Well, now that our brief national nightmare, during which a frazzled country worried that Paris Hilton might benefit from a miscarriage (or at least a pre-eclampsia) of justice, is over, we can all get back to our Paris-less lives (at least until she emerges from jail again, tatted up and gun crazy).
We've already put the media in the spotlight for what happens when you don't cover the Paris Hilton story. Really, though, the way in which the story got covered was plenty instructive as well. From what we know know, there are four ways this story can be covered:
1. Cover it with full-tilt, rapacious insanity. Include lingering shots from state-of-the-art airborne cameras. Indulge in hours of speculative amplification of minutiae.
2. Don't cover it at all! Yeah! Suck on that, zeitgeist! Then, cover your non-coverage. Act like you deserve a medal or something.
3. Promise to not cover it, then cover it anyway. What does it matter? NO ONE IS WATCHING YOUR SHOW, KATIE!
4. Cover it any way you like, but do so while including sarcastic commentary indicating what a gosh darned burden it is.
Let me tell you something that may appear to be shocking. Given those four choices of coverage, I would choose option 1 every single time. Why? In the first place, tuning into that sort of coverage, I would know within thirty seconds that it was a waste of my time and I could get on with my life. But more to the point, the full-tilt insanity scenario--while it may be bad news, sensationalized news, superfluous news--it is at least honest. They have made a decision on what to do and, by gum, they are doing it. Full bore, with no regrets. The other three examples demonstrate a basic inabililty to make a decision on how to cover the news, and, in all three cases, the tactic invites navelgazing. And as bad as Paris Hilton coverage might be, coverage of the coverers covering Paris Hilton is much worse.
In the latter three examples, we have news providers who are terminally hung up over their judgement of Paris Hilton as a person, and it's not their job to render such judgements. Their viewers, in all likelihood, already have. The task of the news media is to capably judge the worth of the news she makes. And someone gets paid the tall dollars to make those decisions, so, for the love of puppies, make them, move on, don't look back, and spare us the commentary, the empty promises and the self-congratulation.
Is Paris Hilton, essentially, a trivial person? Oh, absolutely. But if we're stuck with her as a figure who figures in the news, there are nevertheless all sorts of worthwhile things to say about Hilton's early release from prison. You can talk about how privilege creates a two-tiered justice system. You can address the concerns that crop up every year in Metro sections nationwide, about how difficult it can be to mete out meaningful punishments to drunk drivers. Or, you can sum up what happened in fifteen seconds and move on.
Did anyone notice that the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to restore habeas corpus Thursday? Am I the only one struck by the irony in the juxtaposition of their decision and the decision to give Hilton a get out of jail free card? Maybe someone can do something with that.
In the end, as trivial as Paris Hilton is, she can still be used as a fertile launching pad to report on some pretty non-trivial things. And that's precisely where the dividing line between whether something is worthy of reporting or not exists. So, the next time, newsgatherers of the world, you are mulling making some sort of blanket promise, fishing for compliments, or airing some snark about how you don't like having to cover a story, stop and think, "Wouldn't it be simpler if I, say, just did my job?" Because it isn't all about you--a lesson which, ironically, Paris Hilton also seems incapable of learning.