The thin line between informed and obsessed

By on March 30, 2005

Turning on the six o’clock news on any given weeknight used to inform people of local weather or traffic tie-ups and maybe even feature a human interest story or two about area community service projects. Even the most casual news consumer tuning in nowadays can discern that that those days have clearly come and gone.

The majority of today’s TV newscasts are over-saturated with tales of celebrity crime and mishaps. Maybe the extended coverage is just a result of the Hollywood types being plain old stupid, but the viewing public certainly does not help the cause. Knowledge of such celebrity civil disobedience has quickly transitioned from hushed water cooler gossip to a common dinner conversation topic.

This trend may seem new to some, but it dates back to 1995, when the viewing public became enthralled with the so called ‘trial of the century.’ Viewers were able to step into the courtroom, via TV cameras, when former professional football star OJ Simpson stood trial and was later acquitted of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson.

Quenching the public’s insatiable thirst for celebrity gossip, the trial dragged on for months, keeping viewers happy and television execs even happier. If I was a gambler, I would be willing to bet that most viewers had no idea that at the same California courthouse where Simpson was being tried, another African American man was on trial for killing his wife.

Their accusations were remarkably identical, but Simpson’s case received much more media and subsequent viewer attention because of the notoriety his name evoked. Media critics who looked back on the Simpson trial have accused the viewing public of becoming so engrossed in the case that they neglected to remain informed of the other news that occurred during that time. Sure, the media is to blame for fueling this uninformed fire, but viewers need to realize that such ‘infotainment’ is hardly anything to lose sleep over.

Ten years later, celebrities in the big house have quickly become as popular as the reality television craze. Who ever thought that possible? One such jailbird celebrity getting unnecessary attention today is domestic diva Martha Stewart, who recently inked a deal with NBC to appear on the next installment of Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice.” Get your scorecard out, because also in the primetime lineup for your viewing pleasure is the E! Network’s re-enactment of the Michael Jackson trial, which describes the day’s events in the trial that has the pop performer facing child molestation charges.

Since cameras are not allowed in the Jackson courtroom, the network has taken it upon itself to recreate the courtroom scene, complete with actors portraying lawyers, witnesses, and Jackson himself. Unfortunately for E! the show’s ratings have been dismal, but this is hardly a sign that the public is disinterested in the case.

At the heart of the issue is the fact that for many news consumers, whose daily intake of information consists of internet sites or a quick read of the newspaper, the true news gets lost among the soft, ‘infotainment’ stories that currently fill newspapers and nightly broadcasts.

It seems as if night-time talker Jay Leno has stumbled upon an interesting premise with his common satirical yet realistic segment “Jaywalking,” which tests the current event knowledge of people from all walks of life. In many instances, Leno is hard pressed to find a contestant who can correctly identify, for example, Donald Rumsfeld’s occupation, or what the capital of California is. (For those who were grasping for straws, Rumsfeld is Secretary of Defense, and California’s capital is Sacramento.) As sad as it may sound, America is on its way to becoming a nation obsessed and uninformed.

Do not get me wrong, the suits at TV’s major networks are equally to blame for the news content available for consumption, but viewers need to take into account their priorities. After all, is it really necessary to know that Michael Jackson showed up for his trial wearing pajamas, or that Martha Stewart was caught trying to smuggle spices while in prison?

Please, if only for a few minutes, pick up a newspaper tomorrow morning when you have your coffee. You will be amazed at what you will learn. Hopefully it will become evident that there are names other than Robert Blake and Paris Hilton making headlines these days.


About Allison Corneau