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I can't believe I'm saying this, but could Madonna actually be performing a public service?

The lefty media critics at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting have just issued a report on broadcast network news that's appalling in many ways, not the least of which is that it suggest Hollywood political sloganeering is effective. Monitoring news coverage of Africa in 2005 and 2006, FAIR made two discoveries: The networks rarely do stories about the continent (unfortunate, though not exactly surprising) and when they do, it's usually because a Hollywood celebrity is involved.

Madonnaorphan Ever hear of the famine-ravaged country of Malawi? If you have, it's only because of Madonna. Literally every single network story on Malawi during 2005 concerned Madonna's adoption of an orphan there. If you know anything about the role the diamond trade plays in Sierra Leone's vicious civil war, that's almost certainly the work of Leonardo DiCaprio. Over more than a decade, the networks average two stories a year that mention diamonds and the war -- until DiCaprio's movie Blood Diamond was released in December 2005. Then, 11 stories in a single week.

"Such celebrity-driven coverage imparts remarkably little information about the continent and the people who live there,'' notes Julie Hollar, the author of the study. No kidding. Blood Diamond was a gritty, fascinating film, but in the end it was a movie that depended on action, romance and character development, rather than its shallow political analysis, for its success. And nearly all the coverage of Madonna revolved around whether it's appropriate for rich white celebrities to acquire African babies for their political charm bracelets rather than why Malawi had so many orphans in the first place.

Read the FAIR study. You don't have to agree with the organization's policy prescriptions to acknowledge that it's pinpointed a serious problem in television news coverage. It shouldn't require Paris Hilton getting pulled over for drunken driving in Kinshasa for us to hear something about elections in the Congo.

Comments

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Melaleuca

I love your last sentence! As the FAIR study you cited hinted at, people certainly aren't getting in depth information about the country that the celebrity is visiting/advocating for. Be that as it may, I think the fact that the celebrity puts the country on our radar at all is a significant accomplishment. It's a little too much to expect for them to install in depth knowledge and genuine concern about what is happening and how it ultimately affects us. At some point we need to meet such stories halfway with some minimal curiosity of our own.

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