On all three major networks yesterday morning, the news stories that kicked off the seven o’clock hour were, not necessarily in order:
It’s hot as hell.
Now, we’re not here to argue that it isn’t newsworthy when one of Hollywood’s onetime leading men turns up blotto on the Pacific Coast Highway and launches into an anti-Semitic rant when stopped by cops. But would it be too much to ask that morning news shows use some news judgment when prioritizing the placement given and time spent covering Mel Gibson’s DUI arrest versus all of the other news happening in the world?
Silly question. Of course it’s too much to ask.
On ABC, CBS and NBC it was: tease the “Mel’s Meltdown” story ad nauseam; report the story in all of its titillating detail; and then manufacture reasons to linger on the topic a little longer still.
“Good Morning America” used the “Mad Mel” news hook to air an after-school special — er, news segment — titled, “Who Are You When You’re Drunk? The Science of Alcohol.” A “clinical psychoanalyst” helped ABC’s Chris Cuomo sort through tough questions such as, “Are you not yourself when you’re drunk? Do you become someone else? We’ve all seen someone who has had one or more too many — who is that drunk person? Are we in fact revealing our true thoughts when under the influence, things we hide in everyday life? Is it true that alcohol affects different people different ways?”
The “Today Show,” too, found a way to revisit the Gibson story after its initial report yesterday. How? NBC’s Matt Lauer boasted:
“We will ask the question: Do celebrities get special treatment when they get in trouble?”
Viewers learned that although Gibson “dressed up [as a cop] in 2003 for a public service announcement for the L.A. sheriff’s department,” that does not earn him special treatment — according to a spokesman for the L.A. sheriff’s department. But, according to Harvey Levin of the celebrity website TMZ.com, which broke the Gibson story in the first place, thereby leaving a lot of competitors flatfooted: “Stars get cut a break.”
And, CBS’ “Early Show,” in addition to reporting the facts of Gibson’s arrest, also made time to poll the crowd outside the studio as to whether or not they’d ever deign to see another Gibson film — with time to spare to tackle other critical questions such as, “Is motherhood boring?”
But….Iraq? Not a word during the entire “Early Show” broadcast. Is there a bright side to any of this? Not really, though every once in a while one can detect a glimmer of light in the forest primeval: ABC and NBC at least gave passing mention yesterday morning to the fact that more than 50 people were killed in Iraq Monday night (including 24 in a bus hit by a roadside bomb and at least 14 others in a car bombing in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood).
Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.
These mornings, we’ll take what we can get.