ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” article. It is an editorial by the editor.
“Now y’see. That’s what’s wrong with this country.” — Ross Perot, campaigning for president in 1992
I’ve been in the business of community journalism for almost 50 years, and along the way I have come to despise celebrity journalism almost as much as marketing and advertising.
This unpleasantness resurfaced this past week with the news of the deaths of actress-comedian Betty White and football coach-broadcaster John Madden.
Don’t get wrong, When it comes to news about famous people who died, these two are about as deserving as anyone else in the genre, both being terrific contributors to our quality of life in the latter part of the 20th century and the early part of the 21st.
My real beef is with my brethren in the media, who go overboard in their treatment of news of the rich and famous. In their quest to give readers what they want, they serve up a lot of unimportant tripe and trivia, at the expense of news we need to know.
My point is this: We have become so obsessed as a culture with celebrities that their influence as ability to persuade us to do or buy things is out of control. Good examples are the horribly flawed quarterback Aaron Rodgers selling insurance, Stephanie Courtney, aka Flo for Progressive insurance, Lily from A T & T and all those jocks who convinced us years ago that Lite Beer from Miller was not a sissy adult beverage for the ladies.
To be sure, celebrities hawking products and services, whether they use them or not, has been going on for more than a century. And we, the naïve and unsuspecting public are the suckers persuaded to part with our hard-earned dollars and cents at their suggestions.
But things have gotten even worse in the celebrity influence game, and there have been consequences. We have been snookered, we have been flim-flammed by the rich and famous who have sought political office.
The latest examples are the omnipresent Dr. Oz, who has his own syndicated afternoon show that seems to be more of an infomercial than anything else, and former football star running back Herschel Walker, who has as good a grasp of American politics as a McDonald’s burger flipper whom he once ordered, “First my Big Meal, then the Adidas deal.”
There have been others who have taken advantage of name recognition while running for office, and I fail to understand how their elections made the lives of Americans any better:
• Fred Grandy, better known as “Gopher” in “The Love Boat,” was elected to Congress.
• Clint Eastwood was elected mayor of a small town in California. I don’t recall him doing anything to help anyone, except perhaps those who helped elect him with wads of money.
• Sonny Bono, the uglier half of Sonny and Cher, who was elected in 1994 to Congress.
• George Murphy, a song and dance man from movies of the 1940s and ‘50s, elected to the Senate in California.
• Arnold Swartzenegger, governor of California, who fell far short of his amazing exploits on film.
• Al Franken, U.S. Senator from Minnesota, though he showed a modicum of intelligence and political understanding before being shown the door.
• Bill Bradley, New York Knicks basketball star, though also demonstrated intelligence with his Rhodes Scholar designation and an alum of Princeton.
Developments like these prompt me to be very cautious of being cooperative with public relations attempts of famous politicians who generally only show up here for the publicity and, as we say in the business, a photo-op.
For example, I did relent on an appearance this past fall of Lt. Gov. Garlen Gilchrist in Martin, because I don’t recall that little burg and school district ever being visited by a mucky-muck.
Virtually all politicians try to take advantage of their fame by just showing up for the photo-op whenever the opportunity presents itself. That’s how you get re-elected. Gov. Whitmer has done it a lot, and she’s only one of a massive number of politcos who practice the public relations fame game.
The crime is that we collectively take notice.
And that was the genius of Donald Trump. He understood marketing and public relations to the point that the media took notice of and reported on every little thing he did. And he knew that dark secret that “Negative press is better than no press.”
The losers too often are the ones who are not known.