Is anything private any more?

Opinion: Columns

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By John Hubbuch

News coverage in the Information Age is a lot different from the days when Chet Huntley and David Brinkley closed their 15-minute newscast by wishing each other a good night. The orgy of news coverage of the trial of the man who is charged with murdering Jennifer Hudson's sister and niece is illustrative. A private story of unspeakable loss and grief becomes part of our daily amusement. Why, we can even listen to the anguished 911 call. Over and over and over.

A violent man hurting a woman is not all that unusual in this or any other time. In fact, sadly, it happens every day in the Chicago area. No one knows. Hardly anyone cares. But Jennifer Hudson is a minor celebrity, and that somehow makes her sister's death big news.

I don't entirely blame the media. In a capitalistic world, they have to make money. If it bleeds, it leads. The line between news and entertainment is not blurred. It is obliterated. At least that's what I think when I see Dianne Sawyer introduce a piece on the evening news about a blind dog being led by a seeing eye dog. If only pigs could fly.

I blame the consuming public, but our local newspapers must also share responsibility for these invasions of privacy. I can recall a headline story about the drug bust of the child of a high school coach. Another about the arrest of a resident who was charged with abusing children. And another about a missing guy who worked on a referendum campaign. Private citizens with private nightmares.

I really don't see how these stories should be in a newspaper. I appreciate that arrests are part of the public record, but to cherry-pick the arrests most likely to pique the public's interest is crass, mean and wrong.

It's bad enough that these invasions of privacy occur. Even worse is to permit spiteful hateful commentary from the voyeuristic public. The worst of us is on display. We are degraded. I am mystified why anyone would follow and comment on these stories. You feel better because others have suffered a calamity? Work at the food pantry. Following these stories is your guilty pleasure? Just eat another bag of potato chips. You won't have anything to talk about with your friends? Get some new friends.

So here's what we need to do. Confine these crime/arrest/victim stories to the Crime Blotter section of the paper. If somehow it is necessary for the business model to have a story about a private citizen's tragedy, then have a policy prohibiting comment by other private citizens. This is not a free speech issue. The Founding Fathers would be appalled that their good names are invoked on such an issue. Besides, there's always Facebook and Twitter — the preferred instruments of stupid speech. And there's always the diary. Write your thoughts down — and lock them up.

I appreciate that no one forces me to either read these stories or the comments in response to them. But the Wednesday Journal, Oak Park and all of us who live here are diminished by making the private public.

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Reader Comments

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Jim Coughlin  

Posted: May 10th, 2012 11:20 AM

Sarah Palin is a minor celebrity, rj. Since 2008, she's starred in a reality show, been paid millions as a Fox News contributor and promoted herself while touring the country in bus. Her approval numbers indicate that she is not connecting with a majority of the country. Let's see if she is asked to play a role at the GOP convention this summer. I think most conservatives are tired of her act.

rj from Oak Park  

Posted: May 9th, 2012 11:00 PM

Really Jim? Sarah Palin? The only way you can make a point is to diminish a conservative in some way? Crass, mean, wrong, getting facts straight, accurate reporting matters - how laughable. Another display of your typical double standards.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: May 9th, 2012 8:45 PM

Mr. Hubbuch, the tragedy experienced by the Hudson family involved the murder of their mother, brother and a 7 year old nephew. A triple homicide should be "big news". You choose to make a "crass, mean and wrong" comment about this case without getting your facts straight. Accurate reporting matters!

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: May 9th, 2012 8:01 PM

John, you didn't mention youtube. That's an excellent place that people can upload their videos of people being beaten, robbed, and just about anything else you would want. If that wasn't available, what would people do with all of their garbage videos standing by without helping and you can't expect them to call the Police, no time for that. They have to get the video uploaded on youtube and have some cheap news agency play it over and over saying how terrible it is.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: May 9th, 2012 4:16 PM

Jennifer Hudson is both an Academy Award and a Grammy Award winner. That should elevate her above "minor celebrity" status. I think that better applies to Sarah Palin.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 9th, 2012 4:03 PM

For someone who complains a LOT about the media and anyone who comments on news/entertainment/and bizzare stories, you sure do a lot less reading of the very things you complain about. There is plenty of high quality professional reporting available and absolutely no reason to watch junk. Use the clicker next time a news broadcast covers a sighted dog leading a blind dog. Maybe you should concentrate more on sighted news reports and less on the blind ones.

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