The drought of news on Britney Spears, an obscure and underreported pop star, has finally reached a merciful end.
Last week, Gawker obtained a same-day internal memorandum, written by Frank Baker, Associated Press Los Angeles Assistant Bureau Chief, in which he announces, “Now and for the foreseeable future, virtually everything involving Britney is a big deal.”
Of course, since the AP feeds every major news outlet in our country, this means more Britney Spears coverage for all of us. Already demonstrating its dedication to this reportorial call-to-arms, on the day of Baker’s memo alone, the AP covered not only how Ms. Spears had missed her scheduled custody hearing, but, even more pressing, how she lost her car. And just yesterday comes news the AP, two steps ahead of the Grim Reaper, has already prepared Ms. Spears’ obituary. (“Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted” be damned. The AP has opted for the more industrious Boy Scout motto: “Be prepared.")
The rest of Baker’s memo went to say, “That doesn’t mean every rumor makes it on the wire. But it does mean that we want to pay attention to what others are reporting and seek to confirm those stories that WE feel warrant the wire. And when we determine that we’ll write something, we must expedite it. Thanks.”
It’s heartening to know that Baker and the AP won’t send “every rumor” over the wire. Such integrity-driven lines in the sand are surely the last barrier between professional journalism and the fetid, bottom-feeding, brain-dead fare of less serious news outlets.
Kudos, Mr. Baker!
And while the AP and Baker have taken some heat for this move, it’s only fair to point out the AP’s valiant, cold turkey effort to break its addiction to reporting on Paris Hilton, a forgotten weeklong struggle that began on Feb. 19, 2007, at the end of which the newswire king - conjuring images of night sweats and hallucinations of giant babies crawling on ceilings - reported, “We didn’t cover her weekend birthday bash in Las Vegas.” In its battle with the demons of newsworthiness, the AP also noted, “During ‘blackout week,’ the AP didn’t mention Hilton’s second birthday party at a Beverly Hills restaurant, at which a drunken friend reportedly was ejected by security after insulting Paula Abdul and Courtney Love. And editors asked our Puerto Rico bureau not to write about her visit there to hawk her fragrance.”
Imagine the journalistic restraint marshaled here. A second Paris birthday party. A drunk friend sent home. Abdul. Courtney Love. And a new Paris perfume. Still, the AP, like a monk getting a lap dance from Angelina Jolie, wavered not. And certainly it’s this kind of iron will that makes Frank Baker’s current promise not to report on every rumor about Britney something we can put in the bank.
Though, in the end, the monkey on the AP’s back was an unrelenting, pitiless temptress. While the weeklong moratorium was an admirable goal, Paris Hilton, an infinite source of news that impacts all of our lives, proved too strong. Before the week’s end, the AP admitted, “However, her name did slip into copy unintentionally three times, as background: in stories about Britney Spears, Nicole Richie, and even in the lead of a story about Democrats in Las Vegas.”
Nevertheless, this historic journalistic effort – worthy of the industry’s highest accolades - must never be forgotten. For if quitting cigarettes is, as the medical community has noted for years, as difficult as kicking heroin, then the AP’s addiction to Paris and Britney and the infinite pool of talentless, vapid Americans famous for being famous can only be compared to, say, a speedball of cocaine and heroin, or, possibly, the largest hunk of journalistic crack ever smoked in the western hemisphere.
So before throwing stones at the AP’s dedication to broader Britney coverage, maybe it’s time to look at some of our country’s other long-celebrated but comfortable-in-their-own-skin addicts - Keith Richards, Greta Van Susteren, Dean Martin, Larry King, William Burroughs, Nancy Grace, John Bottom, Geraldo Rivera, Jonah Goldberg, Cheech and Chong, Maureen Dowd, Timothy Leary, Bill O'Reilly – and commend the AP for finally embracing William Shakespeare's sage words: “To thine own self be true.”