Early Thursday morning, TMZ published a video entitled, “Lamar Odom -- Life Has Spiraled Out of Control.”
The story, in many ways, was par for the course; one of many TMZ has published on the former Lakers forward in recent years. It will soon be left to sit in the Internet dumpster along with similarly titled stories. Here's a few: "Lamar Odom --Cracked Out Rap Video -- I Cheated on Khloe Kardashian," "Lamar Odom -- 1-Man Dance Party ... In LA Day Club," "Lamar Odom -- Drug Dealers Suspected in Kardashian Jewelry Heist," "Lamar Odom On Crack Binge … With 2 Women," "Lamar Odom -- Kardashians Worried Best Friend's OD Could Trigger Drug Binge."
As those stories might indicate, Odom has struggled in recent years, exhibiting reckless behavior in public and reportedly struggling with substance abuse issues. But toward the end of the video, Odom made a comment not about his life, but about the way TMZ decides to cover it:
You all have discredited me. Beat me down. Took my confidence. Took everything away from me. You will not do it again. I know what your company is about, and I know what they doing to brothers. I know whatcha y’all doing to the rappers. I know you want them beefing. I know you want them arguing. Y’all don’t do Leo [DiCaprio] like that. You don’t do Brad [Pitt] like that. Y’all don’t do them like that.
It’s possible that Odom is comparing TMZ’s coverage of rappers here to its coverage of actors regardless of race, but that’s unlikely. The issue here is likely whether the historically white media industry covers black and white celebrities differently, whether consciously or subconsciously our industry looks to pit minority celebrities against one another, to pull the worst out of them.
Research on how the media covers black and white celebrities is thin, but a study by Cynthia Frisby, an associate professor of strategic communication in the University of Missouri School of Journalism, provides something of a start. Frisby performed an analysis of how sports journalists cover athletes, and they found that the vast majority of positive stories were about white athletes, while the vast majority of negative stories were about black ones.
It’s an imperfect analysis -- ideally the findings would be adjusted to account for the overall proportion of black and white athletes in the sports covered -- but the divide is strong enough to wonder whether there is something to what Odom is saying. Is the media harder on black celebrities? That’s a question worth pondering not just for the celebrities themselves, but for the children who go up idolizing them.
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