint in the Betty Ford clinic, Lohan managed to shift media attention towards her direction by being charged with felony grand theft of a $2,500 necklace. Purely based on her televised court appearance, the white Kimberly Ovitz dress Lohan wore to the proceeding sold out on the internet after 24 hours.
In October 2009 Richard and Mayumi Heene reported that their six-year-old son had accidentally floated off in a homemade gas balloon travelling at an altitude of 7000 feet. The national news media immediately pounced on the story, providing live coverage until it was discovered that the boy had been hiding in a crawlspace at his home.
During the incident, 'Balloon boy' became the top Google search on the internet, and a vast majority of the top 40 Google searches were also related to the story.
The whole incident was discovered to be an amateurish a publicity stunt orchestrated by the parents who were hopefuls for recognition in reality TV -- the media focus continued until the Heenes pleaded guilty to fraud.
Gossip columnist and current Daily Beast editor-at-large Lloyd Grove announced in a 2004 Daily News column that he would no longer cover the antics of Paris Hilton.
Grove admitted to being one of her media enablers, but also that she had gotten far too much coverage for doing very little:
'Over the past five years - without any discernible talent, education, scruples, manners, modesty or underpants - the pretty blond great-granddaughter of hotel magnate Conrad Hilton has waged a terrifying campaign for world domination.'
The column, entirely devoted to Hilton and how objectionable she was, was unselfconsciously ironic in its total fascination:
'I admit that Paris and I have been snared in an ugly web of mutual addiction: She to all the lurid ink, me to all the pointless drama.'
The 2010 scandal of Tiger Woods' multiple affairs began with a National Enquirer, story, published in late November 2009. An avalanche of news coverage saturated newspapers and online media for the next six months, reporting not just 120 affairs, but Woods' loss of several lucrative endorsement contracts and eventual divorce from now ex-wife Elin Nordegren.
Within hours of Michael Jackson's death on June 25, 2009, Twitter, Google News, and Wikipedia were overwhelmed with user access and request -- the total domination of Jackson's news coverage slowed the whole internet.
The incident completely booted the coverage of both the disputed Iranian presidential elections and the death of Farah Fawcett out of the Twitter trending topics cycle -- taking up an unprecedented 15% of the site's traffic. During the two weeks following Jackson's death, ABC World News, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News devoted 34% of their segment time to covering the pop star.
On a CBS live broadcast on February 1, 2004, America saw Janet Jackson's breast (and nipple adornment) for approximately one second during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show.
There were more than 540,000 complaints from American citizens to the FCC about it. In Canada, where the Superbowl was also broadcast, approximately 50 people complained about the incident.
According to a column by Frank Rich a year later, the Jackson 'breastgate' had spawned a 'wave of self-censorship on American television unrivalled since the McCarthy era,' and even claims that it set off a national focus on 'moral values,' -- the polarising issue that Rich argues won George W. Bush a second presidential term.
The 2005 divorce of Hollywood power couple Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt spawned such endless coverage and countless tabloid covers that that related stories eventually made found their way into mainstream journalism. As if that wasn't enough, Pitt's subsequent coupling with Angelina Jolie produced a slew of love triangle stories that continue to persist to the present.
Driven by the readership and dollars that celebrity coverage brings, the precedent set by covering the Aniston-Pitt-Jolie 'love triangle' has blogs even at major media properties getting stuck in the trap of celebrity reportage.
In April 2006, soon-to-be married Jennifer Carol Wilbanks disappeared from her home, spawning a nation-wide search and wide speculation that her fiancé had possibly murdered Wilbanks.
When it was discovered that Willbanks faked her own kidnapping to avoid the pressures of the upcoming wedding, the story continued as a major topic in national news: reporting on her lies, the cost to public services, and her previous criminal record were widespread. Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz described the phenomenon as a 'runaway television embarrassment.'
In early 2002, multimillionaire media executive Martha Stewart was exposed for insider trading that amounted to avoiding over $45,000 in losses -- the following months saw a litany of media attention, from the cover of Newsweek and being questioned about the charges during her own segment on the CBS's Early Show.
In the following two years Stewart was inundated waves of media scrutiny, especially during her highly publicized trial that ended in a 5-month prison term. The contrast of her as high-profile businesswoman with a squeaky clean image and a criminal trial fuelled what Newsweek described as a 'media circus.'
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