In the following immorality tale, words like Journalism, Media and News have been capitalized to distinguish them from “journalism,” although telling the difference is ever more difficult. As the Internet became ubiquitous, and metropolitan newspapers and TV News channels found themselves competing for eyeballs with Matt Drudge, TMZ and Perez Hilton, many Journalists became conflicted about becoming journalists who were chronicling the lives of such rich and famous hotties as Nicole Richie, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.
Nowhere was the agony felt more than at the vaunted Associated Press, which on Feb. 13, 2007, declared a ban on Paris Hilton stories: “Barring any major, major news, we are not going to put a single word about Paris on the wire,” an editor wrote in an internal email memo with muddled wording that soon became public. “Hopefully we will be able to discuss what ‘news’ we missed,” the memo continued, “the repercussions of our blackout for AP both editorially and business-wise, and most importantly the force that cause the world to be fixated on this person who, despite her shallow frivolity, represents an epochal development in our culture.”
For as long as there have been rich and famous celebrities there have been celebrity scandals, and Paris has had her share, beginning with the 2003 leak to the Internet of a homemade sex tape, 1 Night in Paris, during which she interrupted coitus to answer her cell phone. To the delight of journalists and the not rich and famous, she and her celebrity BFFs began to have scrapes with the law, mostly traffic-related, and over time, the media, followed by the Media, portrayed them as a coven of modern-day witches who should be burned at the stake. Only instead of being shunned, they were hounded by “stalkerazzi,” and their every slip or fling became a gotcha story and worldwide obsession.
AP’s Paris ban lasted less than two weeks, until she was ticketed for driving on a suspended license, and less than a year after that, on Jan. 8, 2008, AP staffers received another edict that soon became public: “Now and for the foreseeable future, virtually everything involving Britney is a big deal. That doesn’t mean every rumor makes it on the wire. But it does mean that we want to pay attention to what others are reporting and seek to confirm those stories that WE feel warrant the wire. And when we determine that we’ll write something, we must expedite it.”
City News was a News agency, but it was also caught in the shifting sands of Journalism. CNS didn’t have photographers staking out celebrities’ homes or reporters hacking their phones, but a lot of rich and famous hotties hung out in Hollywood, which was part of CNS’ coverage area. The general rule was that the private lives of public figures weren’t News unless their names showed up on a police blotter, divorce decree or court order. So, for example, we wouldn’t report that Britney wasn’t wearing underwear, or that Paris and Lilo had become frenemies for kissing each other’s boyfriends when they weren’t kissing each other. But if they got a traffic ticket they were fair game, although we were expected to keep the snarkiness to a minimum.
In the spring of 2007, all four hotties were making Headlines as well as headlines. Reality TV star Nicole Richie, 25, was facing jail time for a December 2006 DUI in which she’d driven the wrong way on a Burbank freeway (she eventually served 82 minutes in detention). Actress Lindsay Lohan, 21, was also facing DUI, cocaine and other charges for driving her Mercedes into a hedge in Beverly Hills (her probation in that case was repeatedly extended for various violations). Pop star Britney Spears, 25, was behaving erratically as she struggled through her messy divorce and custody battle with rapper Kevin Federline. And then there was Paris Hilton …