Journalists Pander to Celebrity Sleaze

Why do celebrities want us to pay them for their apologies? Why are journalists so willing to help?

Pete Rose goes on TV with ABC’s Charlie Gibson and others and sort of implies there is a chance he might possibly be a little bit sorry for betting on baseball—and, in fact, he has just written a book on the subject in which he spells out his feelings at length. Retail price: $24.95.

Jayson Blair goes on TV with most of the interviewers in the Western world and sort of implies there is a chance that he might possibly be a little bit sorry for lying like Ananias (search) in the pages of the New York Times—-and, in fact, he has just written a book on the subject which spells out his feelings at length. Retail price: $24.95.

If I forgive both men, I’m out almost 50 bucks!

It is possible to be sincere when confessing your sins for a profit. But it is not possible to seem sincere when confessing your sins for a profit. And since most celebrities who engage in this kind of activity are trying to reconstruct their images at the same time that they fatten their wallets, the exercise is self-defeating from the start.

Imagine that kind of thing happening off the air, in your own life. Your next-door neighbor accidentally backs into your driveway and smashes your daughter’s bike against a tree trunk.  The bike is ruined. Your neighbor gets out of his car and rings your doorbell and pours out his heart to you; he tells you he didn’t mean it, he feels dreadful, he wishes the accident had never happened—-and oh, by the way, could you slip him a twenty so he can buy a bottle of mid-level champagne for dinner!

Only on television. Only with the complicity of journalists.

And another thing about celebrities and their mercenary behavior and their ever-more ubiquitous presence on the tube: Why do the sleaziest also seem to be the most popular?

Pete Rose was a big “get” for Charlie Gibson; the news magazine on which he appeared was the highest-rated episode of the series in a year.

Jayson Blair (search) was a big “get” for Katie Couric, who did the first of the three or four thousand broadcast interviews with him. In fact, Larry King was so impressed with Katie’s “get” that he invited her on his CNN show to talk about how she got the “get”— demonstrating that if the “get” you get gets enough publicity, you get to be a “get” yourself.

Got it?

Rose and Blair are not the only undesirable human beings of recent vintage who are desirable interviewees. Others, who have either appeared on TV or are much-sought for future appearances, include Robert Blake, Jayson Williams, Martha Stewart, Ken Lay, Kobe Bryant, Scott Peterson, Judas Iscariot, Albert Speer and Hannibal Lecter. 

And speaking of undesirables: You may remember that, a few years ago, journalists were champing at the bit so hard that they foamed at the mouth over the prospect of giving air time to the Unabomber (search). In pursuit of that goal, many sent him letters that stroked him, coddled him, massaged him, “there-there”-ed him, promised him everything but a connubial visit if only he would agree to talk to them. One network anchor went so far as to begin her letter by assuring the Unabomber that she understood him; she, too, enjoyed the occasional solace of a cabin in the woods.

Anybody want a sound bite from the head of Save the Children (search)? 

Anybody want to read a book by the guy who thought up Doctors Without Borders (search)?


Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch, which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT. He is the author of several books, including The Spirits of America: A Social History of Alcohol (Temple University Press, 2003).

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