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the price is publicity
but should it be?
by katherine l (aka clevertitania) (@CleverTitania)

In this week's New Statesman, the actor Hugh Grant secretly records the former News of the World journalist Paul McMullan discussing phone-hacking and David Cameron's relationship with the Murdochs and News International.

In the transcript, McMullan also reveals how Cameron and the News International chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, would often go horse riding together.

That is the excerpt directly from the original website copy on this interview. My posted comment on the full article is below.

A fascinating piece on a fascinating conversation. And I think this is where the pendulum swings on the privacy of 'celebrities'. There's a big arc between his perspective and yours, and most people fall somewhere in between. But frankly, I find the justification of being anywhere but on the far end of your argument to be distasteful.

I felt a need to elaborate the moment I wrote this, because frankly, it felt woefully incomplete.

It does seem to be one of those socially acceptable ways to be a tool, the 'separate rules for celebrities' mentality. It's this perception that - because they do tend to have money and influence - they don't deserve a basic human right like privacy (notice I said human not constitutional). It's like how it's OK to make fun of fat people, because it's their own fault they're fat (though in some cases this is highly debatable), and so they apparently forfeit the right to be treated with respect until they get to a socially acceptable Body-Mass-Index.

Or maybe it's the presumption that it creates balance. For instance, the really famous (which usually means extra rich) celebrities can buy any car they want, so they should have to deal with paparazzi trying to sneak into their garden. Or they don't have to worry about making the mortgage the way we all do, so it's only fair that their every mistake should be up for public scrutiny and commentary.

Now I admit, I do see things as being slightly different between an actor and a politician. As an actor, your work is already affected by how you treat your public, both in terms of the work you give them for consumption and how you interact with your fan base. But for a politician, their work is even more the property (by proxy) of the people they serve. They are essentially just public employees, and their professional lives should be up for a fair amount of scrutiny. And I do think there has to be a limit to their expectation of privacy, though only when it comes to their professional lives. Plus, one does have to admit that journalists have been responsible for unveiling political corruption for years, and I'm sure some form of surveillance was involved in many of those investigations.

Is there an argument - for instance - that there should be laws allowing surreptitious recording of politicians and/or government employees? Well, that's tricky. It could be argued that a legitimate investigative journalist might have a valid use for that type of surveillance, if their intention was to uncover definitive evidence of malfeasance and not just smear them with something embarrassing.

So here's an idea, what about warrants for journalistic wire taps? What if a journalist could provide a judge evidence that he/she has reasonable suspicion the individual is doing something against the public good, or contrary to the expectations of their job, or illegal. Why shouldn't journalists have legal channels for gathering this information, if they are serving the public good in this instance. And yeah, maybe they're also using their jobs to make a name and further their career, but the same could be said for some District Attorney's. Everything has a little politics in it. As long as they can show they're trying to inform the public about behavior they have a business knowing, there should be legal ways to gather that information. Mind you, I know it won't happen, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't.

Notice that earlier; I didn't say immoral. Morals are tricky beasts (do a Google on "ethics morals" sometime, you'll get a headache by the 3rd link). They are almost exclusively about personal and private issues, and that's going past the scope of a public officials duties to the public. I don't care what anyone wants to say about Clinton, and his arguments about the definition of the word "is"; not a single member of the general public was affected by him getting a blow job.

What about all those morally outraged people, you'll say, who were emotionally devastated to find out their president had broken his wedding vows. Well they weren't outraged or offended until someone told them it happened. They weren't affected by the blow job, just by hearing that there was a blow job. The most you can get mad at Clinton for is not hiding it better. Well that and a really lame grammatical defense.

And this brings us back around to the defense of the way people in the public eye are treated. I can easily support the argument that, if you're going to get into certain careers, you had better be prepared to deal with excessive scrutiny - especially from tabloid journalism. But that's about being informed and aware of the inevitable, not agreeing that it should be an acceptable form of treatment for a human being.

I admit, like many others I enjoy hearing about some of the private lives of artists I enjoy. But as I've said before, it's about there being a line that I don't want to cross. Just like with friends and acquaintances, I don't expect to know anything about their private life they aren't willing to share. Frankly, it's another thing I like about Twitter, I only get to see what they're comfortable talking about/showing. I don't have to wonder where the line is; they maintain it themselves. But I also avoid the people who over-share in that tabloid kind of way. I have been a fan of Charlie Sheen (Men At Work is classic) over the years, but you won't find him on my Following list anymore than you'll find his podcast in my browser history. I have no desire to watch him spiral out of control, thanks.

But in what universe would it be acceptable for me to be genuinely mad that David Boreanaz (for instance) doesn't tweet and tell us all about his day/life? And worse yet, how does it become 'fair' and 'reasonable' that some reporter should get to follow him and his family around all day long - trying to take pictures of them and generally getting in the way at the best of times - just so I can get the information he chooses not to share? And all this because the job he has - which I assume provides very well for his family - involves entertaining a lot of people? If you can give me a truly logical and moral justification for that argument, I'd love to hear it, because it's unfathomable to me.

Taking a job that might involve being famous one day should not be seen as some Faustian deal where you trade away the right to have a private life. It also shouldn't mean everything you do is now the business of the public or that every choice you've ever made should be part of the general discussion of the entire world. Just because communication has gone global doesn't mean we have any business discussing the mistakes of some person we've seen in some movies. If Twitter had existed during the time of the Divine Brown incident, I shudder to imagine what it would've been like. But fortunately it didn't exist, and all I had to see was a few tabloid front pages at the grocery store.

But I am glad Twitter is around now to help spread the word about just how far the media will go to both control and disseminate information. I'm glad it's around to let me tweet about the day Hugh Grant turned the tables a bit.


When I grow up, I want to be; whoever Joss Whedon wants to be, when he grows up. I am a writer because it's the first thing I want to do when I wake up in the morning; aside from eating and using the lavatory of course. My work includes screenplays, short stories, film/TV/music reviews and socio-political commentary. The last one is a fancy way of saying I like to shoot my mouth off on many topics. I excel at using $1.50 words. They gone up, thanks to inflation. Isn't our economy awesome?

more about katherine l (aka clevertitania)


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topic: news
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