February 26, 2007
of Two Trials
were two major court proceedings taking place in the U.S. last week that
drew a fair amount of media attention. One of them was very important
and will likely show up in history books decades from now, while the
other was not, and will not. However, it’s the latter trial that
dominated television coverage last week, and with the former barely
mentioned at all.
speaking, of course, of the perjury and obstruction trial of former
White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and the custody hearing
involving the body of the late Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith. The
relative coverage of the two, needless to say, has not been the
broadcast news media’s finest hour.
Scooter Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is
accused of perjuring himself multiple times as part of an alleged White
House conspiracy to discredit former ambassador Joseph Wilson and his
wife, Valerie Plame. This is a case that has been in the news for almost
four years, and the trial has shed all sorts of light on certain,
not-so-savory practices of the Bush Administration. (As of this writing,
the jury had the case but had not reached a verdict.)
understand the trial itself has not been televised. But it’s almost
shocking how little Libby’s trial has been covered by the three cable
news channels, in comparison to Anna news. In fact, the only primetime
news host giving major play to the Libby trial has been MSNBC’s Keith
Olbermann, who, to be fair, certainly has a partisan axe to grind.
this? The most common answer is that the people want their Anna Nicole
news, accompanied by constant b-roll footage of Anna in various cute
outfits. They also want to see Larry King, every night, interviewing the
same five people who are tangentially connected to the case, including
that one friend of Anna’s who’s intent on being the Faye Resnick of the
cynical answer is that Americans have no trouble understanding a scandal
when it’s about sex, or paternity, or other such base things. When
things get complicated – like the Plame case, like the Enron scandal,
etc. – is when people get confused, and are less likely to stay tuned
for hours at a time.
low point was probably the moment Thursday morning when both CNN and
MSNBC cut away from their gavel-to-gavel Anna Nicole coverage and went
to another courtroom… the one in California where Kevin Federline,
ex-husband of Britney Spears, was said to be demanding a custody hearing
(for his two children with Spears; no, K-Fed has not thrown his hat in
the Anna Nicole paternity ring.) For shear absurdity, this rivaled that
CNN moment the week of Smith’s death, mercifully mocked by Jon Stewart,
when Lou Dobbs promised in a teaser that he would spend his entire hour
not talking about Anna Nicole – after which the camera cut back to Wolf
Blitzer, standing in front of four screens with different pictures of
fact, Britney’s antics are about the only thing that’s pulled the news
channels away from all-Anna, all-the-time these past two weeks. It
should go without saying, then, that it was reported a few days later
that Federline had demanded no such hearing.
least Britney was actually a major cultural icon, who dominated popular
music for several years and sold more than 70 million albums. Her fall
is both shocking and in some way fascinating. Anna Nicole was a Playboy
model best known for marrying a 90-year-old billionaire, starring in a
mid-level reality show and becoming a tabloid fixture late in life. Not
only was no one really surprised by her death, but comparing her to
Marilyn Monroe, a true icon and talent who starred in several movies
that are still considered classics four decades after her death, is
the same way about Anna Nicole that I do about Barbaro. Sure, it’s sad
that she’s dead. I just don’t understand why it has to be a
weeks-mourned tragedy for everyone in the country.
Anna Nicole stuff can be a bit entertaining, especially the bizarreness
of the four potential fathers and the crazy judge at the preliminary
hearing. But there’s no way in the world this case deserves to
monopolize news coverage, all day and all night – especially when
something actually important, the Libby trial, is ignored by comparison.
feedback on this column,
© 2007 North Star Writers
Group. May not be republished without permission.
Click here to talk to our writers and
editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.
To e-mail feedback about this column,
click here. If you enjoy this writer's
work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry
is Column # SS32.
Request permission to publish here.