On press, paparazzi, privacy, and work

Joe McGinniss’s controversial new biography of Sarah Palin, The Rogue (2011), raises important questions about connections between work, privacy, and individual dignity. From various published reviews it appears the book is a wildly contrasting mix of solid investigative reportage on matters related to Palin’s conduct as a politician and a lot of gossipy, trashy stuff about the personal lives of Palin family members.

I confess I’m not a fan of Sarah Palin. I don’t think she’s got much substance, and her widely acknowledged track record of viciously going after people who cross her and personalizing political disputes is disturbing. Still, there’s some consensus that McGinniss has crossed the line at times in his book, and my inclination is that the criticism is on target.

I don’t claim to have all the wisdom about when the public figure ends and the private person begins, but here are some questions worth asking:

1. Is it true?

If not, there’s no excuse for deliberate or reckless falsehoods. If so, the inquiry doesn’t end there.

2. Even if it’s true, does it bear upon the individual’s public life, whether it be in politics, the media, entertainment, or any other highly visible vocation?

For public officials, the personal can and perhaps should become public if it relates to decisions made and positions taken while in office or on the campaign trail.

That said, there are certain aspects of one’s personal life that should be off limits as a matter of individual dignity. It appears we have fairly obliterated that standard in our current popular culture.

3. Does the subject of the coverage deliberately seek out the limelight and stoke the very attention s/he claims is exploitative or invasive when the subject matter becomes uncomfortable?

This is a fine line, but individuals who encourage a culture of celebrity or a cult of personality-type following may have less to complain about when the media coverage is unflattering. (Live by the limelight, die by it too.) This is especially true for celebrities or wannabes who feel the need to expose or exploit aspects of their private lives and engage in ostentatious displays of personal conduct that beg for attention.

2 responses

  1. I like Palin and if she has no substance then Obama’s a ghost. Every left wing loon the media could muster mercilessly attacked her, yes that includes the totally left media as well. Going after a politician is one thing, they made the choice to jump into the lime light, going after their family and especially their children is reprehensible not to mention tasteless, tactless, and rude. The media made a big deal out of Palin’s lack of experience and ignored the fact that Obama had never run so much as a Girl Scout cookie drive. Any idiot can make up scandalous lies about someone in the public eye, the National Enquirer does it every week, but good books and good journalism are supposed to be based on truth not supposition and fiction for the sake of making a fast buck.

  2. I think I might expand the ‘public officials/campaigning’ exemption a little. If you’re campaigning, governing, or making a massively wealthy living off of feeding the political fires that would limit other people’s individual freedom or civil rights WHILE YOU DO THE THINGS YOU WOULD DENY OTHERS, then you may be fair game. You don’t get to rake in massive dollars on Fox News or the speaking circuit fanning the flames that would deny me the right or safety to do things in my life that you do in yours, not without me calling you on it.

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