Writing in the Los Angeles Times last week, Asra Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and People contributor, argued that the time has come for organizations with any pretensions to responsibility must stop chasing Spears, who is widely reported to be suffering from serious mental illness.
"By exploiting Spears' moment of vulnerability, media companies have crossed the line of basic moral decency," wrote Nomani, whose brother was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder. "Enough. Time Warner Inc. (parent of CNN, People, AOL and Entertainment Weekly), News Corp. (the Rupert Murdoch firm that owns Fox News and papers around the globe) and others should halt all coverage of Spears until she is healthy. Let's leave Britney and her family alone."
I emailed the editors of several celebrity magazines to see what they thought of Nomani's argument and whether they'd ever consider abiding by a moratorium on covering Spears as long as she remains ill. Larry Hackett, managing editor of People, was willing to discuss it, saying the question of how to approach the story has been a major topic of discussion at his magazine recently. (The editors of Us Weekly and Star haven't responded.)
"The degree to which the media is woven into this saga is something I've never seen before," he says. "You have to be extra sensitive, because the fact is the media is in this extraordinary role in the middle of her life. This is something out of The Day of the Locust."