Paris Jackson, and Why I Don’t Watch Televised News

The gym at which I work out is gracious enough to mount televisions on their elliptical machines. As they had ABC and it was approaching 7 in the evening, I eagerly tuned in to watch Jeopardy! I was disappointed to see instead a special report on Paris Jackson’s suicide attempt.

Our loyal readers would know that while we talk about movies and music and the like, we don’t discuss the personal lives of the people that make them. Why? Quite frankly, it’s none of our business. Celebrity gossip is simply not what The Pop Culture Historian is all about.

However, as we all know, televised news seek to entertain first, inform second. Naturally, they’re more likely to broadcast stuff that will boost ratings. When I flipped through channels in the wake of the Newtown shooting (itself having occurred shortly after the Boulder, CO incident), I could actually tell the news anchors were barely containing their excitement as it was the best thing to have happened to their ratings since 9/11.

Naturally, ABC figured a lot of people would tune in to see something about the suicide attempt of a teen who is not a celebrity (I’m sorry, but being one’s daughter doesn’t make you one). I had the sound off as the special played because I didn’t want to give the news the benefit of my full attention, but I did see plenty of images of her father Michael and of Anna Nicole Smith, both of whom had very well-publicized deaths as a result of drug overdose (which was how Paris attempted to kill herself). Without hearing what they were saying, I knew they were going to spin the story into how Paris Jackson is an unstable drug addict much like how Michael Jackson and Anna Nicole Smith were portrayed.

The major event that largely defined my tenure as an undergrad at Cornell University was the rash of suicides that occurred during the spring semester of my freshman year. One of them was someone fairly close to me. Naturally, CNN swooped down in order to boost their ratings by demonstrating to the rest of the nation how Cornell was the “suicide Ivy”.

The suicides bring me to my larger issue: People have problems, and those problems are very real. It is only but not having an iota of an idea of what kind of problems they can be can one be so willing to exploit these people.

In that sense, I feel televised news programs are no different from Student Assembly candidates. Cornellians know who I’m talking about: Those who propose change and advocate things like mental health so they can turn around and tell investment banks or law schools and the like, “And that inspirational story about how I saved Cornell is why you should ignore my middling GPA in an underwater basketweaving major and accept me!” That is to say, they are people that are actually knowingly exploiting other people’s problems.

I remember actually feeling sick as a result of seeing the utter callousness on the part of American news stations when they refused to just leave the Newtown families alone, instead letting every lobbyist under the sun have their fifteen seconds on screen to provide entertainment for American viewers. My prime example of this is that cartoon character of a Texan radio show host who tried to get a petition started for President Obama to deport Piers Morgan because he proposed gun control. How did the incident at Newtown even turn into a gun control issue?

If you are anything like me, you would think that having your name and face everywhere as a result of your suicide attempt is very embarrassing, to say the least. I would like to think that Paris Jackson didn’t do what she did in an attempt to grab attention to herself. Naturally, someone is cashing in on giving this information to the media, and the media in turn is using this to help boost their ad revenues. As I was being fed this information, the best I could do was not be judgmental, despite what ABC was clearly trying to make me think.

It is because I prefer my news unbiased and without this kind of garbage that I tend to read it from British sources as opposed to American ones. It does raise a chicken or egg issue as far as if Americans watch this because this what newscasters show, or if newscasters show it because that is what Americans want to watch. With the rise of the Internet, it became clear that there is no money in journalism. After all, would you pay for a carefully investigated article in a newspaper when you can read some smut on the Internet for free? With that in mind, the mainstream media ultimately wound up dropping down to the lowest common denominator in reporting.

I don’t pretend to know what is right or wrong in terms of ethics in journalism, but I personally draw the line when it becomes clear to me that there is clearly no respect for issues like mental health and people are obviously getting exploited for others’ entertainment and for the stations’ broadcasts. This where I have to say: Shame on you, America. Shame on you.