Accuracy in Media

Gone are the days of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and the Rat Pack, who engaged in questionable behavior but kept it private. These days Americans are left with semi-celebrities like Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton. And like never before these semi-talented semi-celebrities are on the front cover of major magazines, in the tabloids, in the news, and on our televisions, and worst of all, influencing young girls across the country on what it takes to be famous, or more appropriately, infamous.

In what was presented as a significant “news” development, ABC News reported that on November 22, cameras caught Britney Spears in a leopard-print mini-dress that was so short it revealed her underwear. Two days later, the mother of two was photographed getting out of a car in a mini-skirt but this time without underwear.

In a desperate cry for attention, today’s semi-celebrities show no shame, no modesty, and no remorse, in a never-ending attempt for media coverage. And the media comply.

Peter Post, director of the Emily Post Institute of etiquette and manners, told ABC News, “My concern is the impressionability of young people. I think that some young people are going to say, ‘Wow, if Britney Spears and Paris Hilton can do that, I wonder if I can do that.'”  What concerns Post even more is that these semi-celebrities are “having to go a little bit further and be a little more outrageous in order to be talked about.” He’s right, but it’s a sad commentary that his opinion is sought precisely because of the bad taste of the media. It’s like the media are embarrassed over what they show their viewers. So they have to get an ethics experts to reprimand them. Perhaps that is a step forward.

One option would be to ignore these juvenile delinquents. But we are constantly told that this kind of “news” generates ratings and that people want to know what these “stars” are up to. So where should the blame go? Is it the consumer or the media itself? The answer, quite obviously, is both.

The media seem to run on two basic premises: sex sells and if it bleeds it leads. That is reflected in the coverage of the bloodbath in Iraq and the extravagant and immoral lives of those the media dub celebrities.

Consider MSNBC, supposedly becoming the cable news outlet for political junkies. When the anchors and commentators are not bashing the Bush policy in Iraq, complete with film of the latest bomb blast or body on a stretcher, the “news” is about Paris Hilton or Britney Spears. Even Joe Scarborough, who, as a Congressman dealt with weighty issues of domestic and foreign policy, runs a regular “Hollyweird” segment on his MSNBC program. We cringe when we see a former Congressman pontificating about such banal nonsense. But that’s apparently what his bosses have told him to do to generate ratings.

In today’s anything-goes media environment, is there any wonder why celebrities need to do anything possible just to get attention, when talent alone is not enough? And these days talent alone is never enough-as poor behavior has replaced modesty, dignity, and honor. 

If Hilton, Lohan, and Spears were nothing more than moderately annoying semi-celebrities who rarely entered our thoughts or daily lives, they would be little more than an irritation. But when sex sells, and that sex is being sold by the media to young girls, this coverage has a real impact. The promotion of teenage sex and sexuality can only lead to an ever declining moral fiber in our young people, who are convinced by the constant attention that acting trashy is attractive and something to be emulated. The media are selling sex to teenage girls, packaged in these pretty trimmings of semi-celebrities like Britney Spears or old has-beens like Madonna, who had one of her concert performances recently broadcast on the NBC television network despite objections from Christian groups concerning her act. But, her concert only placed fourth in its time slot, and “failed to find an audience,” as one report put it. That was some good news, for a change.

Madonna may be past her prime, but the media are breeding a generation of young girls into believing that not only is promiscuity and flaunting your sexuality acceptable behavior, but that it can also make you rich and popular. Parents with children have a tough job that gets more demanding because of the media’s strange priorities and warped values.

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