Where’s the line?

I’ll admit it, I am sick of hearing about Michael Jackson. In fact, I was sick of hearing about it a day after he died.

I’m not cold and heartless. I was sad when I heard that one of the greatest pop musicians of our time had passed away and I was angry when Jackson’s critics came out of the woodwork reminding us all of his alleged child molestation. “Why can’t we just let the dead rest in peace?” I wondered out loud.

I continued my argument with a friend who was criticizing Jackson’s personal life, “We should respect him as a human being regardless of what he may have done in his personal life. Everyone deserves that kind of respect. Plus, be respectful for his family and his young children. They deserve to be able to mourn without the two cents of people and mass media who have never even met him.”

My friend’s response? “You’re too idealistic, Caitlin.”

Honestly, this pissed me off at first. How is believing the best in people idealistic? I got my answer as news reports about Jackson’s death progressed.

The media covered Jackson’s death and the drama surrounding it without, what seemed like, even an ounce of compassion for Jackson himself and his family. I got in a discussion about this with one of my editors at the newspaper where I’m interning this summer and all he said to me was, “that’s news media, kid. People want to know and we deliver.”

His almost complete blow-off of my concerns left me in a precarious position. I want to be a journalist, but am I too nice, too idealistic and have too much of a guilty conscience for my chosen profession? Am I doomed to be that one journalist who covers only puff pieces and feel good stories because I draw the line too high?

Where is the line drawn anyway? Does it depend on the subject matter of what’s being reported or the media outlet that’s reporting it? Do tabloids have less responsibility than daily news papers?

My gut tells me yes. That no one takes tabloids seriously and when people want hard news they look for a newspaper. But with newspapers declining because of the recession tabloids don’t seem to be affected at all, which means people take them seriously enough to read them. VIBE and Blender, two huge publications, have gone by the wayside due to hard economic times, but have US Weekly or OK! declined at all? It doesn’t look like it, and that’s what scares me.

I understand that people want to know about the lives of their favorite stars but have they even stopped to think that tabloids are not 100 percent true? Have you ever seen a hard-hitting tabloid story that actually puts a name on a source rather than a mere “person close to the star”? And also, why do tabloids feel the need to report everything about a star’s life even when it’s something that should remain personal? And why do people think it’s okay?

If someone aired your personal life in US Weekly for the world to see I’m willing to bet that you’d be livid, but because it’s a star it’s okay? That’s just a double standard.

Case in point: Patrick Swayze. I get that he’s famous and his fans want to know what’s going on in his life but what kills me is that the tabloids and the rest of America seem to have no problem printing pictures of a cancer-ridden Swayze on the cover of their magazine. The man is bald from chemo and waif-like from being sick. He is, in all practical terms, dying. Why do people want to see it? And why is it okay to put his personal, tough battle with cancer on the cover of a national magazine? Why can’t the news media and the tabloid readers let Swayze be in peace?

The same goes for the coverage of Michael jackson’s death. Why was it necessary to put pictures of the dead pop singer with an oxygen mask on his face in an ambulance all over the cover of tabloid magazines? I understand that his death was a shock and a big deal in the music industry but is it right to put a picture of his dead body on the cover of your tabloid rag? No. It wasn’t.

This is where I feel like a fraud though. I don’t think that it’s right for every minute detail of stars’ lives to be available to the masses but when I hear of government corruption or a public official doing something they shouldn’t have done I want to know everything. I guess that’s a double standard, too. Stars should be left alone but our government shouldn’t? Is that even right? It might not be morally right but at least stars don’t have an influence on how our government is run. I want to know if one of my senators or congressmen is trying to put more in his own pocket than trying to help his constituents.

This is where media ethics get messy though. Senators having sexual relations with young pages is wrong in that it’s illegal. Why does something that’s illegal get less media coverage than when President Clinton allegedly had an affair? Clinton and Monica Lewinski were both consenting adults, yes infidelity is wrong, but why did that matter so much? Did the situation effect how he ran the country? No. Was it illegal? No. Then why such an uproar? We can almost impeach a president for a personal mistake but when a senator molests a young boy he gets a slap on the wrist and maybe fired?

It all has to do with media coverage. The president is a big deal and big news, creepy senators are not.

I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t understand where the media line is drawn. I’ve asked my editors and professors to explain it to me but the only answer I seem to get is something along the lines of, “as long as your story is factual where you draw the coverage line depends.”

Depends on what? Depends on the publication? The subject matter?

“Yes, all of it,” said my editor. Color me confused.

In the end, maybe I am “too idealistic” for journalism…but I think I’m okay with that.

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