Trivial trainwrecks triumph true news

Will McCullough

Last week contained three bizarre and, frankly, sad events.

Locally, Andy Reid’s (head coach for the Philadelphia Eagles) sons were arrested for an incident of road rage, allegedly fueled by heroin.

Early Monday morning, accomplished astronaut Lisa Novak drove her car from Houston to Cape Canaveral, wearing a diaper so rest stops were not necessary. She was apprehended by authorities in a parking garage apparently attempting the kidnap and/or murder of a female who was supposedly involved with a man Novak loved. Due to some of the more bizarre facts, much has been made about this in the media.

The third happened a week ago today: Anna Nicole Smith died of, at this point, unknown causes. Currently three men claim to be the father of her child, her sole living relative and apparent heir to Smith’s fortune. This past summer her 20-year-old son died of a heroin overdose. Smith has constantly been maligned in the media, but the last events of her life have been relentlessly covered by news outlets.

These two women and Reid’s family have unfairly been the butt of jokes and the focus of intense media scrutiny. Novak was an astronaut; needless to say, she was extremely intelligent. NASA regarded her as fit enough to fly on a space mission a short time before. Something must have happened that would cause an extremely accomplished, sane individual to drive across several states wearing a diaper. In Smith’s case, I can only imagine losing a child is one of the worst experiences to go through. To have that event broadcast around the world could only exponentially compound the feelings.

Can’t we just leave these people alone? Unfortunately, the lives of public figures will always be in the news. Smith’s daughter is going to grow up watched by reporters. None of us would want the minutiae of our lives or our mistakes broadcast to the world.

The intensity of the media’s coverage of last week’s events is a symptom of our search for the perfect car crash. However, the difference between the aforementioned events and a television program is that these events are real, happening to real people. Whether or not their actions warrant attention because of their public status is irrelevant. The nature of these incidents was, in a sense, low and gritty. They would, for any of us, test the nature of what it means to be human. When things seem to go exactly the opposite of the way they should go, we are truly tested. Broadcasting these tests can only interrupt the process. This interruption successfully robs these public figures of their humanity, making them caricatures.

A couple of other things happened last week. Paul Bremer, the former director of reconstruction and humanitarian assistance for post-war Iraq, was questioned by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on the way he ran Iraq’s economy. One of the specific things he was questioned about was his ordering of $4 billion in cash to be flown to Iraq to pay people for their services. There are many things wrong with that, and to attempt any explanation would be irresponsible. Another occurrence: Scooter Libby’s trial continued even without the vice president’s testimony. For such a high-level White House official to be indicted is all but unprecedented and indicative of the state of our country’s leadership. These two things have far more serious implications than whether or not a celebrity died, whether someone madly accosted another after driving for quite a while or whether a football coach’s sons were caught with drugs.

Besides being an obscene waste of time and an invasion of privacy and humanity, the “news coverage” of public lives degrades the very news programs that broadcast it. As a consequence of such disproportional and irresponsible coverage, the general public is not well informed. An uninformed public is an extremely dangerous one.


Will McCullough is a senior English major and economics minor from Plymouth Meeting, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].