Media outlets blur definition of "newsworthy"

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

Want to start a good argument? Ask someone, "What is 'truth?'"

"Truth" is an elusive thing. For the members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, the "truth" means that God is allowing American soldiers to die because this country is more tolerant of gay people than it was 20 or 30 years ago.

Their truth is not my truth.

In the media world, you can start a healthy discussion about what is "news" and right now there are many people talking about whether or not the whole Charlie Sheen story is actually news — news at least worthy enough of all of the attention it has be receiving.

For this drug and booze-addled actor, whose biggest stretch for years has been essentially playing himself — and becoming one of the highest paid performers on television in the mean time — one might imagine the publicity would be damning.

His network, CBS, has pulled the plug on his show, "Two and a Half Men." I doubt many producers would see him as employable at this point. He's become the male Lindsay Lohan.

Sheen is a lot smarter than Lohan, though. Sheen is playing the media like a musical instrument. He has been canny enough to be completely outrageous and totally accessible to the press.

And a big TV star currently living with two women — one a former porn star — who wants to talk about his "winning" lifestyle is the kind of easy, cheap-to-produce "news" of which many editors in this cash-strapped media era dream.

Is Sheen news to me? It's not front-page news and not a story deserving of an hour of "20/20," that's for sure. Entertainment page stuff, sure.

Once again my truth would be different than my colleagues at other media outlets.

But then again, I don't think a local television newscast should include a segment during which the two anchors chitchat about comments people have made on the station's Facebook page.

That's not news, either.

***


In last week's column, I wrote in part about the $7 million paid by the Department of Defense (DoD) to NASCAR. Naturally, several readers criticized me for my daring to question this expenditure and for having an apparent anti-military stance. Since I'm a liberal I have to be against the military, right?

Wrong. I come from a military family. I respect and understand first-hand the sacrifices people make for this country.

I am against the wasting of money, though, and according to the fiscal year 2011 budget estimate from the Department of Defense , more than $2 billion was allocated for recruitment advertising and marketing.

In a release from the DoD Web site, dated Feb. 15, I learned that, "Fiscal Year 2011 recruitment and retention remained high throughout the services through January, with all active and reserve-component services meeting their recruiting goals, Pentagon officials announced today . All four active-duty services met or exceeded their numerical recruitment goals through January. As of Feb. 1, the Army had 21,485 new recruits for fiscal 2011. The Navy had 9,651, the Air Force had 8,526, and 9,550 people had signed up for the Marine Corps."

According to the release, the reserves met their goal also.

Please don't tell me the disputed $7 million to NASCAR played a vital role in encouraging young people to join. It's a drop in the bucket.

People join the military out of a variety of reasons: patriotism, an interest in a career or economic conditions.

Perhaps it is time, though, to examine a sum as large as $2 billion to see if it is necessary to spend that much on recruitment.

In the window of the recruitment station in downtown Springfield, there is one poster that cuts to the heart of the matter. It's the classic James Montgomery Flagg's Uncle Sam with the caption, "I want you to know I'm hiring."

Hey, agree with me? Disagree? Drop me a line at news@thereminder.com or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.

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