I used to spend a lot of time on here writing about local TV news. I finally got so disgusted with the parade of subpar personalities that grace the San Diego airwaves on any given day (or in the case of KUSI, which runs news almost around the clock when it's not running shows with judges in them, any given hour), that I just gave up. But my reason for bringing up TV news again is national this time, and it's less personality-driven than coverage-driven.
Yesterday all four cable news networks suspended their normal programs to broadcast the funeral of Whitney Houston. CNN, Headline News, Fox, and MSNBC all ran it. And the reason for my ire with this? They're hypocritical coverage of Houston over the years.
Yes, I'll agree Houston was once a major star. Yes, it's tragic she died at the age of 48. But over the past decade or so the media delighted in her train wreck of a life (which started to occur the minute she got married) and not only kicked her when she was down, they repeatedly kicked her over and over into the gutter. Then she dies and all of the sudden she's treated like some kind of head of state, like an assassinated president or a dead pope.
When she died last Sunday, I watched CNN scramble to put someone on the air to do live coverage. I don't know the guy's name, but his arrogance and his apparent delight in this career-making moment made him absolutely insufferable. At one point he apologized because he was getting all his info off his Blackberry. At another point, CNN news personality Jane Velez Mitchell joined him via phone and he said something like "Jane, you're an addict," and then asked her to talk about how difficult it is for people to kick drugs. But the height of his arrogance was when he said something to the effect that he didn't need anyone to tell him about Whitney Houston, he didn't need any reference material, he grew up on her music. He knew all about her. It became one of those moments on TV news where the story was about who was reporting it, not who died.
Last Sunday all the networks jumped onto this story in a piranha-like feeding frenzy, and each one of them could not resist the temptation to say Houston died of a drug overdose. They hinted, they brought up past indiscretions, they asked their teams of Whitney "experts" to extrapolate on what happened.
Do you want to see the real incestuous spawn of the 24-hour news cycle? Watch when news breaks. Whether it be a celebrity dying or Osama bin Laden being killed, the networks conjure up pundits and experts and authors and authorities, all to fill the bottomless pit of cable network news. None of them know what's really going on. It's a headline: Whitney Houston dead at 48. She died in the Beverly Hilton Hotel in a bathtub. That's all they knew. That's all they still know.
As I was writing this, a local station--CBS 8 in San Diego--ran the story that Lindsay Lohan is hosting Saturday Night Live on March 3. The video they chose to show Lohan? She's in handcuffs, being led out of court. Maybe it's just a bad choice by a production assistant or an editor. Maybe it's a nudge-nudge, wink-wink statement on part of the producer or writer. Either way it totally brought home what the news media thinks of celebrities: We love to hate you, but we'll love you even more when you die, especially on a slow news day.