This is an editorial I wrote last week for www.thepioneer.com
One can only wonder why the recent death of Anna Nicole Smith gained such extensive media coverage, especially in the United States, a country at war. It must have been a shock for the troops who recently came home from Iraq to see what was important to America.
The U.S. media are vultures, waiting to swoop in from the sky on any scraps of titillating information. Remember the 2004 Superbowl when Janet Jackson's exposed breast quickly became the top news story in America? It must have been difficult for the troops coming home to see this taking over everyone's attention, while their buddies were dying to defend a country in love with Michael Jackson's sister's breast.
Smith was an American model, actress and celebrity who gained fame in 1993 as Playboy's Playmate of the Year and later as the wife of oil billionaire J. Howard Marshall, who was 63 years her senior. The public called her a gold digger. After Marshall died, Smith spent many years in a legal fight for the fortune.
Smith's movie career was mediocre, consisting of several low-budget films. She had her own television reality show in 2002, which focused on her celebrity lifestyle. When Smith died, prescription drugs were found in her room, but autopsies proved her stomach contained no drugs.
U.S. giant news conglomerate CNN gave the story full exposure on the top page of its website the day she died. Later that evening, CNN TV host Larry King spoke to people about the death of the former Playboy playmate. It must have been difficult to talk about nothing since even the cause of her death is still a mystery. Her death was no threat to the country. It did not jeopardize the safety of Americans.
Her untimely death seemed to knock all awareness of the war and other world news off the radar screen. The day she died, her picture was on the opening segment on most broadcast news stations in the United States. Smith became the media priority for a nation that has no lack of real news to report. They could have been reporting about the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, the race for the White House, or global warming.
Smith's death ironically became a breath of fresh news for the nation; CNN was obviously tired of showing war clips.
In contrast, in Canadian media, CTV relegated the tragedy to the entertainment section on its website. CBC put the story in its Arts/Media section. Canadians' perspective on what is important is different than our southern friends'. Canadians are concerned with issues that affect their lives, such as Stephen Harper's recent decision to give $350 million to Quebec to fight climate change or how our troops are coping with the war in Afghanistan.
In the U.S. it seems that Anna Nicole Smith's death is more important than Barak Obama's bid to become the first black U.S. president.
Yes, death is a tragic thing and people should be informed of it, but Smith's death was publicized to such an extent that it became overblown. The coverage was non-stop. Even if you didn't know who Anna Nicole Smith was before her death, it would be difficult not know afterwards. In one evening, CNN told the American public everything about who Smith was, including the facts of her death, and also that of her son, who died of a drug overdose, what her lawyer is doing now, and where her vast fortune is heading.
It must have been hard for the families of the three American soldiers who died in Iraq the same day she did, to be given less importance in the news of the day.
There have been comparisons drawn between Smith and the late Marilyn Monroe. Monroe was a famous American actress, singer and pop icon in the 1950s whose popularity increased because of her rumoured involvement with President John F. Kennedy. It was confirmed she overdosed on the sleeping pill Nembutal. Her death was ruled as accidental; however, some speculate itwas suicide or even murder.
There have been conspiracy theories surrounding both Smith's and Monroe's deaths. Their lives were glamorous and full of intrigue. They both died before they were 40. They were both involved with wealthy men, but the major difference between Marilyn Monroe and Anna Nicole Smith is how they rose to popularity.
Smith was a blow-up doll promoted by the American media. Monroe made a name for herself with her talent for acting and singing. Smith had her own reality show where she stumbled around and seemed spaced-out most of the time. Her talent was not apparent, and her death doesn't warrant this much attention.
Ideally, journalism is intended to inform and enlighten the public. The public has a right to know and journalists are the glue that holds the bridge of information together. In Smith's case, the American media held together a bridge to nowhere. The Canadian media relegated the story to a more appropriate place and informed the public about the basic facts of her death, then let it go.
The U.S. media need to rethink their role in society if they think Smith's death warrants the attention it was given in its recent coverage.