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Water-Cooler Wars: Whitney Houston

Published: March 1, 2012 | 2:23 pm
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As a journalist, it usually takes a lot to get me going. I usually hear a lot of the stories hot off the wires and have time to dissect them plenty before it hits the water cooler. But there are other stories that happen at strange times or over the weekend that I don’t get “as it’s happening.” Those are the stories I learn about through Facebook.

Facebook was how I found out that Whitney Houston died. At first, it was a few people talking about how tragic it was that Houston was dead. Then it was a few more people commenting and a whole bunch of links to media coverage. And by the time I got to the television to see live reaction to the death of a pop-culture icon, I saw things that made me embarrassed to be called a journalist.

The examples are too many to name, but there are a few that stand out. Right out of the gate, CNN decided to turn the Houston death announcement into some bizarre “Candid Camera” routine. Correspondents ran around cities going up to random people on the street and asking if they had heard the news: Whitney Houston was dead. Of course, these people were shocked. Some gasped, some thought the reporter was kidding and others actually cried when they heard the news.

Is this what we are calling journalism these days? What if a distant relative or even a friend had passed away and you learned of it with someone shoving a microphone in your face and blurting it out? Wouldn’t you feel violated, tricked and manipulated? I know I would.

Then there was the constant coverage outside the coroner’s office as media types speculated about what happened, what might have happened and how tragic everything that happened was. They talked about her dying in a bathtub and about how alcohol and prescription drugs were scattered everywhere. They talked about Houston’s constant battle with substance abuse and her failed attempts to get clean. And then, out of the blue, Nancy Grace goes on her show and speculates that Whitney Houston might have been held under the water and, essentially, murdered.

What kind of person, no matter what position she holds, would have the gall to suggest murder occurred when no evidence of any kind to support such a theory existed? Is Nancy Grace such a glutton for ratings and viewers that she would make up a story and hurt the family and friends of the victim just to get more? Apparently, yes, and that is disgusting.

These are just a couple of the incidents that stemmed from our culture’s need to inseminate ourselves into the lives of the people who entertain us. It’s bad enough that we give them no privacy or dignity while they are on this planet making movies and music for us to enjoy. We have to find ways to sully their deaths when they happen.

The media should certainly be ashamed for the coverage they kept, but we should also be ashamed for watching it and demanding more.There are many journalists and media professionals out there who have decried the constant coverage of Whitney Houston’s death over the past few weeks. We here at “Upstate Be” have watched this coverage on channels ranging from MTV to Fox News, and we’d be lying if we said there wasn’t some disagreement here as to how the media handled the story.

I understand a family’s right to privacy during a time of grief, but there’s a big difference between a private person and a public figure. Whitney Houston was one of the biggest stars of her time. She is the only artist — male or female — to chart seven consecutive No. 1 hits. She sold more than 170 million albums, singles and videos. When you add up all the Emmys, Grammys and Billboard awards, Houston has more than 400 to her credit. The woman was one of this country’s biggest stars.

News outlets are obligated to report on the death of someone of such importance in the entertainment field. I’m sure the folks over at CNN or MSNBC wouldn’t report on Houston’s death if people didn’t want to know about it. That’s why they had reporters posted up around a coroner’s office and outside of her ex-husband Bobby Brown’s house.

Houston’s star may have flagged over the past decade or so, but she still had many fans out there. Those fans want to know what happened to a person who has provided them years of entertainment. News of Houston’s death might be excessive to part of the public, but there is an equally large piece of the public that is hanging on to every bit of this news because they’re in mourning over their favorite singer or actress.

Houston’s death also echoes Michael Jackson’s passing in 2009. Both performers’ talents were overshadowed by controversy at the tail end of their careers. Child sex abuse has always circled Jackson’s legacy, but Houston’s admitted drug problems were probably the first thing that many thought of when news outlets started reporting on her death. In this case, news outlets are doing us a service by documenting yet another talented, famous person who succumbed to drugs and alcohol and died way too young. Even though substance abuse hasn’t been directly linked to her death, news on her passing helps to put Houston’s death in perspective, and it might even help us further understand why those in the public eye tend to disintegrate so quickly.

I think Houston and Brown are fair game, but I really can’t condone the attention news outlets have paid to their daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown. Her current downward spiral should be something privately handled by her family. News about Bobbi Kristina’s own substance problems aren’t helping anyone, and considering she has become the focus of many of the reports on Houston’s death, this coverage will only hurt more than it helps. I say keep the news coming, let’s just try to focus it on Houston and her legacy.

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