Smith lives on

Feb 272007
Authors: Ryan Speaker

I wish Anna Nicole Smith would just die already.

We have all been inundated with stories about her, who should get her body, who will receive her inheritance.

Matters worsened when Britney Spears shaved her head and made her way to rehab three times in a week.

The television news media – including MSNBC, Fox News, CNN Headline News, and CNN – has run circles around itself, trying to get exclusive interviews other organizations have not gotten, and breaking away from real news to go to live press conferences.

In the past few weeks, the only people who handled the issue like journalists were two non-journalist TV hosts.

One was Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show.” The show had four features on Anna Nicole Smith’s death, but all four were critiques of the way television news media was covering the issue.

The Feb. 12 episode featured a correspondent live in the field; his report was first accompanied by on-screen video of Anna Nicole, then girls dancing in bikinis, and devolved to two girls mud-wrestling.

Stewart asked, “Can we just discuss the coverage of this incident without showing footage? Is the story not sensational enough in and of itself?”

The correspondent, confused, asked, “Why?”

Stewart responded, “(It) makes the whole thing look like we’re just narrating to the most lurid footage we can find.”

It is almost as if Stewart and “The Daily Show” have a sense of integrity. Networks should take note. And as Stewart noted, the images rarely contribute anything meaningful to the story.

The other TV host was Craig Ferguson, of CBS’ “The Late Late Show.” He used his 12-minute monologue on Feb. 19 to discuss his uneasiness in making fun of Anna Nicole and Britney.

“People are falling apart, people are dying; that Anna Nicole Smith woman, she died. (Audience laughs) It’s not a joke; it stops being funny there. She’s got a… 6-month-old kid; what the hell is that? And I’m starting to feel uncomfortable about making fun of these people… We shouldn’t be attacking vulnerable people.”

On why he couldn’t make jokes about Britney Spears:

“This woman has two kids; she’s 25 years old. She’s a baby herself. She’s a baby.”

Ferguson – unlike other late-night hosts and news networks – realized the seriousness of the issue and decided it isn’t worth laughs or extra dollars that might be brought in by increased viewership.

Excepting perhaps CNBC, PBS and Sunday morning political news programs, “The Daily Show” was the only cable news program that decided Smith’s death was not significant for the social and political discourse.

And it isn’t even a “real” news program!

This celebrity-oriented, unimportant “news” is something relatively new to our culture, as Richard Dreyfuss noted on the Nov. 17 episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher.”

“I was away from the country for two years studying. When I came back, I realized we had two wars, the towers falling, and the only thing that America knew was that Scott Peterson had killed his wife and unborn child.”

He continued: “(It) used to be a given that the news industry, the news network departments, were not part of the profit center. And now it is a given that they are. And Dan Rather… was at the center of an enormous change, an invisible change, which made the news division expected to be profit centers. That should never have happened.”

The networks have quickly adapted to this new business model, in which real news takes a back seat to stories only seventh-grade girls find interesting.

CNN had a “CNN Special Investigations Unit” program Saturday night, titled “Chasing Angelina: Paparazzi and Celebrity Obsession.”

The piece concludes: “So who is at fault for stalking Angelina: Is it the paparazzi… or is it the fault of the celebrity weeklies? Or, in the end, is the public’s obsession to blame?”

CNN, and other news networks, do not understand they themselves are a big part of the problem. They perpetuate the perceived importance of the story simply be covering it – if it wasn’t important, could it possibly displace news about the war, the economy, the president and Congress?

Yes, because of the all-powerful dollar. War, perhaps unsurprisingly, doesn’t bring in viewers. Who did not wear panties this weekend, perhaps unsurprisingly, does.

News should not be subjected to standards of the checkbook. News networks need to discern real reporting, and real news, from the stories reported by People and Us Weekly.

Ryan Speaker is a senior history major. His column appears every Wednesday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to

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