Op-Ed: More Schaden Than Freude

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Britney fighting her legal battles, back in January.

Britney fighting her legal battles, back in January. Source: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Source: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

Britney Spears isn't even in the realm of schadenfreude anymore. Reading and watching the "press" on Britney is like watching an accident in the slowest motion you can imagine. In fact, I'm beginning to feel guilty just looking at pictures of the flailing pop star. I can't imagine what it feels like to cover her — whether you work at Us Weekly or TMZ, there must be some sense of complicity between your work, and her spectacular breakdown(s). (Especially if you're Adnan Ghalib, the paparazzo who The Soup's Joel McHale called "a guy who looks like he knows where to buy Roofies," and is apparently dating her. Yes, I've repeated gossip on an NPR blog.) Asra Nomani, former Wall Street Journal reporter and People stringer, wrote an Op-Ed in the LA Times explaining why the Britney Spears debacle (the Spearsacle), shamed her into quitting People*. It's not a particularly high and mighty position, actually — she explains the role her brother's mental illness played in her decision — and it raises some interesting questions about the role of the press in times of catastrophe. After all, Nomani was one of the last people to see Daniel Pearl alive** — she knows when the press can be useful, too. What do you want to read — and what feels sort of icky?

*And here's your obligatory Jezebel link.
**Seriously, check out the tags on this post. Who would of thunk it?



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Terrorist only act because news stations publicize them. Would someone please comment on the press's responsibility for acts of global terrorism?

Sent by Adam Singer | 2:52 PM | 2-25-2008

Celebrity coverage is ridiculous. The focus needs to shift from these individuals and their personal lives to truly important issues -- from our role globally to the upcoming elections. Celebrities are uninteresting and not worthwhile beyond their professional careers.

Sent by Shauna | 2:55 PM | 2-25-2008

I don't care what the commercial stations cover, because I don't watch/listen to them. NPr should not cover celebrities because that would take time away from important news.
Celebrity watching is certainly not new, as I discovered when I visited Appomatox Court House to see the house of McLean, where the surrender was accomplished. Mr. McLean's baby shoes were on display! I ask you.

Sent by Gail Lord | 2:55 PM | 2-25-2008

it is backward to call the coverage of spears illness abuse and not to be covered. it is the obsession of the press beforehand that is abusive and enabling. if this were not taken so 'seriously', we could treat the illness with the seriousness it deserves.

Sent by ann wright | 2:56 PM | 2-25-2008

In this election year, when we've already lost thousands of people in Iraq and have a tremendous budget deficit, I'm stymied as to why stories like Britney Spears' receive coverage at all. There are so many more important things for us to concern ourselves with than this young woman's problems. The press needs to leave Britney alone and allow her to be treated and recover in private. Give the girl some peace and quiet!

Sent by Diana | 2:58 PM | 2-25-2008

We are so fortunate to have the Lehrer News Hour on Public TV--they do not report on Britney because she is not news to their viewers

Sent by Mary Lou Zoback | 2:59 PM | 2-25-2008

Did Britney really chose her life? She was thrust into the spotlight as a child. Can any teenager really choose a career and handle all the pressure, especially of a celebrity?

Sent by Megan Minock | 2:59 PM | 2-25-2008

Here Here. Finally someone stand up for what is right. Why do reporters focus on those that are hurting? Don't they realize they could easily be that person in another life or light? I agree, stop report on Britney. It's time to leave her alone and let her find her way without a camera documenting it.

Sent by Jan Weir | 3:01 PM | 2-25-2008

Thank heaven someone is finally saying end the feeding frenzy. I find it distasteful in the extreme that this sick girl is being labeled as "nuts" or "crazy" or in the "booby hatch." Mental illness is an illness and those experiencing it should be treated with dignity and respect. Let's all grow up.

Sent by Mary | 3:01 PM | 2-25-2008

I agree with your guest. Coverage of Britney is ludicrous. I can't stand her music, and all that, but that is no excuse to spread her problems all over the place and gloat over them. Compassion needs to be shown in these cases. Illness is not something somebody does for publicity.

Sent by Elaine Schuster | 3:02 PM | 2-25-2008

Shift the paradigm. Rather than sensationalize a celebrity's trials and tribulations, the media could take the high road and provide information to break the stigma of mental health disorders, addiction and alcoholism.

Sent by Pierrette Mimi Poinsett MD FAAP | 3:02 PM | 2-25-2008

When did People Magazine become journalism? When did Spears become News?

Sent by Sioban Lombardi | 3:03 PM | 2-25-2008

I have long bemoaned what I call "lazy news." Covering celebrities is cheap prep for airtime and print. Substantive news can be just as interesting but is more expensive to procure and produce.

Sent by Judith Valen | 3:03 PM | 2-25-2008

Not only should we leave Brittany alone, we should ask her forgiveness. When I see a celebrity struggling publicly with serious mental illness, as she obviously is, as Michael Jackson or Judy Garland has before her, I remember that we exploited her childhood for our entertainment and probably contributed to her failure to develop whole. She may have asked for it, but really, she made her most formative decisions before she was free or able to anticipate their ramifications.

Sent by mary | 3:04 PM | 2-25-2008

As finally being correctly diagnosed as being Bi-Poplar a few years ago I applaud Ms. Nomani for her ethics. I have been challenged since I was a teenager with this disease and am now 40. I admit to watching the the Britney fiasco if for not other reason than to try to send re-inforcement her direction. She may have everything in the world but that cannot help when you battle the racing thoughts or manic feelings as someone who is Bi-Polar. Britney will have to face this battle every day of her life, even with the proper medication. That will be challenge enough without the papparazzi.

Sent by Julie | 3:09 PM | 2-25-2008

Oddly, Journalism's reflection over its coverage of the "Britney story" comes a bit over a year after late night talk show host Craig Ferguson gave his own personal reasons for "leaving Britney alone":


Doesn't seem TOTN's own editorial guidelines have learned much in prepping for this story however. At least its sanctioned blogger in the above post is as snark reveling in its "roofie gossip" as any TMZ "correspondent."

Sent by Martin Boyden | 3:09 PM | 2-25-2008

Thank you Asra Nomani for your experienced opinion about the press' treatment of individuals. Those people who have been stricken with a severe "thought disorder" need to be offered compassion not "news. The news media could do the society a huge favor by covering such stories with informed opinions about "thought disorders" rather than the usual "crisis" ---sell the coverage --- style. These individuals with a mental disease did not ask for the disease! They diserve all of our compassion!

Sent by Theo C. | 3:10 PM | 2-25-2008

The reason there is so much coverage of celebrity is because it is so easy. Most media is now owned by major corporations governed by the bottom line and their vested interests. Covering Washington and Iraq takes more time and lots more dollars.

Sent by Adrian Seltzer | 3:38 PM | 2-25-2008

Vote with your eyes. Don't read magazines or websites or watch TV shows that show the kind of coverage you deplore. I wouldn't recognize a picture of Britney Spears if I saw one, because I just don't watch/read that stuff. I know she's a singer, but I don't know the name or tune of any of her songs. And I haven't been hiding in a hole with a paper bag over my head, either; I just have other things to think about.

These stories become news because they're promoted by the gossip media, and then people start talking about them, and the fact that people are talking about them results in coverage by the more serious media in meta-stories like this one. So if you want it to stop, don't look! If your friends want to talk about celebrity gossip, change the subject. It's not that hard.

Sent by Janet | 4:08 PM | 2-25-2008

I confess to have ignored her as a pop star and as a "news" subject - - just another of those things that just haven't interested me. But having learned she has acted in ways obviously indicative of psychological-psychiatric illness I realize that my own ignoring of her is also a contributor to this social sickness being discussed here.

Since I have suffered adult onset acute depression & now realize a life of previously self-managed ADD, I am ready to recognize the violence that impacts both the sufferer of mental illness and those who remain closest to them during their illness.

Before I was diagnosed in middle-age I had begun to fail & struggle despite a history of life???s successes. However, my condition was ignored by those in a position to recognize it - - if only they could have done so all those years of suffering and so many kinds of loss would surely have been minimized.

And so, just as responsible people must vote and act in some way to help the jobless homeless - - instead of just ignoring them (it was one of those things that family & neighborhood social standards were expected to establish in the old days) - - a developing civilization must build compassion, respect and support by society into the fabric of social life.

Sent by Bill Marston | 4:22 PM | 2-25-2008

The comment about notorious people on cancer treatment was wrong... Farrah Fawcett (forgive the spelling).. has been covered by the trash media, along many others notorious persons... they make their money on them... and they do a great job for those who like to read that mindless stuff. There is nothing bad about covering the circus.. it's funny.. Your guest herself writes for a tabloid/trash publication, if she does feel that there is a wrong been done she should write for credible media about the millions of people that suffer from mental illness and get no attention from anyone. Let people make their money... she admitted to write for a tabloid/trash magazine, accepting to get money from those publications no matter what the subject is hypocritical, they cover Ms. Spears... and she gets their money... Lady... think about it.

Sent by Pablo | 5:11 PM | 2-25-2008