The Best Non-News Stories of 2006

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Pop-culture experts weigh in on some of the juiciest stories that NPR didn't cover in 2006. It was a tabloidy year for Britney Spears, but did you hear a tipsy Danny DeVito on The View? Or Connie Chung sing?

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

And now these headlines.

Unidentified Man #1: Rose O'Donnell calls Donald Trump a pimp. Heather Mills and Paul McCartney fight for custody over their Renoir and Pablo Picasso - forget their daughter, Beatrice. Peace talks...

SEABROOK: Huh. Not a story you think you'd hear on National Public Radio? Well, there's been a slew of stories like these this year that we've largely chosen not to cover. That doesn't mean we didn't notice them. NPR's Jesse Baker goes paparazzi and picks out some of the funniest and juiciest stories of the past year.

JESSE BAKER: 2006 was a comic writer's dream come true, or so says Joe Garden, features editor of the satirical weekly, The Onion.

Mr. JOE GARDEN (The Onion): It was a year of softballs. I mean, you could not have any easier targets thrown your way this year.

BAKER: There are a few ridiculous stories you might have heard on our air because, well, we deemed them newsworthy, like Reverend Ted Haggard, the family-values champion, having to step down from his mega-church after buying meth and soliciting a male prostitute. Or what about the macaca incident?

Mr. GARDEN: You know, I needed Senator Allen to teach me a new racial slur that I didn't know existed prior to this. Senator Mark Foley text-messaging lewd and lascivious and suggestive and inappropriate, I might add, comments to congressional pages. And then, of course, the granddaddy of them all, there was Vice President Cheney shooting a friend of his in the face.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man #2 (Singer): (Singing) Dick Cheney's got a gun.

(Soundbite of shotgun)

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Dick Cheney's got a gun.

(Soundbite of shotgun)

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Safety's come undone...

Mr. OWEN BURKE (Former Artistic Director, Upright Citizens Brigade Theater): I think he was, you know, since the quails were in the last throes of their insurgency, he just needed a new target and unfortunately, his friend was there.

BAKER: That's Owen Burke, the former artistic director of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. He makes a living coming up with snarky commentary about celeb mishaps, and this year was honestly all about Britney.

Mr. BURKE: You know, thanks to the Internet, I feel like I'm Britney Spears's gynecologist.

BAKER: If you missed reading the tabloids at the grocery store that week, he's referring to Ms. Spears's I see London, I see France, she's not wearing any underpants episode, now forever commemorated thanks to the modern marvels of the Internet. And speaking of the pop sensation...

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. BRITNEY SPEARS (Singer): (Singing) One more time...

BAKER: "Dateline NBC" gave her an hour-long special this past summer to allow her to air some of her demons.

(Soundbite of "Dateline NBC")

Mr. MATT LAUER (Host): Britney Spears says she's had enough, and tonight she fires back.

Mr. SPEARS: I think 90 percent of the world would agree that the tabloids have kind of gone a little far with me lately.

Mr. LAUER: In her first prime-time interview since her wedding and her baby, she says she wants to set the record straight, shooting down those rumors about her marriage.

Unidentified Man #3: When the magazine screams on the cover, pregnant and divorcing...

BAKER: 8.9 million viewers tuned in to hear her confessional, and still Spears continues to make non-news. This week's US Weekly, in fact, reads: On December 20th, in a Hollywood lounge, Spears tested her own limits and the DJ's patience as an inebriated Spears kept requesting her own songs.

And if you're tired of them picking on poor Britney, there's always Danny DeVito's interview blunder on "The View," thanks to a few too many.

(Soundbite of "The View")

Ms. JOY BEHAR (Host): Danny has been out partying all night with - tell them. I'm so jealous.

Mr. DANNY DeVITO (Actor): George, George.

Ms. BEHAR: Clooney, Clooney.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. DeVITO: I knew it was the last seven limoncellos that was going to get me.

BAKER: Or did you happen to catch Connie Chung's swan song during the final taping of her cable TV show in June?

(Soundbite of television show)

Ms. CONNIE CHUNG (Host): (Singing) Thanks for the memories. We came to do a show for very little dough, by little I mean I could make more working on skid row...

BAKER: I could keep going, but it really doesn't get any better. Chung told MSNBC's Keith Olbermann that she was just messing around.

(Soundbite of television show)

Ms. CHUNG: Well Keith, it was just a joke. I mean, I thought if we can't have a little fun - I mean, I've never taken myself seriously. I take my work seriously, I mean journalism and television news, but not myself. So if we can't have a little fun, you know, you really got to get a life.

BAKER: And then there's this year's hot celebrity couples: Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes; Pamela Anderson and husband, now ex-husband, Kid Rock; or what about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie? Again, Owen Burke.

Mr. BURKE: I mean, I just always wondered, like, how into traveling to all these countries is Brad Pitt, you know? It's like, all I want to do is go to Hawaii and sit on a beach. No, we're going to Sierra Leone, and we're going to close down a diamond mine. He's like, oh, please, all I want to do is go to Vail and ski, you know, the bunny slope and have a hot toddy. She's like, we have to go to Haiti.

BAKER: Caroline Schaefer(ph), deputy editor of US Weekly, says Brangelina's been the celebrity story of the year.

Ms. CAROLINE SCHAEFER (Deputy Editor, US Weekly): I think people had been watching this relationship from its beginning. It had sort of a controversial start because nobody was really sure when Brad Pitt started dating Angelina, and when he really ended his relationship with Jennifer Aniston. So it was sort of shrouded with controversy, but it really has sort of blossomed into this relationship. And now that they've seen pictures of little Shiloh, people just can't get enough of the story.

BAKER: 1.8 million readers a week pay for - and not just skim through at the dentist's office, but actually pay for - US Weekly. That's more Americans than subscribe to The Economist and The New Yorker put together.

Ms. SCHAEFER: You know, people sort of rely on us to give us that break from their mundane day to day, but also a break from the other headlines that are out there that are very, very difficult right now, you know, whether it's the War in Iraq or the poverty or, you know, all kinds of different, difficult headlines to sort of stomach.

BAKER: Even NPR's own media correspondent David Folkenflik admits to more than just occasionally skimming the glossies.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: You have to be a lot like Keanu Reeves or something in "The Matrix" and pull yourself off the grid to be able to avoid this stuff. It's coming at you. People are e-mailing it to you, they're talking about it. I can't tell you the number of times in the last week I've overheard conversations that started, hey, did you hear that thing that goes beep in a box.

BAKER: Folkenflik's referring to the recent "Saturday Night Live" skit, in which Justin Timberlake and SNL player Andy Samberg rap about what to give their special ladies for the holidays.

(Soundbite of "Saturday Night Live")

BAKER: But of course, it's not something you'd ever hear on National Public Radio. Again, David Folkenflik.

FOLKENFLIK: Why don't we cover this stuff? This stuff isn't news. I mean, I know people look at NPR and think that we're just a bunch of people who sit around knitting tea cozies out of like yak's hair or something, but actually, you know, we take pretty seriously the covering of the news. This is definitionally not news. This is a distraction. You know, I'm pretty sure that when the Roman Empire was collapsing, you know, that Nero was sitting around logging on to read gawker.com and flip through the E Channel on cable. And you know, that's why it fell apart.

BAKER: Okay. So perhaps it isn't really newsworthy, and this was just an attempt to validate my own guilty pleasure. But doesn't everyone deserve a distraction every now and again? Jesse Baker, NPR News, Washington.

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