Celebrity Deaths

by Jimmie Turner

John Kennedy Jr., Jon Benet Ramsey, Princess Diana, Payne Stewart, anybody who has watched the news or picked up a newspaper within the last three years knows who all of these people are. When a celebrity dies it seems that the media dwells on the topic for weeks in an unnecessary and often invasive manner.

When John Kennedy Jr. died the media grabbed at the story like a pack of wolves. Anytime a Kennedy was out in public, even before the death, he could not be let alone. With the death of a family member there were reporters all over the place. This could only have made the grieving process worse. Sitting at home one morning, I saw on every major channel a view of the burial at sea ceremonies. An hour telecast of a ship sitting off the coast of Massachusetts. Ridiculous! Even more disgusting were the interviews with people who had met Kennedy once or twice. They talked like they had known him like a brother: "John wanted to live a life out of politics", "John wanted this or that", "He loved his family." It is sick that people would do this to get on television. All of Kennedy’s true friends were mourning the loss of a friend, not clawing at the media attention.

Another problem with the media is the order of importance that certain things have. For example, one night a few weeks ago while watching the news. The parliament of Lithuania had just been attacked by gunmen the day before. This was not mentioned until twenty minutes into the half hour show. This should have been a leading story. What is even worse is the news that preceded it the sale of the dress that Marilyn Monroe wore when she sang "Happy Birthday" to president JFK. Important items that the producers do not think of as big news are frequently brushed aside. Another example of ignored topics is the war in Chechnya, a Russian province. The Russians are bombing this province, taking over the cities, and killing hundreds of people. Yet, I have not seen the nightly coverage one would expect for an incident like this.

The problem not only lies in how the media handles the problems, but the government also mandates some questionable tactics when celebrities die. Going back to John Kennedy Jr’s crash, millions were spent in trying to find the wreckage and the bodies to confirm it. Such a large amount of money should not be spent on the crash of a private jet. When Payne Stewart died in the plane crash a few weeks ago President Clinton said that he was heartbroken at the loss of the golf legend. That is a really thoughtful thing to say, but in the end Clinton lost points because five other people died in that crash. The impression was given that only celebrities are worth mentioning. That is wrong and unfair.

There is no obvious remedy for this problem. We cannot boycott the evening news, and nobody is going to yell at the president for misspeaking. The perpetrators have to recognize their faults and do something to fix them. Being aware of the problem is the most important step.

This article appeared in the November 1999 edition of the Suitland High Echo
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Updated 06/18/00.