Wednesday, January 23, 2008

THIS is what passes for reporting these days?

Or, How I'm glad I got out of the news biz when I did.

Unless you've been living in a cave the past couple of days, you know actor Heath Ledger died on Tuesday afternoon at his home in Manhattan. Apart from that, really, we don't know much of anything yet, as an initial autopsy was inconclusive and toxicology and histology reports will take 10-14 days to complete.

BUT - if you've been watching American news, you will have heard:

1. The apartment he was renting was owned by Mary-Kate Olsen (later disproved)
2. Ledger committed suicide (undetermined, but no note or other "suicide markers" according to police)
3. Drug paraphenalia, including a rolled up $20 bill with drug residue, was found at the scene (not true, say police. While a rolled $20 bill was found, tests show no drug residue of any kind; police statement says no illegal drugs or liquor found in the apartment.)
4. Sleeping pills were "strewn about" the room (not so, say police. Prescription medications were found, but not strewn about)
5.'s article on his passing is titled "Heath Ledger: Star in Distress". Really? Distress? Based on what, exactly? The article doesn't explain.
6. Ledger's physical discomfort with being interviewed may have been the result of a drug problem (as opposed to being shy and not interested in the celebrity game, which was the line on him until Tuesday morning)

Now, it may well be that when those reports come in, the levels of toxins in his body may well support one or more of the prevailing theories being tossed around. But that doesn't make the theories true RIGHT NOW. Right now, everything is speculation, backed with every tabloid's best friend, the unnamed source.

It used to be a rule in the journalism business that you didn't publish anything without two named sources confirming the information. How quaint and old-school a concept. It's one thing for tabloids to sensationalize something like this to sell magazines or boost viewership, but when the odious Nancy Grace dedicates an hour on CNN (which is supposed to be an all-news station, but is moving more and more to being the electronic equivalent of the News of The World [can alien photos really be far behind?]) to interviewing people like the editor of In Touch magazine about Ledger's "well-known substance abuse problem", the end of days is truly nigh.

Everywhere, it seems, unnamed sources "close to the family" are running their disrespectful mouths off about all manner of far-flung scenarios without any actual information to back any of it up. We used to call this "gossip". Now apparently, it's "news".

I feel like I need to take an extra-long shower.

For those of you who might prefer to remember Ledger's work, instead of the lurid speculation of this week, here's an article from Slate:

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

We interrupt this program....

Please bear with me. For Christmas, my home computer decided its gift to me would be to die unexpectedly, so it has been shipped out to Edmonton for repair or burial (a diagnosis is pending). So there won't be any posts for a while, but I will be back eventually....patience is one of those New Year's resolutions we can all work on in the interim...