12/11/2009 09:56 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Audacity of Hype

"There are two kinds of celebrity crash," Time Magazine's James Poniewozik writes (Dec.14). "The first, like Tiger Woods' on Nov. 27, is accidental... The second is intentional. You crash a President's State dinner..."

Due respect, Jim, you missed a third: When the mainstream media drives us to distraction with non-stop coverage of notorious, celebrity events.

In describing the White House State Dinner crashers, Poniewozik comes close to this discovery on his own: "For attention seekers [like the Salahis], controversy is the point..."


No, Jim, you should have said, "For the titillation-obsessed mainstream media, any controversy is the point." Although the subsequent revelation of Woods' "transgressions" missed the print deadline for Time, the electronic media never has deadlines, only endless "Breaking News."

From Larry King, to Good Morning, America, Washington Post pundits to NBC's Today Show - many news groups have offered-up a parade of PR flaks, lawyers, friends, relatives, and most everyone in between, all giving their "expert" opinion on the scandal-du-jour.

What has happened to the network shows' focus on important national and international news?

Answer: Many news directors seem to have adopted the TMZ/Entertainment Tonight tabloid model of controversy, hearsay and scandal. Now, whether we like it or not, (and most people I talk to, don't) what passes for news is not only the number of soldiers being sent to Afghanistan, but the number of bedmates Tiger Woods has had recently.

Last Friday (Dec. 4), PBS journalist and anchor of The NewsHour Jim Lehrer said goodbye to his nightly newscast in a sobering and telling way.

"People often ask me," Lehrer said, "if there are guidelines in our practice of what I like to call MacNeil/Lehrer journalism. Well, yes, there are. And here they are:

* Do nothing I cannot defend.

* Cover, write and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.

* Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.

* Assume the viewer is as smart and as caring and as good a person as I am.

* Assume the same about all the people on whom I report.

* Assume personal lives are a private matter, until a legitimate turn in the story absolutely mandates otherwise.

* Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories, and clearly label everything.

* Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes, except on rare monumental occasions.

* No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.

* And, finally, I am not in the entertainment business."

Lehrer's list should be stapled to brain of anyone whose job it is to report the news.

But maybe, not all is lost.

Yesterday (Dec. 10), ABC News announced that George Stephanopoulos, host of the issue-focused This Week, would replace Diane Sawyer as co-anchor of Good Morning, America. According to the Washington Post (Dec. 10), that announcement also made clear that Stephanopoulos "...wanted GMA revamped with a harder-news focus as a condition of [his] taking the job."

Let's hope that not only happens, but becomes a trend.

Jim Lichtman writes and speaks on ethics. His commentaries can be found at