The bright side of Britney’s breakdown


ROCHESTER, MN — When I turned on the CBS Early Show this morning, oh, what a sight! Britney Spears was being hounded by paparazzi!

When that poor young woman got out of her car she was swarmed by dozens – dozens! — of sickening media parasites, all pushing and shoving and trampling over each other, crowding in and pointing their big black cameras directly at her, screaming “Britney, Britney, over here!”

The heartless bloodsuckers all wanted a close-up image of Britney’s shattered, sleepless, tear-stained and frightened face. Because that picture would sell to magazines, newspapers and TV shows for megabucks.

The situation was so serious that the Early Show’s Julie Chen, a sweet lady who obviously has Britney’s very best interests at heart, got the CEO of a paparazzi company, Hollywood.TV, on the program for an earnest chat.

It was such a relief when Julie and her guest, Sheeraz Hasan, didn’t wallow in the horrible spectacle of Britney’s internationally-televised breakdown.

Glamour Capitals

Instead, with utmost decorum they solemnly discussed the burning social question “Is paparazzi coverage a modern version of medieval stoning?”

The New York Times had a very helpful piece on Britney the other day, too.

The article reported on a memo written by the assistant bureau chief of the Associated Press’ Los Angeles bureau, telling the bureau’s staff that “Now and for the foreseeable future, virtually everything involving Britney is a big deal.”

The AP’s managing editor for entertainment, Lou Ferrara, backed up the Hollywood editor 100 percent on that, adding the wire service “wants to know everything about that story.”

In fact, the Associated Press is so committed to “breaking entertainment news,” Ferrara said, it plans to add 22 more entertainment reporters in New York, Los Angeles, and London this year.

As a person who lives in the Midwest, I was delighted to hear that the AP understands that folks in the heartland care about celebrities who live in the world’s glamour capitals, especially about all the suffering they go through.

Larger Issues

As for the New York Times article on the AP memo, I was relieved to see that it was a very dignified piece that wasn’t actually about Britney herself. Instead, it was strictly about the memo and, most important, what the memo signified for changing standards in the mainstream media.

In this very classy way, the Times was able to avoid dragging Britney’s name through the mud once again.

Similarly, when the Times ran a photograph the other day of Britney strapped to a hospital gurney, looking dazed and frightened like a trapped animal, the reporter carefully included several sentences to show readers how sordid the whole scene was, and how larger social issues were at stake.

For example, the Times article made the insightful, troubling point that “Ms. Spears’ personal life has doubtless made more money for the celebrity tabloids, news shows and Web sites than she ever made as a singer.” (And thanks too, to the Times, for giving her the dignity of the honorific ‘Ms.’)

The Times, after all, is a serious newspaper.

We need the Times, just as we need all of our best TV morning news shows, news agencies and individual journalists to devote their best efforts to covering the serious problems we face today – not only mental health issues in Hollywood, but equally important challenges such as the War in Iraq, illegal immigration, poverty, and global warming.

Lion Food

So it is such a relief to see that CBS, the AP, the New York Times, and so many other paragons of journalism are thinking not only about Britney’s best interests and the needs of their readers and viewers, but also about the long-term interests of American society, and also the world at large.

If our best institutions of journalism started to cynically sell human suffering as entertainment, reasoning that people had proved with their pocketbooks that’s what they wanted, what a fix we’d be in!

It would be like in ancient Rome when people enjoyed seeing social outcasts – and the occasional fallen celebrity – thrown to the lions.

If that were the case, what a sad point we’d all have come to!