Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Anna Nicole: Tragic or tasteless?

Friedman Says:
I'm not ashamed, and I'm not embarrassed. I'm just really, really curious. Someone, anyone, please tell me: What, exactly, killed Anna Nicole Smith?

I'd like to preface this column by explaining that, aside from accidentally flipping channels and landing on the former model's reality television show "The Anna Nicole Show," I have followed very little of the star's career. Sure, I know about the sudden death of her son and the birth of her now sixth-month-old daughter, but other than that, I've never been a TrimSpa customer, and I'm not one to subscribe to Playboy magazine.

So on Feb. 8 — also known as the day Anna Nicole Smith died — I was surprised when I found myself witnessing the death of a celebrity. And when I say I witnessed the death, I mean I was logged on to when the breaking news banner changed from something like "Anna Nicole Smith found unconscious in hotel room, rushed to area hospital" to "Anne Nicole Smith dead."


My stomach plummeted. I was shocked. I was upset. And since "The Girls Next Door" is (unfortunately) not a live show — and I doubt very much the three blonds would have been composed enough to issue a statement — I found myself turning on my television, searching for comforting words from who else but Larry King.

Despite ongoing coverage, including a feisty press conference with reporters praying for a confirmation that there were, in fact, drugs in her hotel room, we still know very little about her death. We have been left wondering what caused Smith's death, is her daughter OK, and most important, who is the baby's daddy?

Critics are whining — namely Mr. Gendall — that Smith should never have even made the breaking news banners, let alone become the focal point of a number of specials throughout the weekend, and that her death is pretty insignificant compared to other headline news. Further, these Smith-haters think people like me — the compassionate and the humane — shouldn't care as much as we do about Smith's life, or lack thereof.

While I don't mean to suggest Smith's death was the most important news over the weekend, I do believe it deserved some coverage — after all, Smith was named Playmate of the Year in 1993 and made a living off of being the spokeswoman for popular companies like Guess. She was often likened to Marilyn Monroe for her bleach-blond hair, pale complexion and generally mystifying aura.

What lies behind the mystery of Anna Nicole's death is nothing short of captivating, not to mention heartbreaking. The star's life was filled with tragedy upon tragedy, from the death of her child — said to be the result of a fatal concoction of prescription medications — and endless legal trouble ranging from the will of her late husband to the birth father of her newborn. On top of severe depression — many speculate her troubles intensified due to post-partum depression — Smith suffered from severe weight gain and then loss, as well as an alleged alcohol addiction — nobody can forget the star's inebriated appearance on Larry King Live.

But these personal troubles were not the same as those the star openly poked fun of herself for — and she did — but rather real-life tragedies nobody wants to face. While it is fair game to criticize her centerfold pose and maybe even her provocative appearance, there is a certain line which, following her death, should not be crossed.

Smith may not have been a great role model, her behavior was often questionable and her legal battles were not hard to come by, but at the end of the day, Smith was a person, and deserves to be treated as such. Her life was not easy: She was an American icon and, like many celebrities, paid for it. So stop laughing.

Gendall Says:
When I heard Anna Nicole Smith died Thursday, I thought to myself, "Oh, that's kind of sad."

I felt bad, hearing of the untimely passing of another human being — in this case, one who had spent so much of her life in the public eye. It could not have been easy, especially in the last few months while she dealt with the tragic loss of her own son.

But come on. Enough is enough. The fascination — no, obsession — of certain American media venues in covering this debacle is a disgrace to the ideals of journalism they supposedly strive to uphold.

Friday after class, I sat down to watch the national news channels — the 60-64 gauntlet here in Madison of CNN, Headline News, Fox News, CNBC and MSNBC — and what did I see but more coverage of Anna Nicole Smith. Fine, I thought. A few minutes of an hour-long news program the day after her death is understandable. But to my disgust (and to my colleague's delight), there was no end in sight. The coverage just wouldn't stop, and they kept cutting to a parking lot full of television cameras, promising immediate live coverage of a press conference as soon as it began.

After all, the autopsy is underway as we speak!

Needless to say, this isn't what I tuned in for. Then again, I guess I'm in the minority here. Clearly, covering the tragedy that is Anna Nicole Smith gets ratings, and that, of course, is what this is all about. It's capitalism, and normally I'm all for it.

But like it or not, the news industry does have a greater responsibility here. Like private universities (the University of Phoenix notwithstanding), news companies have a greater obligation than turning a profit and watching the bottom line.

And what must not be lost here is that the autopsy doesn't matter. Why Ms. Smith died doesn't matter. That she died doesn't even matter. This woman was no more significant to the American public than you or me. Unlike James Brown, whose death a month-and-a-half ago somehow merited the same coverage as President Gerald Ford, it seems people didn't even like this woman.

Picking on the cable national news media, I know, is nothing new. They're an easy scapegoat for all the problems in this country, and they have been dragged through the mud for covering everything from the murder of Laci Peterson to the Sago Mine disaster in West Virginia last year. Overall, I say, they do a fairly good job of balancing good journalism with the also-important eye toward turning a profit and ensuring the economic well-being of their companies.

But this is a new low. At least in the case of Sago, there were very real concerns about mining safety, which hits close to home in several states across this nation. There was also a continuous effort to try to save these peoples' lives, and after they died, there was a thoughtful discussion on the media's role in falsely publicizing news that the men had survived. Something significant was happening, in other words.

Ms. Smith, of course, was a celebrity, and that is the difference. I wouldn't object to around-the-clock news coverage on E!, or pages upon pages of coverage in People Magazine. Debate the future of her baby and who Ms. Smith slept with over there. That's what they're here for. But the people over at the cable news channels need to find some discipline and reclaim some journalistic integrity.

That's right: More Iraq war coverage, more Washington coverage, and more coverage of the abundance of candidates for the 2008 presidential nominations. You reported Ms. Smith died — and thank you for the update — now let her family and millions of pseudo-friends mourn in peace.

Emily Friedman is a senior majoring in journalism and legal studies. Please send your genuine and heartfelt condolences to [email protected].

Mike Gendall is a junior majoring in political science and philosophy. E-mail him your Anna Nicole Smith sob stories at [email protected].

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