Have you ever noticed how after a notorious celebrity dies, the media instantly drops their criticisms and forgets all of the flaws they mercilessly and consistently pointed out? Do you ever feel like a recently deceased celebrity is being mega-praised? The point I’m trying to convey is completely aside from the respect aspect of a celebrity death. In terms of media ethics, one could argue that sudden deaths of celebrities cause a drastic change of press coverage from negative to positive. There are countless examples that demonstrate this phenomenon.
First, I would like to say that this topic relates directly to the unexpected death of Whitney Houston this past week. Houston was a celebrity who experienced a great deal of media criticism during her fame. She was a talented singer and actor, and had many good qualities to her (may she rest in peace), but aside from her sudden passing, let us take a look at media coverage of Houston prior to her passing. In a Herald Sun article from 2010, “The fall and fall of Whitney Houston,” there is quite the atmosphere of negativity.
“Houston spent most of that time (out of the spotlight) smoking cocaine-laced marijuana.”
“She can’t sing her power ballads from the ‘80s anymore.”
Among these criticisms in the article, the writer goes on to discuss Houston’s admission to freely using cocaine to Oprah Winfrey. The article clearly disapproves of Houston’s celebrity image. After her death, however, the Herald Sun came out with an article praising Houston’s life. The article titled “Remembering Whitney Houston through her songs” describes Houston as legendary, tells of her Grammys and memorable appearances and narrates her life through her music career. Now that Houston has passed on, she will be remembered through the foreseeable future as an amazing musician; not a drug addict or untalented singer.
Michael Jackson is a classic example of drastic changes in media coverage. Prior to the sudden death of the vilified celebrity, press coverage of the “King of Pop” usually involved the terms “molestation,” “cosmetic surgery” or “balcony.” There are timelines of Jackson scandals, articles criticizing his behavior around children and proposed reasons for why Jackson had fallen from his greatness. E! Network even created a simulation of Jackson’s court experiences entitled “The Michael Jackson Trial.” These media publications were arguably not joyously praising the celebrity. After Jackson’s passing, the media seemed to scrape their sacred scandals under the public rug. E! completely dropped the molestation topics, and moved on to “mourning the loss of two great entertainers,” in an article on their website. Other press sources follow suit, and the mass criticisms halted for quite some time.
Media coverage before and after celebrity deaths occurs in the same fashion for other celebrities like Jackson and Houston: Lisa ‘Left-Eye’ Lopez, Elvis Presley, the list goes on. These stars experienced media scrutiny prior to their death then their left-behind existence experienced abundant glory and praise from the very sources that fanned the flames of their troubles. Stars who experience a crisis or scandal are especially prone to this media attacking. Press coverage of celebrities could lead one to ask: do the press over-scrutinize celebrities while they are alive, and then compensate for the criticisms by bombarding their name with praises after they pass away? Just a little something to consider in the world of media ethics the next time an infamous celebrity suddenly dies.