The media's favorite subject, right after Anna Nicole Smith, seems to be criticizing the coverage of Anna Nicole Smith. Yesterday on CNN's "Reliable Sources," Howard Kurtz addressed the coverage for the third week straight (NB: We had initially predicted that he would "wonder if the media gave too much coverage to the death of Anna Nicole Smith, whist giving coverage to the death of Anna Nicole Smith"). Kurtz's guests, former CourtTV Michael Jackson maven Diane Dimond, current Court TV anchor Catherine Crier and Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik, all agreed — in a lengthy segment at the top of the hour, before getting to things like Iraq, Tony Blair and Ahmedinejad — that, yes, the coverage was too much. Here's what Dimond said: "[F]ive straight hours? ...If a less popular person died, and it wasn't Anna Nicole, the sexpot -- say it was Dick Cheney. I guarantee you he would not get five straight hours of coverage on MSNBC or a full hour on '20/20.'"
Wait. Does no one remember back to the last days of December 2006, when a certain former President died? The death of Gerald Ford — in the news far, far less than Cheney, I think we can all agree — was a non-stop loop on all the cable nets, with round-the-clock updates on when and where the funeral and viewings would be held, analyses of whether or not he'd been good for the country (survey said: yea), fond reminiscences from everyone and their brother, dug-up SNL clips of Chevy Chase falling over, and archived footage in which Ford told everyone that their long national nightmare was over.
Yes. He was a president, and Anna Nicole was, well, not. You can argue that Ford's death fell into the post-Christmas news lull, and that the on-site reports from Palm Desert to DC to Grand Rapids were totally warranted, and they were; but you have to consider this story in context, too: There's a reason that the death of Anna Nicole Smith knocked the crazy astronaut in diapers off the front page. The weirdness of that story had already played out; in this story, the weirdness just keeps unfolding. The story here isn't the passing of a B-list pinup queen, it's the story of the man-bites-dog stampede to prove paternity, the ghoulish oddity of her body being kept on ice, the unsettling coincidence of her son's death only a few months before, the suddenly-sinister seeming presence of a Svengali-like lawyer whose name is even maximized for effect (there is no funnier addition to the name "Howard Stern" than the letter "K"), plus a whole tangle of legal issues from custody, estate law, jurisdictional issues and one whackjob of a judge presiding over the whole mess. I mean, for God's sake, people, Zsa Zsa Gabor is tied up in this thing! It's madness, it's craziness, and like it or not, it is news. More relevant than continued bloody conflict in Iraq or the scariness of al Qaeda rising in Afghanistan or the seriously disquieting confluence of information regarding the Bush administration's plans for Iran? Of course not. ETP isn't defending the level of attention, or how many times we've seen this image - all we're doing is saying that, hey, guess what - it's news. I mean, if not, then why is Howard Kurtz putting it at the top of the hour?