Scooping the Celebrity Scandal: To Wait For the Facts ... or Not

I don’t know anyone who watches Piers Morgan on CNN because he’s a great interviewer, although sometimes he does conduct some good ones. I watch his show when the network announces that an interesting guest will be on, like William Shatner. I actually enjoyed the interview Morgan did that night with Shatner. He was sufficiently good that it made me want to watch again to what great questions he’d ask.

Most nights though, Morgan falls victim to what his predecessor Larry King fell victim to: losing his voice, which subsequently cost him an audience.Having come from helming tabloids The Sun and Daily Mirror, I can’t easily discern why CNN hired him to replace King if, in fact, the network wants to maintain a stance as a credible outlet. That integrity dropped a notch when I discovered the network honchos hired the scandalized former New York governor Eliot Spitzer as a commentator and gave him a talk show.

Gossip, scandal, and talk shows make for juicy stories but are not the ingredients a credible news outlet use to build its programming. The lack of neutrality is why many viewers don’t watch Fox. I only watch Fox because I know I can expect a good representation of what the Republican Party thinks of the Democrats and for no other reason.

Morgan has to accomplish more than leaving “America’s Got Talent” to work buoying on his floundering talk show. This was painfully evident after news broke of Whitney Houston’s death. I felt as though while reporting on it he struggled between getting the juice and getting the story. I likened this to when nearly 15 years ago Carol Marin resigned over the hiring of Jerry Springer on NBC, the station she was working for. Make no mistake: she knew where her reporting priorities lie—and they didn’t include baby-mamas and who’s-your-daddy talk shows.

Last night, watching Morgan talk with Houston’s songwriter Diane Warren and new-age guru Deepak Chopra, I felt he was trying too hard to push a story where there isn't one—or one that is still developing—regardless, of one’s desire to be the first to break the news.

I didn’t watch the night before when he had Chaka Khan on, but the next night he played a snippet of the Chaka Khan interview talking about Whitney Houston. She was essentially placing blame on the person who flew Whitney out for the Grammy Awards ceremony and saying that whoever that person was should have looked after her and not let her drink….

As a media consultant, journalist, and interviewer, I was thinking many things throughout the 15 minutes or so I stomached watching this fiasco of a telecast: Morgan was interrupting Warren too much when she wasn’t giving him the answers to support the theory of blame on anyone other than Houston for her own demise. In this vain, he was acting too much like a tabloid or gossip reporter, trying to angle the story when all the facts aren’t yet clear on how Houston died. A lawyer would call these leading questions.

I cringed so much while watching the show that I eventually stopped watching. I sympathize with him in a way because as a journalist who follows both sides, investigative and yellow journalism, it’s a hard choice to make for a reporter like Morgan, with his roots and the latter genre being the bigger seller. That’s why reality TV is so popular: because the public is nosy. Dare I reaffirm, Inquiring minds want to know.

But I know this is some of why the show is struggling is he isn’t consistent. Is he trying to be neutral or does he want his audience to know he has a view?

Such behavior isn’t as becoming on a man. The public expects stereotypically for women to gossip. Sad but true. That’s why “The View” is so popular: The program shows a bunch of women whose perspectives are slanted.

Sure there’s that “catfight” element everyone hates to admit they love.

But there are also enough opinions that the viewer doesn’t feel hit over the head to side one way or the other. The show displays the best of both worlds.

I agree when Chopra said that handling a celebrity client with an addiction is complicated. This begs the question of whether at some point publicists will start working with psychologists and doctors to better serve their celebrity clients. But really it isn’t the publicist’s job, and then to some degree it is to help the celebrity with his/her image. But how does the publicist temper between hands-on and hands-off when the client is an adult? Or perhaps when the celebrity doesn't want or shuns help. How much intervention is too much?

Warren was right when in response to Morgan trying to coax her to lay blame on Houston’s “handlers”—whoever they are—she said some people (around Houston) may not have enough education to know how to handle such a fragile and complex situation. The closest person I can think of to being a celebrity caretaker is a celebrity’s manager or personal assistant. That person really is closer to the celebrity than a publicist. But his/her experience didn’t used to dictate anything other than needing to spin a volatile situation. Ultimately, the addict has to want to really get better and reach for help.

It really is complex—much too convoluted for Morgan to reduce it to laying blame to any one person, including Houston herself. There are so many factors as to why Houston wound up dead. A good majority of I’m sure due to the pressure she felt to continually produce great music as she did at the peak of her success, as well as the pedestal the public puts celebrities on so that the fall to the floor is far and hard recovery is nothing less than daunting. I can recite the perils on and on. Fame isn’t for the faint at heart, especially those who really have to work for it—I don’t know that I count Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton among them.

I think the better story here is what are the handlers (more so the publicists and managers) who really are supposed the have the celebrity’s interest at heart are going to now start treating their clients. Will this change be industry wide?

I say this more so than the doctors because celebrities only go to doctors when they feel something is wrong, whereas publicists and managers see the celebrity on a more ongoing basis. What should go on with those people who see them every day?

Those people don’t necessarily take an oath the way doctors must to treat their clients responsibly. Will this make publicists and managers take on a greater responsibility of intervention? Or will they find it isn’t worth the hassle to “babysit” a celebrity?

Movie producers relinquish that responsibility all the time when they drop an actor from a movie because he’s too risky to insure, which Robert Downey, Jr., was considered during his Ally McBeal days.... Are these two examples one and the same?

As far as Piers Morgan's reporting, if he is to sustain credibility, he should let some more of the facts on Houston come out because, to me, his behavior is undermining the CNN brand.

Since we can’t get away from the speculation on how Whitney died, thanks to Piers and other reporters harping on her substance abuse—and mind you, it’s legitimate story, although, some reporters are jumping the gun on exactly how she died—I’m predicting, based on what I’m hearing, is that she accidentally drowned in the bathtub. She drowned because she fell unconscious due to the amount of alcohol mixed with a combination of prescription drugs. I want to say with 70 percent certainty that she didn’t have illegal drugs in her system.

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