Bumped for Britney

Thesis Meets Evidence at CNN

What happened after CNN invited author Jake Halpern to discuss “Fame Junkies,” his book on America’s deleterious obsession with celebrity? Halpern tells the story in today’s Wall Street Journal:

[I]t was certainly a delightful irony when, upon my arrival, I was told that my segment had been canceled due to breaking news. “Oh,” I said, “What happened?” The technician replied, “Didn’t you hear, Britney Spears just lost custody of her kids?”

Halpern goes on to lay out some familiar sounding, but nonetheless disheartening, statistics: in 2004, network news gave five times more coverage to Martha Stewart than Darfur; on the day he was bumped, CNN’s Britney to Iraq coverage ratio was three to one.

Enough already. While networks may get ratings spikes by flooding the Britney zone, as Curtis wrote last month, producers and reporters must inform and educate on issues of public relevance, especially since the public’s interests tend to follow news coverage. It’s time to remember that we viewers are not just consumers. We’re citizens.

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.