Media Criticism as Self-Defense

Blaming the media in the mirror

| June 14, 2007

Poor celebrities. Can't we just leave them alone? Focus on the real news in the world? As the website Iraq Slogger reluctantly reported, Paris Hilton, the embattled hotel heiress and pop-culture fetish whose jail-house comings and goings have dominated headlines of late, recently made an impassioned plea for more responsible journalism. 'I would hope going forward that the public and the media will focus on more important things, like the men and women serving our country in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places around the world.'

Those are tough words from the star of 1 Night in Paris. And they were quickly echoed by no less than O.J. Simpson, the modern prototype of the media-magnet celebrity defendant. 'When Paris Hilton was going to jail last week, more people knew about that than knew that we were sending people into space that day,' Simpson told Editor and Publisher.

Though Hilton and Simpson make valid points, their critiques are also conveniently self-serving (it's difficult to recall an instance of Hilton calling attention to the plights of our soldiers from the red carpet). The two aren't alone in co-opting media criticism as a means of self-defense; it's a time-tested tactic for public figures on the ropes and in need of a fall guy. A recent case of note: When former Republican Representative Mark Foley was accused of preying on young male pages in the run-up to the 2006 election, MediaMatters reported that conservative pundits scrambled to find someone else to blame. 'It's clear to me,' said uber-conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh (no stranger to personal scandal), 'that what the Democrats are doing here in some sort of cooperation with some in the media is to suppress conservative turnout.'

Such deflections, whether from the worlds of Hollywood or Washington, give a window into the sad state of meaningful and nuanced media criticism today. But they are perhaps most telling (and ludicrous) coming from the journalists fanning the flames of scandal. In a segment captured by the right-wing blog Hot Air, CNN anchor Heidi Collins interlaced her coverage of the Paris Hilton story with a series of sarcastic jokes about the celebrity. Collins even poked fun at her own network's tagline, calling CNN 'The Most Trusted Name in Paris News.' And Collins wasn't the only CNN anchor to question the validity of the network's coverage. Comedy Central's The Daily Show showed a montage of CNN reporters questioning the time and resources spent on the Hilton story, even as they devoted endless time and resources to reporting it. Host Kyra Phillips questioned, 'Are we just so pathetic and so lonely that we have to live life through people like Paris Hilton?' Host Jon Stewart's response: 'If by 'we,' you mean CNN, and if by 'lonely' you mean nobody's watching you, then yes.'

Go there >> Paris Hilton's Plea: Focus on Iraq, Not Me

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