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Jim Lichtman Headshot

Welcome to the New TMZ

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Strange. Erratic. Irresponsible.

No, I'm not talking about the obvious behavior by Muammar Gaddafi and Charlie Sheen, I'm talking about Good Morning, America's extensive, up-close-and-personal celebrity train wreck of an interview called Charlie Sheen.

Cut to:

Sheen: "I am on a drug. It's called 'Charlie Sheen.' It's not available because if you try it once, you will die."

This, at a time where we are witnessing unrest in the Middle East after the ouster of Egypt's dictator Hosni Mubarak, Libya's dictator Gaddafi is holding on by his fingernails, uprisings in Tunisia, people struggling in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in New Zealand, the House is still fighting over an overdue budget, Wisconsin's own budget battle continues to rage, Fed. Chair Ben Bernanke reports to the Senate Finance Committee about how to handle rising oil prices which could possibly lead to inflation, damaging floods in Ohio, and what's the lead story on today's GMA? CHARLIE SHEEN.

Actually, it's part two of an interview that began the day before.

ABC apparently believes this story is of national and international importance. I believe it is another example of strange, erratic and irresponsible programming by a network that features George Stephanopoulos, the former host of ABC's This Week, who discussed important political stories of the week.

Cut back to:

Sheen: "I've been like the 'Aw, shucks' guy with, like, this ... rock-star life, and I'm just finally going to completely embrace it, wrap both arms around it and love it violently. And defend it violently through violent hatred."

It doesn't take a medical degree to see that the actor is clearly exhibiting bizarre symptoms of psychological distress. In fact, ABC's own medical expert and a drug counselor said the actor needs serious help.

My issue is the irresponsibility in airing such an interview. Not only is ABC recklessly exploiting a sad, manic episode in the life of a celebrity, they're telling millions of viewers that this story rises to the same level of newsworthy importance as the much more relevant interview with Muammar Gaddafi by reporter Christiane Amanpour which aired after the Sheen interview. The crazed Libyan dictator affects millions in the Middle East and possibly many millions more around the world.

Get a hold of yourself, Jim. You're overreacting!

After a slow, deep breath, I open my morning copies of The Wall Street Journal and New York Times. No Sheen stories in the Journal, but then it's business and finance-centric. I scan the front page of The Times. You have to go far below the fold, to the bottom to spot, Foot in Mouth, Incurable, a Sheen story that directs you to Section C in the paper.

Somewhere over the last several months, ABC has decided, that we need more TMZ in our lives. A couple of weeks ago, along with broadcasting lengthy stories on Sheen, GMA alternated their Sheen coverage with stories on that other distressed celebrity of the week, Lindsay Lohan -- at one point, airing a story in which Sheen offers advice to Lohan!

How can they possibly top that?

They followed up the next day with an interview of Lohan's mother conducted by Stephanopoulos himself! The same man who has interviewed presidents, congressional leaders and a whole host of not too insignificant individuals is now interviewing the mother of an actress who's struggling with her own serious behavior issues.

I'm not saying that Lohan and Sheen's bizarre conduct should not be reported. I'm saying that these stories do not rise to the same level of significance as a whole host of other issues currently happening in this country and the world.

Concerning responsibility and the press, ethicist Michael Josephson points out that "The powers of the press should be used responsibly to advance public interest without causing unjustified harm. As a watchdog, the press should be fair, vigilant and aggressive in assuring that people of influence are held accountable... As a teacher, it should inform, clarify and explain about matters of social consequence without pandering unduly to public dispositions to be entertained and titillated."

Based on those criteria, it would seem that Good Morning, America has decidedly chosen to cross-pollinate with TMZ. Sadly, the same holds true for NBC's Today Show.

Cut back to:

Sheen on the Today Show set explaining how he plans to live up to the terms of his contract and return to his Two and a Half Men show next season. He also tells the Today Show crowd that he'd even do another season of the show, but... Sheen adds, "...because of psychological distress, it's $3 million an episode -- take it or leave it. Look what they've put me through?"

Lichtman writes and speaks on ethics to corporations, associations and schools. His commentaries can be found at www.ethicsStupid.com.