Is Anna Nicole Smith Still Dead?

February 21, 2007

Posted by Jay Livingston

Britney Spears is on the front page of tabloids like the New York Post again today, though in some papers she’s competing with Anna Nicole Smith. Aren’t you tired of these stories? Do you think the Anna Nicolecoverage is way out of line with what it deserves?

You’re not alone. A poll by The Pew Research Center for People and the Press finds that the People think the Press has overdone the Anna Nicole Smith story. In the survey taken a week ago, 61% said the story had been given too much coverage. Interestingly, 8% thought Anna Nicole merited even more press. Still, more than one person in ten said it was the story they’d followed most closely (18% among younger — 18-49 — women).

Nevertheless, here we are a week later, and Anna Nicole is still on the front page, and she's one of the first stories on the 11 o’clock news. Presumably, the people in the news business know what they're doing. So if people had really had enough of the Smith story, wouldn’t they pass up the newsstand and turn off the TV? Maybe this is one of those cases where there’s a discrepancy between what we say and what we do.

I wish we had something besides survey data to find out what news stories people are interested in. Surely Google, MSN, and Yahoo keep track of which stories people are clicking on. Do they make the data available?

In the meantime, news programmers will continue to feature Anna Nicole (and Britney) , news watchers will continue to tell pollsters “enough already,” and newscasters will continue to make comments, usually off-camera, like this one by CNN reporter Jack Cafferty.

Cafferty’s question, “Is Anna Nicole Smith Still Dead” is an allusion to a news anecdote of a half-century ago. In 1952, actor John Garfield died of a heart attack, which might have been news enough since he was a handsome Hollywood star, he was only 39, and he’d been blacklisted after refusing to name names when called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

But Garfield’s death was especially newsworthy because he had suffered the heart attack while making love, and the woman he was making love to was not the woman he was married to. The press squeezed the story to the last drop of ink, playing out every possible angle.

The anecdote, at least the way I heard it, goes that on a slow news day weeks afterward, editors were sitting around a table, trying to decide on the day's headlines. Nothing in the news seemed to have the attention-grabbing juice needed for the front page.

So someone suggested, “John Garfield Still Dead.”

(A personal note: Garfield's son David went to the same college I did. We weren't buddies, but we knew one another by name. In Googling around for this post, I discovered that David, like his father, became an actor, and like his father he died of a heart attack. He was 52.)

1 comment:

maxliving said...

This could be similar to political attack ads. Nobody actually says they like them, but it turns out that they work. People may turn up their noses at the tabloids, but obviously people buy them, otherwise they'd run something else.

Also, I thought the "So and so is still dead" line came from SNL, which had the line: "Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead," parodying the regular media, who had constantly updated in the many weeks (months?) that he was dying that he was "still alive."