Working at Us Weekly, I've become accustomed to accusations of sensationalism in celebrity journalism - some of which are not entirely untrue. Sure, we "flooded the zone" with Britney's breakdown, our Hills coverage has been prolific, and we do treat most flash-in-the-pan Hollywood hookups with breathless gusto. Us has been accused of distracting people from the "Important Issues" and the talking heads love to tut-tut about how attention to celebrity gossip is causing the great dumbing-down of American society. But after weeks of watching the mainstream news media's coverage of the Reverend Wright controversy, I'm just fine sticking to the Brangelina beat.
To say the news media's coverage of Reverend Wright has been exhaustive is like saying that Us was mildly interested in Brad Pitt's split from Jennifer Aniston. Or, as Chris Rock said recently, "It's like they gave [Wright] his own channel." More accurately, they gave him several channels. His diatribes were on a never-ending loop and the networks unleashed an army of pundits to discuss whether the connection to Wright made Obama inherently unelectable. Personally I'm surprised none of the news outlets employed our resident Body Language Expert to dissect the relationship's nonverbal cues. (Though in fairness, I don't watch Fox so she could've made an appearance there.)
The true hallmark of sensationalized journalism is ginning up controversy to drive sales, and for the mainstream news media Wright was a tailor-made tabloid icon. With newspaper sales at record lows, network news ratings tanking and 24-hour news channels desperate to fill up all 24 hours, Wright's outbursts were the mainstream media's equivalent of Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah's couch - a train wreck no one could turn away from. And so they milked it, regardless of the impact on the very race they were supposedly covering objectively.
At Us we know that every celebrity breakup has two sides - yet the news media failed to apply that same basic due diligence to the Wright story. Did no one think to interview any of the other parishioners of Trinity United Church? Are we to assume that all 10,000 of them are America-hating racists? Let's not forget that Wright was at one point deemed a nationally recognized, legitimate spiritual figure. (You know, the sort of person you would invite to the White House for a prayer breakfast with other national religious figures if you were in the need of PR redemption after a sex scandal with a certain intern named Monica.)
But you didn't hear about that this week. Nor did you really hear about McCain's new healthcare plan, the fifth anniversary of 'Mission Accomplished,' or even about populist princess Hillary's inability to use the same Mr. Coffee machine that's in pretty much every office or steel plant in America. It was all about the tabloid distraction that is Reverend Wright. I've often been told that I work at the media's favorite guilty pleasure. But this week I'm not feeling that guilty.