Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Washington Post and Personal Affairs

I usually have a problem with the news media airing most people's personal problems, especially those stories that involve family tensions. Like it or not, I expect that crap from the celebrity shows and magazines, but not from respectable newspapers.

In the case of politicians, the argument is made that knowledge of a person's problems can help voters make determinations based upon issues of (perceived) character. Unless the story involves abuse of power or some criminal activity or something of the like, I think that argument is a load of crap: most such stories are published to satisfy people's voyeuristic instincts or to either put forward or buttress some overarching belief (true or not) about the person in question. The support for reporting on personal problems of pop culture celebrities is even shakier and is nearly non-existent in the case of near- or former-celebrities, especially those in such position through no effort (or fault) of their own.

The story in the Washington Post about Rod Langway's estrangement from his daughter made for an interesting reading exercise: I knew it was none of my business and I was upset that the Post would feel comfortable publishing such a story involving people mostly outside of the public eye (yes, Langway is still a minor sports legend and still makes the rare public appearance) and where the emotions are still raw and far from being resolved. And yet, despite all that, I kept reading all the way to the end, fascinated, which is more than likely all the justification needed by the Post for printing the story.

I don't know Langway or his family. Really, I shouldn't care about them or their personal struggles. And yet, I now find myself having a very poor opinion of the daughter and her mother for being so willing to air their family's dirty laundry in such a manner, which, by the way, strikes me as merely another attempt to ambush Langway and then cry about his surprised and resentful reaction afterwards. The mother and daughter seem to define dysfunction.

I also have sympathy for Langway for what appears to be his (by contrast, at least) reticence on the matter, especially regarding whatever incident(s) lead to the dissolution of the relationship in the first place and his seeming concern for how that story will impact his daughter. I don't know these people and shouldn't really care, but here I am forming some strong opinions about them based upon a newspaper story relating a single troubling aspect of their lives. Such a strange phenomenon, both from the perspective of a reader learning about someone else's personal business as well as from the viewpoint of the average Joan who decides that she wants everyone to know about a personal and painful (and on-going!) affair.

At the other end of the trashy celebrity news spectrum, we have this Washington Post profile on Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the Virginia couple who somehow gained entrance to the state dinner at the White House and greeted President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Singh. This story is amusingly full of unseemly details about the couple: much of the information is public but there is enough personal to make it an exceedingly uncomfortable news story for the couple and their family and friends. You've got family squabbles, financial difficulties, untruthful self-promotion, and charges of bad character. Excluding the information regarding possible fraud, this is a very personal story that normally would serve to do little beyond embarrass the subjects and instill readers with a bit of Schadenfreude. But the difference between this story and the Langway article is simply that the Salahis are celebrity chasers and celebrity wannabes. They're starfuckers. And appropriately enough, their latest stunt (but by no means their most outrageous: read the article's account of Tariq's supposed children's charity fundraisers) has resulted in the celebrity they've wanted while also ensuring that they've screwed themselves quite royally. Really, it couldn't possibly happen to a more deserving couple. In contrast to the Langway story, there are no feelings of guilt or embarrassment associated with reading this story of another family's troubles, though those problems have been, to varying degrees, self-induced.

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