Is there something sexist - as well as unpleasant - in the gossip media's coverage of falls from grace asks Alex Williams in the New York Times, suggesting that women who stray get more coverage than men who do the same things. We're not sure Williams is completely wrong, but we're not sure we can fully agree:
Relatively speaking, the late Heath Ledger has been treated gently by the news media.
But when such a video ended up in the hands of the producers of “Entertainment Tonight,” the program declined to broadcast it, a spokeswoman said, “out of respect for Heath Ledger’s family.” The 28-year-old actor died on Jan. 22 from what the medical examiner called an accidental overdose of prescription medications.
Amy Winehouse did not merit the same discretion. Images from a video that showed her smoking what a British tabloid, The Sun, said was a pipe of crack cocaine, as well as admitting to having taken “about six” Valium, were widely disseminated in the news media around the same time.
The trouble is, Williams knows they're not comparing like with like. Firstly, Winehouse hadn't just died - she was still happily alive, and not even admitting her problems, which meant that rather than upsetting dead relatives, The Sun could at least argue that it was trying to help her worried family by revealing the "real" Amy.
More importantly, there's a world of difference between US network television and the Murdoch UK tabloids. Because The News Of The World happily ran the video on its website.
And, finally on this one: Pete Doherty's a bloke. He's hardly had his drug problems treated gently by the papers.
Williams offers another instance for our consideration:
But Owen Wilson went into hospital, and came out, and disappeared into mundane behaviour - Spears, meanwhile, has been charging about, shaving hair, going to court, having people fight over who will be her custodian. There's been more coverage of the Spears story because there's been more to cover.
And it's not like Owen Wilson is particularly interesting - the public appetite for Britney stories was there before she started to get so seriously ill.
Williams tries again:
Contrast this to Paris Hilton’s return to jail last year after a brief release to serve the rest of a 45-day sentence for a probation violation involving alcohol-related reckless driving. The event invited a level of attention that evoked the O. J. Simpson trial. Hordes of cameras enveloped the limousine that ferried the tear-streaked heiress to jail.
But, again, it's not quite so simple: Keifer Sutherland coughed, and went off to do his time more or less uncomplainingly. Hilton's return to jail was the culmination of a botched release from a man who had received campaign funds from her grandfather followed by an order from above that she go back to jail; the story was of a different order entirely not because Paris was female, but because she'd been given a soft touch and then had it taken away.
There is, of course, more coverage of women going wrong - but that's rooted more in there being more coverage of women not going wrong in the same magazines and on the same websites. Which might be a more valid starting point for Alex Williams' investigations.