Integrity Matters
February 14, 2007

Smith's death news, but not newsworthy

Question: (E-278)

Dear Jim:

Anna Nicole Smith died Feb. 8 at age 39, having lived a fast and complicated life. Suddenly, her "high-roller" life story is getting more airtime than major issues facing the world: war, disease, starvation, political gridlock, immigration, energy, health care costs, gangs, crime and education. Does this make any sense?


The Anna Nicole Smith story is receiving disproportionate attention. Her lifestyle was intriguing, sometimes scandalous, but seldom newsworthy. Iraq, North Korea, constitutional freedoms and even crimes against children have been upstaged - once again - by sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.

Many people in the United States, and around the world, struggle with focus and priorities, unable or unwilling to demand important information. Sadly, for our society, we are no longer demanding "real news" - the news you and I need to keep our freedoms. We now want to be entertained, whether with misinformation, sloppy and inaccurate, or disinformation - lies. Instead, we "fiddle with the dribble" - while Rome (our nation and world) is burning with mistrust, uncertainty and tension.

If an individual, not an entire society, behaved in such an unfocused manner, he or she might be diagnosed with an advanced case of Attention Deficit Disorder. Regardless of what the current important task might be for someone with ADD, diversions seem to be magnetic. Paying attention is difficult. Yes, there are occasions when distractions are healthy and even improve productivity. Case in point: when performing demanding or monotonous tasks, taking a physical and mental break can renew energy. But when a neurosurgeon is in the middle of a procedure - or a pilot is only a few seconds from landing an airplane - any loss of concentration can be disastrous.

It's disturbing that the New York Times devoted an inordinate amount of space, four columns by six inches, to a picture of media people who had flocked to Hollywood, Fla., filming Smith's dead body.

Obviously, the public wants to see the remains of this young woman who was famous primarily for being famous. Participating vicariously in the trials and tribulations of others may attract viewers, listeners and readers - filling some sad emptiness for millions of people. But it certainly isn't the best use of time and energy.

Just a week ago, this column honored members of the "greatest" generation because they exhibited duty, honor, economy, courage, and service, love of family and country and, above all, responsibility for oneself.

Our society has serious work to do, and there is little time to waste paying attention to sensational and superficial hype. Rather, we need to focus on important and substantive issues, including how best to keep our freedoms.

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