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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Monday, December 24, 2012

Why is this even news?

An American Olympic athlete has been outed for having a job on the side as an escort, and suddenly the mainstream media are all over it with what can only be described as a mix of smug moralism and hand-rubbing prurience. It escapes me why prying into someone's private life in this way is considered to be in the public interest, or "newsworthy", why it is thought that the person concerned necessarily has anything to be ashamed of, or why she is now supposed to go through a period of publicly acting contrite and humbled. Perhaps she really does feel that way, but we see this happen so often in such cases that it looks awfully like a constructed PR narrative... at best. And at worst something like the outcome of a high-tech Stalinist show trial.

If she were a politician trying to make people's lives miserable by imposing an oppressive morality on them by an exercise of state power, perhaps it would be worthwhile exposing her hypocrisy. Likewise, perhaps, if she were a crusading moralist with no formal political power but with political influence. But nothing like that is involved.

I hesitate even to comment on this sort of thing, but I doubt that I'm adding to her woes by carping about it on a low-traffic site such as this. I won't mention her name and add yet another hit to the huge number that could be obtained from a Google search. But this kind of public shaming ritual leaves a bad taste in my mouth.


Hal said...

I had exactly this reaction when I first read about it. I can only shake my head at what passes for significance in this country. Many years ago a fellow teacher showed me her copy of "American as a Civilization" by Michael Lerner. I looked at the title and said, "We wish."

Russell Blackford said...

Thanks, Hal - I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels this way. And alas, it's not just in the US.

Ardent Skeptic said...

I'm with you 100% on this Russell and I don't even know who this post is about. I only get my news in top headline form because I've grown tired on unnewsworthy "news". My news sources are my google alerts on my home page, "Science News" and "The Week". "The Week" is important to me because I can actually get some international news. That's rare on US TV news programs and in newspapers. I delve into a news story in more detail if it merits my attention. This kind of story passes by me without the slightest notice.

(Of course, "The Week" doesn't even begin to compare with "World Press Review", my all time favorite news magazine. I loved that magazine because it provided perspective from news sources all over the world. Unfortunately, they ceased their print version in 2004 and only publish online now. My dyslexia makes it too difficult for me to navigate those types of online publications.)

So now you might be thinking, Ardent Skeptic lives in a perpetual state of oblivion. Well, unfortunately, watching the news here wouldn't change that. Here's an example:

When the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, I was very concerned and turned on the news. My local station spent 3 minutes on what was happening in Japan. Then they went local and spent 7 minutes on a dock that had sunk and a few pleasure boats that had gotten damaged from the slightly higher tide. OUR TSUNAMi!! OH NO!! Then they cut back to the newsroom, and the imbecile they have as an anchorperson said, "Just think of those poor boat owners who stood by and watched their boats get damaged, knowing there was nothing they could do."

Nuclear meltdown in Japan with people risking radiation poisoning to protect others, and our local idiot is talking about a few boats like it's a huge tragedy!?! Utterly appalling!!! I shut it off.

Anonymous said...


Svlad Cjelli said...

"Anonymous"? Let's try this again.


ColinGavaghan said...

Quite so, Russell. This sort of bizarre staged apology for innocuous conduct is indeed becoming very common among 'celebrities'. Indeed, we had this example just a few days ago in the UK.

At my most cynical, I find myself wondering how many of us would have heard of Ms Flanagan but her high profile mea culpa, but the alternative possibility - where people are hounded by judgmental online mobs for trivial or private conduct - is probably worse.

Ardent Skeptic, your point is valid, but your emphasis of the nuclear dimension of the Japanese tsunami is itself an example of the odd priority setting that you're critiquing. Nearly 20,000 people were killed by the tsunami itself, yet it was the mere threat of a 'meltdown' that captured - and continues to capture - our attention.

Ardent Skeptic said...

I agree with your assessment, Colin. Unfortunately, it was difficult to get the facts about the earthquake and tsunami. The news focus was pretty much solely on the nuclear meltdown because it was the most sensational part of that horrendous event.

The US news doesn't much give a damn about the deaths of anyone other than US citizens. That is why headlines usually read something like "2 US citizens die in plane crash in Italy" or "5 US soldiers die in embassy raid". And, unless it's sensational, we don't spend a lot of time on what is happening outside of our borders. Initially reports are always sketchy because not all of the facts are known. If it doesn't involve US citizens or lacks sensational appeal, followup reports are very limited or non-existent.

ColinGavaghan said...

Yeah. I wish I could say the UK or NZ media are any better, ArdentSkeptic, but I fear they are guilty of exactly the same sort of bias.