The melodrama surrounding Paris Hilton shows how perverse news reporting has become. It boggles the mind that newsworthy items of great importance are pushed to the background in order to cover someone who impacts society in no positive way and has no obvious talent other than getting in the news.
Who is Paris Hilton? And what has she done to warrant such extensive coverage? Apart from being born to opulent wealth and starring in a homemade sex video, reality TV series, minor film roles and a self-titled music album, there is little that sets this 26-year-old DUI offender apart from the mass of poseurs that haunt the pages of celebrity gossip magazines.
I'm not trying to belittle Hilton, who may be a closet humanitarian when she's not driving drunk or cat-fighting with the likes of Nicole Richie or Lindsay Lohan. However, as news producers are fond of reminding us, there is only so much airtime available for breaking news (I was once bumped from a major nightly news show in order to make room for breaking news on the death of the Clintons' dog, Buddy). This leads one to wonder what real news is getting cut so that television news programs and newspapers can devote endless hours and print space to Paris Hilton trivia. Let me count the ways.
Terrorism. According to the Department of Homeland Security, we're running a Code Orange on our domestic and international flights right now, which means that we're facing a "high risk of terrorist attacks." Yet, incredibly, Hilton's release from jail and subsequent re-imprisonment has received more coverage than the plot to blow up JFK airport.
The war in Iraq. Even with American troops and Iraqi civilians dying on a daily basis, Operation Iraqi Freedom receives minimal coverage by the media. We rarely hear the names of our fallen soldiers—they are treated as the anonymous dead—nor do we hear anything about their lives or family members. Yet we've been treated to an excruciating amount of minutiae about Hilton's first few days in jail—from the dryness of her skin (because there's no cream in jail) to her attire (an orange and brown jumpsuit) and activities (she plays ping pong when she's not in her room alone). Hilton's "horrible experience," in which she didn't eat, sleep, was severely depressed and felt like she was "in a cage," even merited an "exclusive" interview with Barbara Walters.
Operation Enduring Freedom. The war in Afghanistan has been dragging on for close to six years, and yet we rarely hear much about it anymore. This is despite the fact that Congress has appropriated about $510 billion thus far for Iraq, Afghanistan and other security concerns.
The genocide in Darfur. It is estimated that there have been 400,000 deaths and more than two million people forced into substandard refugee camps. Is Paris Hilton more important than the starvation, rape and mass killings of innocent civilians?
AIDS in Africa. According to former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, between 1999 and 2000, more people died of AIDS in Africa than in all the wars on that continent, including Angola, Sierra Leone, Congo, Congo-Brazzaville, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. UNAIDS estimated that worldwide at the end of 2006, there were 39.5 million people living with HIV, 4.3 million new infections of HIV and 2.9 million deaths from AIDS. Sadly, over two-thirds of HIV cases, and over 80% of the deaths, were in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Immigration is one of the more staggering problems facing this country in terms of security and its economic future, and yet we only occasionally hear updates on possible legislation. And whatever happened to our supposed rebuilding of New Orleans after Katrina? There are people living in tents and on the streets of New Orleans, but how many of us know it? And although many Americans won't be taking a vacation this summer because they can't afford the gas prices, there's little analytical reporting on why we're getting bilked at the gas pump.
These are just a smattering of the issues that should be getting better coverage but aren't. And why is that? Largely because we live in a celebrity-obsessed culture where those writing, reporting and producing the news are more concerned with the antics of so-called celebrities such as Paris Hilton than they are with reporting on the issues that affect the lives of mainstream Americans.
But those who are consumed with such trivia are really at fault here. As a result, we no longer know what's going on in our own country, let alone the world. And it's a crying shame.
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about the Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.