Eat The Press

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You know, life's never easy when you find yourself on national television having your character impugned by a man whose Comedy Central show managed a single good joke in its lifetime (the End Women's Suffrage bit) and the guy who flacks for Isaiah Washington, so we sort of sympathize with the plight of Emily Gould, who got stuck in Jimmy Kimmel's version of the Night of the Long Knives on Larry King Live a few nights ago. The clip, presented at the left, is suitably vertigo inducing, but for all the talk of Gould's deer-in-the-headlights act, one hesitates to say she "lost" the battle. After all, how can you lose when the stakes are so terrifyingly low.

Gould was confronted with a number of arguments, all largely spurious. At one point, it seemed that Kimmel was arguing that celebrities deserve some sort of blanket protection from opinion--but you cannot now unring the Web 2.0 blog empowerment bell: everyone's cranky barroom blather can now be preserved for posterity. Gould was also shamed with the notion that Gawker Stalker (the near real-time celebrity tracking feature that was the bone of contention) was giving psychopaths a greater opportunity to wreak havoc on the rich and famous. But this line of argument seems to have an a priori problem--after all, in the days before the internet, those who wished to impress Jodie Foster nevertheless had options.

Mark Geragos darkly implied that Gawker Stalker was a lawsuit waiting to happen--but it's fair to dismiss the dollar-sign dizzy attorney's obvious disingenuousness. He certainly can't be hoping the people at Gawker have a change of heart and shutter the feature. Not until he gets a piece.

Nevertheless, it is really shocking that Gould did not come to this encounter armed with a set of cogent talking points. Gawker Stalker has been so historically provocative that it boggles the mind that each editor doesn't receive a page of bullet points on it the day they file their first post. Gould deployed two defenses that amounted to little more than canards. The first: Gawker Stalker is a hallmark of unfiltered media. That would be fine and dandy if there was any evidence that a pure demand for "unfiltered" media exists--in fact, it's pretty clear that the public prefers their filters; in many cases, filter to the point of bias. The second: Gawker Stalker was an example of "citizen journalism" at work. Of course, if Ambrose Bierce was alive today, he'd likely define "citizen journalism" as "content we got for free that we're selling back at retail."

This is a defense of high-flown ideals, rather than pointed refutations, and they don't go far enough in addressing what may be Gawker Stalker's fatal flaw--there is no "slam dunk" argument for it. That's why, when you get fouled in the paint, you have got to hit your free throws:

  • As long as we're admitting that one's clients show up on Gawker Stalker within five minutes, let's be frank--it's the publicists that are watching, not the psychos. And why shouldn't they? Celebrity flacks ought to cheer the feature and hope that it moves to a pure, real-time format. That way, they can provide career-saving damage control on an instantaneous basis.
  • As long as we're talking about rampaging psychopaths, pray tell, who is going to protect the public from celebs gone rogue? It's abundantly clear that the celebrity class is a gang of cell-phone chucking, bigoted invective spewing, genitals revealing miscreants. And Cintra Wilson cannot possibly protect us from all of them! If a sad and dejected Mike Myers is skulking around Midtown, looking for all the world like he might choke someone, we want to know. And, given the well documented uptick in the way celebrities covet our babies, the Gawker Stalker that annoys a Kevin Costner may be, to the mommy-infested dens of Park Slope, an early warning system.
  • As long as we're talking about imaginary harms, we can certainly entertain the idea that Gawker Stalker is capable of providing hypothetical goods. The feature has not been around for very long, but had the technology been available decades ago, messages like "I don't like the way Fatty Arbuckle is leering at me" or "OMG! I'm at Catalina Island and it looks like Natalie Wood is drowning!" might have been possible. Think about it: Gawker Stalker could have ensured that If I Did It never got written.

All of these talking points could have shut the panel down. But, still, we have to wonder: would it have killed Emily Gould to at least get some background on Jimmy Kimmel before engaging him? One wonders if a more Gawkeresque editor might have pointed out to Kimmel that had a Gawker Stalker been on the scene, his wife's celebrated encounter with Joe Franklin might have ended happily for both. You know...as long as we're talking about slander.

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