Where do the media cross the line between reporting news and “pimping people’s pain for a profit”?

Photos of missing women made famous by the media.
Use of these photos for critical commentary qualifies as fair
use under U.S. copyright law. Other uses may be a copyright

It’s hard to say where and when the media started crossing the line in reporting news on one hand and exploiting the prurient appetites of the public in order to gain audience share on the other.

Some would say it began somewhat by accident with Chandra Levy whose prominence in the news seemed justifiable via her scandalous connection with U.S. Representative Gary Condit.

To the media’s surprise though, the Levy case garnered much more interest at the time than the political part of the story would have ever aroused, no doubt in large part because Chandra was white, affluent, and glamour-posed (see photo).

That unexpected experience led the media to conclude that the same kind of attention could be had on a national scale without any comparative news value IF the victim had the right demographics.

…and so we now have cases like those of Lacie Peterson, Natalee Holloway, and on and on– tragic stories for sure, but hardly worth national attention for months and even years.


Journalism is much like a car with a bad tire– it’s always heading for the ditch. One of the few things that can keep it “on the straight and narrow” is the public’s sense of decency.

That sense of decency though has now become so debilitated that very little stands in the way of simple gossip and simple prurience being merchandized under the guise of news.

In the process, the moral tone of the whole society is coarsened by nation-wide attention to individuals whose personal examples are often unworthy of positive notice on any level.

Philosophers would call it “spoiled compassion”– compassion that is “ruined” by its sheer inordinancy in the face of countervailing concerns on one hand and by its indifference to a host of more deserving objects on the other.

— historeo.com

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