Posted on March 6, 2007 in Articles
Most elementary school teachers will tell you a simple fact about the relationship between positive and negative attention and the continuation of behavior, good and bad. When you acknowledge and give attention to negative behavior as much as you do to positive behavior, you tacitly endorse negative behavior. In the end, the child becomes disinterested in the exact nature of attention, and simply pursues attention for its own sake.
Enter Paris Hilton and Ann Coulter, the quintessential attention whores. While Hilton has the predisposition to open her legs on the moments notice of being in the proximity of a flash bulb, Coulter decidedly opens her mouth when the cameras are rolling. For Hilton, doing coke, getting DUI’s, and having blowjobs night-vision video taped is the standard; for Coulter, it is insulting the widows of 9/11, referring to Muslims as rag-heads, and most recently, calling John Edwards a ‘faggot’.
The problem with the situation wasn’t Ann Coulter necessarily, but the amount of response to her absurdity. After years of hearing a neighbor’s nocturnal dog, the media and blogospheres reaction was as if being unexpectedly stirred from slumber by the barks and yelps of the canine. Much like a poorly trained dog or poorly raised child, the satisfaction of Coulter and Hilton grows as the uproar continues. They suffer from the same disease of needing to satiate their egos with the media attention they believe is deserved. In this addiction, they do not care who they hurt, what they say, or what they have to do, the end prize is the pursuit and capture of attention, no matter how negative or repugnant.
The lesson was learned apparently, later rather than sooner, by the Associated Press. Reported by CNN, the AP decidedly ‘blacked out’ Paris Hilton from media reports for a week and promptly was arrested for driving under the influence the following week:
So you may have heard: Paris Hilton was ticketed the other day for driving with a suspended license. Not huge news, even by celebrity-gossip standards. Here at The Associated Press, we put out an initial item of some 300 words. But it actually meant more to us than that. It meant the end of our experimental blackout on news about Paris Hilton.
It was only meant to be a weeklong ban — not the boldest of journalistic initiatives, and one, we realized, that might seem hypocritical once it ended. And it wasn’t based on a view of what the public should be focusing on — the war in Iraq, for example, or the upcoming election of the next leader of the free world, as opposed to the doings of a partygoing celebrity heiress/reality TV star most famous for a grainy sex video.
No, editors just wanted to see what would happen if we didn’t cover this media phenomenon, this creature of the Internet gossip age, for a full week. After that, we’d take it day by day. Would anyone care? Would anyone notice? And would that tell us something interesting?
It turned out that people noticed plenty — but not in the way that might have been expected. None of the thousands of media outlets that depend on AP called in asking for a Paris Hilton story. No one felt a newsworthy event had been ignored.
The media, after years of getting humans like Paris Hilton wrong, finally got it right. But it turned around in less than a month and got Ann Coulter wrong. The reaction to Ann Coulter’s ‘faggot’ episode was flawed not in the direction — almost everyone, left and right, denounced her words — but that the reaction was disparate, coming from all directions, and constantly replayed. Rather than having isolated Coulter, the story found itself on the headlines of CNN and FoxNews website, on Bill O’Reilly’s ‘The Factor’, on MSNBC, and any blog with a political bent. Essentially, Coulter was put on a pedestal — isolated but admired with attention that she did not deserve, aptly labeled by Slate as the press’ Ann Coulter problem.
In the end, there is but one lesson to learn: don’t feed the ego, especially of individuals who don’t deserve it. It’s the only way Ann Coulter and Paris Hilton will go away.