There is something obscene about media coverage over the loss of John F. Kennedy, Jr. Without doubt his death, and the new tragedy of America’s most famous political family, is a terrible thing. But the coverage has revealed a tendency with the media that is in turn moronic, macabre and misconceived.
There is something obscene about media coverage over the loss of
John F. Kennedy, Jr. Without doubt his death, and the new tragedy of
America’s most famous political family, is a terrible thing. But the
coverage has revealed a tendency with the media that is in turn moronic,
macabre and misconceived.
When the story broke, for hours on end all the major networks blankly
filled their screens with images of a vast unexplained ocean - and as if
there were no other news in the world that day. The drone of
ill-informed commentary, hearsay and rumor, continued unabated - with
hour upon hour of airtime ’fill.’ Old stills and old footage of JFK, Jr.
- at college, in his George office, attending charity functions - were
repeatedly shown for filler.
By the time the sad jigsaw of this tragedy had been pierced together by
the media - first the luggage, then the plane, then the bodies - the
public had switched off its TV sets, because they were tired of waiting
for something to happen. There isn’t time in most people’s lives to let
a story like this unfold in real time. Most people rely on the media to
encapsulate the news, to provide nuggets of real information. But all
the TV stations seemed prepared, in spite of their expensive slogans, to
ignore this fundamental tenet - all because they did not want another
station to beat them to the ’dramatic’ moment when the bodies were
Surely, in some executive office of a major TV station, someone will be
talking about the need in the future for common-sense coverage when
stories even as exceptional as this one break. It sends the wrong
message out to the public if whole days can go by without providing
alternative news and reverting to normal programming. What is wrong with
the good, old-fashioned bulletin?
Nor have the newspapers fared much better. As well as feeding their own
story with coverage, for example, of the flowers at the Kennedy
compound, their disregard for the other tragedies that this story
involved was extraordinarily insensitive. Imagine being the mother of
those daughters: half your family is wiped out, and the media is
speculating that it’s their fault, the eldest daughter for being late;
the wife, for allegedly persuading JFK, Jr. to fly at night. Journalists
are supposed to deal in fact, not opinion.
And to blame the daughters is like blaming the friend of a driver who
gets in his car under the influence of alcohol. Like celebrities who
play football on ski slopes or take drugs to excess, JFK, Jr. took a
risk and paid the price. The greater tragedy is that unlike the
self-inflicted death of his two cousins, this one brought about other
But perhaps most sickening of all was the money thrown at ’expert
witnesses.’ Reporters are always holier than thou about checkbook
journalism. But the thought that so-called pals could be paid dollars
10,000 by a TV station to comment and react to his friend’s death sticks
in the throat. Not surprisingly Doug Brinkley, the contributing editor
of George, is an instant pariah in his home town. Where will it end if
’expert witnesses’ are routinely paid in the frenzy for information?
What chance would there be for objectivity?