Those who read People and US Weekly and watch Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood are generally thought of as people who don’t care about politics. They are
But a funny thing has happened the past few months. All of a sudden, the presidential candidates are considered actual celebrities, worthy of a People cover or an exclusive interview on a syndicated entertainment show. Granted, these are soft interviews, meant to show how normal, yet beautiful and caring, the candidates and their families are. While this isn’t totally new—newsworthy, non-celebrity events have made the cover of People before, from September 11 to previous presidential issues—it has certainly racheted up.
It’s funny that McCain was the one to deride his opponent as being the “celebrity”, but it’s his campaign that has been thrust into the tabloid trail, and not because everyone's all so enamored of his wife. Sarah Palin’s background, fueled by the explosive news that her 17 year-old daughter is pregnant (with rumors circulating that Palin’s 5 month-old disabled boy is actually hers), has caused a feeding frenzy, with ET actually camped out the St. Paul convention headquarters, eagerly awaiting the latest news.
A casual viewer, changing channels, would wonder why on Earth Entertainment Tonight actually cares about the convention. Isn’t that the province of actual journalists, not entertainment ones? And why would a regular viewer of these types of shows actually care? Sure, it’s fun to speculate about a pregnancy—way more than trying to decipher who said what about earmarks—but nobody knew who Bristol Palin was Saturday, and she has nothing to do with anything, except being related to the new nominee. Her boyfriend’s MySpace is just another unfortunate example of a private citizen’s “public” property suddenly thrust into the spotlight because of tangential relations. Now, he’s a dumb teenager who allegedly hadn’t updated the site in over a year (shame on him—delete or update!), but he presents himself as a guy that’s not going to win too many friends, bringing down Alaskan boys to boot. Guys, learn to be smart. There’s always a chance your blog/MySpace/Facebook will be publicized if you somehow find yourself in the news, and knowingly dating the daughter of the governor who then finds herself picked as the Vice Presidential nominee should be a sign that you should clean up your act, but hey, maybe I'm just too cautious. (I’m guessing the Palins, especially
Very few mainstream media outlets, to my knowledge, have picked up this story, with the exception of the Wall Street Journal and noted in the bottom of this Time article, itself a fluff piece. But it’s perceptions that often matter more than the issues (Sarah Palin being this year’s Case Study); after all, it’s widely believed that Gore’s characterization on Saturday Night Live undermined his candidacy.
The blurring of pop and politics, of the trivial and the important, is only going to continue, as media outlets need all the angles they can get to feed a ravishing public. It’s a requisite now that everyone needs to reveal as much as possible to the public; we demand it. Soft news sells the soft vote—you never know if a People spread is going to add another check mark next to a name on the ballot.
The WSJ points it out the best:
The most popular celebrity newsmagazines on TV reach between two million and six million viewers a night. People and US Weekly reach 29.5 million and 8.2 million women, respectively, every week, according to Mediamark Research & Intelligence Inc. Those figures include "pass-along" readers who don't buy the magazines but take a look at someone else's copy.
These magazines strive to bring celebrities down to earth so readers can relate to them, and this is fast becoming a political preoccupation. President Bush successfully cast Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election as an elitist. "So much came down to, 'Who would you rather have a beer with?'" says US Weekly editor Janice Min.
Ms. Min says most of the candidates have thrown open the doors to her reporters. "In working with Barack and Hillary [
], their press people put no restrictions on us," Ms. Min said. Their handlers were more accommodating than "even publicists for D-list actors," she added. Clinton
US Weekly's June 30 issue, which featured Barack and Michelle Obama on the cover with the heading "Michelle Obama: Why Barack Loves Her," sold over 886,000 copies on the newsstand, an increase of 18% over the previous three issues, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
Cover stories on noncelebrities also have the effect of gathering attention from people who don’t traditionally read the magazines.
Note: As further proof of the mixing of news today, look at who runs the Pop and Politics blog: students at the well-known