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Jewish World Review May 18, 2001 / 25 Iyar, 5761

Greg Crosby

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When the (media) circus comes to town ... -- THE media circus has come to town and they’ve set up camp right in my old neighborhood in Studio City. A normally quiet, old-fashioned residential community has, in one fell swoop, been transformed into “The Greatest Show On Earth” and it ain’t a pretty sight.

The broadcast media has descended on this serene neighborhood like a disease. All the conditions were present in order to breed this particularly disgusting bacteria known as “television event journalism.” 1) A woman who was married to a celebrity was murdered under mysterious circumstances. 2) The celebrity had a gun and was present at the scene of the crime. 3) The murder victim had a shady past. 4) The police are being tightlipped. Rumors are running rampant and, once again, television is engaged in its favorite exercises -- jumping to conclusions and running at the mouth.

This television circus has its share of high-wire acts, such as lawyers from both sides who enthusiastically guest nightly on the so-called “news shows,” each side spinning the story their own way. Some of the featured acts under the big top include interviews with family members from both sides conducted by circus ringmasters like Larry King and Geraldo Rivera.

Assorted animal acts include endless parades of producers, directors, actors, bodyguards and anyone else who once worked with the celebrity in question and seemingly can’t wait to get their faces in front of a camera to spill all they know about the man. Insightful, personal information like, “Oh, yeah, when we did the series thirty years ago he gave the crew great Christmas presents.”

And what would a circus be without clowns? HONK! HONK! This circus has clowns galore -- they call themselves reporters -- and they are stationed at the homes of the celebrity, the celebrity’s children, and the victim’s family.

These clowns all have the same routine -- they stick a microphone in the face of anyone who walks out of any place within fifty feet of their cameras. HONK! HONK! They disrupt the entire block and trespass onto neighboring property dragging their cameramen with them. HONK! HONK! They show no respect for anyone or anything. HONK! HONK! Hey, they’re the clowns and they have a job to do! Nobody sleeps when the clowns are on!

This circus has side-shows, too. Like local radio personalities who set up on the street in front of the celebrity’s home to broadcast their show and encourage listeners to “come on down and have some Krispy Kreams on us!” Tod Browning’s “Freaks” has nothing on guys like this.

The sensationalism of tragedy by the media is, of course, nothing new -- it’s just becoming more and more frequent and outlandish. I’m reminded of a film Kirk Douglas made for Billy Wilder fifty years ago called “The Big Carnival” about an overly ambitious reporter who turns a news story about a man trapped in a mine shaft into a three-ring circus for his own benefit. More recently there was “Network” and “Broadcast News.” What was once written as horrific fiction has now become real life business as usual. Our modern electronic news media has more than caught up with fictionalized self-serving reporters portrayed in old movies.

Movie stars, sports figures and other celebrities will always command a disproportionate amount of television news time, especially when accompanied by a tragic event. Famous people are, by definition, newsworthy -- I don’t quarrel with that. I only ask that the people involved with broadcast news keep their mouths shut until they’re sure that what they’re talking about is true or not. I don’t think that’s asking too much.

Oh, and one other thing -- try to allow some common decency and respect for the people involved in the tragedy that is being covered, okay? Now that we’ve got that straight, on with the show.

JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. You may contact him by clicking here.

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© 2001 Greg Crosby