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Anna Nicole Smith: Death of a Media Icon

The following is a transcription of the February 10, 2007 edition of "FOX News Watch" that has been edited for clarity.

ERIC BURNS, HOST: Anna Nicole Smith, the former Playboy centerfold, reality TV star and actress, diet supplements spokeswoman and a mainstay of tabloids all over the country, died in Florida on Thursday. As soon as the news was announced, cable news channels scrapped regular programming and leapt into action. The coverage hasn't let up since, Neal, it's not going to let up now.

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Anna Nicole Smith is dead? What did this happen? I must not have watched cable TV for one minute over the last 72 hours!

BURNS: Do you, facetiousness aside, understand cable's fascination with her?

GABLER: Of course.

BURNS: Which translates into what cable believes is America's fascination with her?

GABLER: Yes. Well, I think America's fascination comes before cable's fascination. Lookit, her death got more coverage than Gerald Ford's. And the simple reason is she was a living soap opera.

I've said in other contexts, celebrity is not something that is anointed. Celebrity is a narrative form. She lived a soap opera that was more interesting as entertainment than conventional movies and conventional television programs, and her life unspooled, and the media is there. And now her death is another aspect. Her life was a tragedy, her death is a "mystery."

BURNS: And her death comes at the age of 39, which is quite young, which adds another element to the story, Jane.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Marilyn Monroe died at 36, and Marilyn Monroe is said to be her idol. You know, at first I thought, why in the world are we doing this? And then I read some interviews .

BURNS: Meaning, why are we covering it so much?

HALL: The media. Why? Why? Why? But this small town story that she wanted to make something of herself —which in America means going and getting breast implants and then marrying a 90-year-old guy.

GABLER: A career path!

HALL: But when I read interviews with her, it's interesting. My point is, we only see the visuals on cable. When you read some recent interviews about the death of her child or even why she married the 90-year-old guy and why she loved being photographed — because she never got attention and the 90-year-old guy gave her more attention — it becomes more of a personal tragedy, less of an amusing soap opera.

PINKERTON: I would say because he gave her $474 million. That had a lot to do with her affection as well.

HALL: She felt more loved. I'm sure!

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: And there were two pieces in "The Washington Post", two separate pieces in the paper on Friday, one referred to her as "the post-modern pin-up for a tabloid age." And the other said she was "the most famous gold-digger in America."

But I think Anna Nicole Smith was playing us. Here was a little girl from Mexia, Texas, a town that most people have never heard of, and she understood the American culture and she understood America's fixation with Marilyn Monroe types from the dyed blond hair to the makeup to the incredibly surgically enhanced bosoms and she was playing us to make it in life.

The problem is when you make a bargain with the devil, soon the bank account runs out and you have to pay the piper, and that's what we have here, I'm sorry to say.

JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: There's a script, to use Neal's term, that she lived her life. You know, the cliche, live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse. And this was Rudolph Valentino, James Dean, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin and Marilyn Monroe, of course, and she was very consciously living that life, knowing full well that she was not going to reach a ripe old age.

GABLER: And the media covered this with tremendous hypocrisy. I mean, Brian Williams could barely get the words out because he said, I know this is a celebrity story.

O'Reilly led with this, because it was a story of how drugs can affect a life. — Oh, excuse me.

And "Hannity & Colmes" led with this story because they were worried what was going to happen to her child while Geraldo was speculating that her husband may have been the culprit.

So they couldn't get enough of this, but they always had to cover it with some sort of redeeming value. Which is ridiculous. They couldn't take the story straight.

BURNS: But let us say, you primarily, outside of Brian Williams, mentioned people on this network.

GABLER: I watched this network that night, so that's why I used this network. But I'm sure it's being done everywhere.

BURNS: You watch this network all the time.

GABLER: I bit the bullet and I watched this network! Let me put it that way.

BURNS: Jane?

HALL: It's interesting. As I say, first I thought why, and then talking to people, women in particular are interested in this story, I have to say, I don't want to confirm any sort of sexism here. But there's something about the narrative of the small town girl that is compelling to people.

GABLER: Two things about that narrative...

BURNS: Neither one which get mentioned now! Time for a break, we'll be back.

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