November 12, 2009

Legacies, Celebrities, and Media Skanks

... by Walter Brasch

NBC news correspondent Jenna Bush Hager had a news exclusive. And, like news exclusives in the Era of Infotainment TV, this one was broadcast by the entertainment division. Specifically, Jenna Bush interviewed her mother, Laura Bush, on 38th episode of "The Jay Leno Show."

It makes no difference what the questions or answers were. Journalism hasn't been a priority of television for a long time. What matters is that a network hired someone with no background into a job with an income substantially above what most journalists earn. Jenna Bush isn't the only one to parlay dubious credentials onto network television. Beauty pageants—it makes no difference if it's the Miss Rutabaga or Miss America contests—are full of contestants who say their ambition is to be a TV anchor—or an actress, whichever comes first.

Now, Jenna Bush, in her mid-20s, had also become a best-selling author, something that rarely happens even to the best writers. HarperCollins, owned by Rupert Murdoch of Fox News fame, printed an initial 500,000 copies of Ana's Story in 2007. The press run was about 100 times greater than the average run of a first book by even a good writer. A year later, HarperCollins published a children's book co-written by Jenna Bush and Laura Bush, who promoted their books on the major talk shows, including "The Tonight Show, with Jay Leno." Thousands of publicists and authors literally beg to get network exposure. Most books that do get published can be found in the remainder bins—or recycling bins – within a year of publication—if the author is fortunate enough to even secure a contract.

The Bushes aren't the only celebrities who have written children's books. Among dozens of celebrities who easily found publishers for their children's books were Julie Andrews, Bill Cosby, Katie Couric, Jamie Lee Curtis, LL Cool J, Jay Leno, Will Smith, Jerry Seinfeld, and even Shaquille O’Neal.

Superstar pro athletes can often get book deals in the six- and seven-figure range. Among them are 7-foot-5 NBA star Yao-Minh, whose command of English is minimal, but who scored a $1.5 million advance for his autobiography; and Dennis Rodman, aided by a fluorescent-hued hair, multi-body tattoos, and a seven-figure advance, who wore a dress and feather boa in Detroit and a wedding dress in Manhattan to promote his own in-your-face autobiography. O.J. Simpson was a cross-over—a superstar pro athlete and a criminal. Criminals whose stories make the front pages, and who while in prison "find" religion and do a great job of feigning repentance, can often secure book deals.

Thousands of 20-something students and recent graduates have worked extremely hard, usually in anonymity, to earn internships, many of them unpaid, in the media or in government. However, unlike most interns, Monica Lewinsky, Bill Clinton's presidential playmate, became a best-selling author. And, like other celebrity-authors, she was able to parlay her notoriety into numerous talk show appearances, all of which helped promote Monica's Story and more than $2 million in income.

Add Paris Hilton to the list. In 2004, she secured a book contract for an autobiography, reflecting her entire 23 year life of entitlement and near uselessness. Of course, the book became a New York Times best-seller.

At one time, "legacy children," the ones whose parents or grandparents earned fame or fortune, would have settled for being admitted to the parents' Ivy League colleges, even if minimally qualified, and then getting some job in the family business. But, the omnipotence of the mass media has given the entitled darlings other opportunities. Chances are there's a TV gig or a book contract somewhere in their futures. And all that this says is that those who work hard to learn and perfect their craft, perhaps to contribute ideas to society, and hoped-for mass distribution, will probably continue a life of anonymity while buried by the train wrecks that have become the mass media.

[Walter M. Brasch, an award-winning former newspaper reporter and editor, is a syndicated social issues columnist, author, writer-producer, and professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University. His latest book is Sex and the Single Beer Can, a probing and humorous look at the nation's media. You may contact him through his website,]

Posted by Walter Brasch at November 12, 2009 09:44 PM | Guest Writings | Technorati links |

Journalism in the mainstream was lost a long time ago. It's nothing but empty heads and pretty faces.

It's become a pop culture society and unfortunately it's become popularity and not something more meaningful that sells.

Posted by: sasha grey at November 13, 2009 02:54 AM

Agree with sasha, it's just so lame and commercialised, you don't see intelligent questions being asked nor do you see any genuine person really out to report fair and objectively -it's written all over their faces and heard in their voices.

Posted by: eurail pass at November 15, 2009 05:02 PM

Let's see, one of W's daughters went into teaching and took this NBC job as an aside. The other has been learning the doctoring trade, even going to Africa to help out. Neither one were "marginally qualified" as you put it. They excelled as has George P. Bush, now a member of the Navy Reserve as a JAG officer. He may be bound for Iraq soon. He did well working for the former DNC chair in Dallas, Robert Strauss.

Where has Chelsea been to? What great humanitarian things have she been doing? My only recollection has been trying to get her mother elected president. Taking a break from her six figure Wall Street job. Who gets a six figure salary coming out of college these days anyway?

Posted by: peter at November 15, 2009 06:53 PM

It seems like all the matters is the name now. My son has actually gone to school barefoot because I wouldn't buy Nike and my daughter, always wants the same outfits she sees people wearing on TV like Hannah Montana. It drives me crazy.

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