OFF THE GRID

Is Tiger Woods Good or Bad for You?

Dec 16, 09 | 8:18 AM   byMichael Wolff
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There is a more and more insistent question being asked by right-thinking people about why we dwell so obsessively on the domestic problems of celebrities. It’s an issue we debate all the time at Newser, where we dwell with quite some verve on these matters: How much is too much? At Newser, mindful of right-thinking sensitivities, we provide a sliding bar that lets you emphasize the serious and consequential and minimize the meretricious and trivial—but almost no one chooses to do so.

If there is reason to question the massive amount of celebrity coverage, there may be an even greater question about the coverage of would-be, or never-were, or used-to-almost-be celebrities—for instance, Barry Williams, who once played Greg Brady in The Brady Bunch, who, I read on Newser, has taken out a restraining order against a knife-wielding girlfriend.

Now I suppose one thing we learn from Tiger Woods’ travails is that, even with his billion dollars and supernatural talent and seemingly lovely wife, he’s got problems, too—that’s leveling. But how satisfying can it be to find out Barry Williams is all screwed up?

I have sometimes thought that the great celebrity pile-on is a kind of replacement in the news business for funny pages. Celebrity bad behavior, after all, is a relative relief from cataclysmic news; it provides, too, like a good comic strip, an ongoing saga in a disconnected world; plus there are simple and clear-cut good guys and bad; what’s more, we all share these stories with each other as our grandparents might have shared a chuckle about Dagwood and Blondie.

Then, too, the news business has always had a moralistic and unforgiving streak. In the past, family newspapers used to blank on offending celebs, literally go dark on them—no mention if they crossed the public taste. Now, changing the business model only slightly, we pay celebrities undue attention in order to pummel and excoriate them and, perhaps, drive them from public view.

All this celebrity obsession may, too, be a problem exacerbated by aggregators. We used to have news ghettos or silos, the tawdry separated from the worthy. If you were a New York Times reader, you would have only been a Times reader (perhaps the Wall Street Journal, too), and hence would have hardly known that an athlete had had some wayward impulses.

But who just reads the New York Times now? We’re all seeking and expecting the convergence of everything. Twenty-four-hour cable, desperate to fill those hours, was the first to serve it all. Then the Internet, with its speed and reach, joined news and gossip. You don’t have to actively choose it, rather the gossip finds you (you once might have been inclined toward gossip, but would have had to guiltily pick it up).

And then there is the data, the hard evidence. Privacy used to be protected not so much by moral scruples and persnickety standards of journalism, but by the fact that private stuff mostly happened in private. Now the record is public, and, in texts and emails and voice and video often ineradicable, or, in the case of Barry Williams and his restraining order, in court records which were once difficult to mine but are now in searchable databases.

In other words, there may be no way out. Except that there is the Newser slider, which will give you only serious, world-changing, right-thinking news, which I invite you once again to use.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NewserColumns.
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OFF THE GRID is about why the news is the news. Here are the real motivations of both media and newsmakers. Here's the backstory. This is a look at the inner workings of desperate media, the inner life of the publicity crazed, and the true meaning of the news of the day.

 

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