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How Much Is Too Much? Celebrity Death Tributes — Too far?

For every lash, there is an equal and opposite lash in the reverse direction: a backlash if you will. So it is with a seemingly irreproachable story like the tribute paid to the passing of Tim Russert. After his shocking passing last week, the news hasn't been shy with coverage. From the moving tribute held during the usual Meet the Press time slot, all the way to today when MSNBC will broadcast the private memorial service at 4 p.m. EDT. Some are saying it's too much.

In Debra Saunders column yesterday she acknowledged the Meet the Press tribute was appropriate, but then said:

Overall, however, the hours and hours of tributes across the cable spectrum show the news media at their worst. For me, the Russert Weekend only served to confirm my suspicion that in 2008, cable TV stations can only do one story at a time -- and then they overdo it and beat it silly. . . An outstanding journalist of Russert's stripe rated more than a nice sendoff story. But there is another tenet of the profession that Washington TV news bureaus seem to have forgotten in the shock of Russert's passing: We are not the story.

Over on Slate, Jack Shafer had this to say:

I wonder whether the media grievers gave a moment of thought to how this Russert torrent they produced played with viewers and readers. Did the grievers really think Russert was so important, so vital to the nation's course, and such an elevated human being that he deserved hour upon hour of tribute? I wonder whether any of the responsible journalists paused to think, "Hey, this is really weird. We're using our unchecked editorial power to soak the nation with our tears about our friend, and that's unseemly!"

Gawker went one step further and created the "Scale of Celebrity Death" ranking the impact of surprise celebrity demise. Princess Diana, incidentally, ranked a 10.

Are celebrity death tributes, and the wall-to-wall media coverage surrounding them, too much? Do we need them to mourn those characters who've touched so many lives? At what point does a tribute become ghoulish?


Join The Conversation
onabanana onabanana 9 years
I think she worked for NBC many years ago.
Kelliegrl Kelliegrl 9 years
I've been saying the same thing to my brother about Gwen Ifill. I think she'd be great too onabanana.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
Yes I love Gwen and I think she could deliver. My first choice though is clearly Wanda Sykes, LOL! Would that be a riot.
onabanana onabanana 9 years
Gwen Ifill is moderator and managing editor of "Washington Week" and senior correspondent for "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." Both on PBS.
onabanana onabanana 9 years
Gwen Ifill on PBS is a wonderful alternative for news and analysis. I really think she would make a great fill in for Tim.
Jillness Jillness 9 years
"His level-headed, calm and fair approach to interveiwing actually allowed me to LEARN about the issues." Sigh. I feel like I have a news hole in my life now. I don't really trust anyone else like I did him. :(
onabanana onabanana 9 years
"Did the grievers really think Russert was so important, so vital to the nation's course, and such an elevated human being that he deserved hour upon hour of tribute?" This is the most asinine and ridiculous comment/question! Really?! How many mindless hours has TV devoted to people like Paris and Britney Spears? Tim Russert, was not a celebrity, he was a a top notch professional journalist who unlike many so called journalist, he personified journalism. Freedom of press is best used and guaranteed by people like him. He was a mentor to those new to the field and a kind friend to all around him. The field of journalism lost a real gem and a trusted/respected friend and to question the sincerity of those mourning his death is awful! I am severely offended! The US has lost a citizen who tirelessly worked to bring information to the masses. They should show some respect! I would rather spend a few days hearing about Tim Russert's life from those who knew him than a lot of the other stuff on TV.
sashak sashak 9 years
I feel the exact same way hypnoicmix.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
Aside from NBC I have not noticed the other networks going too far. As for NBC they certainly have every reason to gush about a man who was not simply a news anchor sputtering things at us every week. Tim as I have witnessed over the passed 17 years and as many of us have learned over the past week had an identity that was not bound by his profession. His spirit in life soared far and beyond the norm and showed us by example that not only is it easy to be a good person a great human being and a friend to all but it's also a heck of a lot of fun. His stewardship as a father was nothing short of magnificent and should be an example to every father. He was every mans man. He was our voice. He asked the questions we wanted to ask and he talked not over us or at us but to us. It was his very enthusiasm about politics that was so infectious and if it was not for his enthusiasm planting a seed of interest in my mind I probably would not be the person I am today. I've never met the man and I've probably never been within a hundred miles of him, but this past week I feel like I've lost a favorite uncle.
nyaradzom2001 nyaradzom2001 9 years
Truth is I don't care how important he was politially or whether he was a drunken celeb who got married a billion times, a death is still a death and exploitation is exploitation. The media machine turned his death into a large scale event, dissected by all and sundry some of whom I'm sure would not know what gubernatorial meant if it came and bit them in the behind. i didn't know him therefore I was not touched in any way but people should have some respect and stop bombarding us with his death and the funny thing is if Amy Winehouse were to die today they would totally forget him and turn onto her like vultures piking a carcass. They need a new gimmik for ratings.
annebreal annebreal 9 years
I can understand why they're covering it so much, because he was one of their own. For celebrity deaths in general...I think covering them ad nauseum and in great detail is a little macabre sometimes, and also I think invokes an emotional response in people that's a little bizarre. I had someone ask me when it happened, "don't you really miss Heath Ledger?" and my mind was kind of boggled. These things are sad, but not as sad as the deaths that have really touched our lives. They're not our loved ones, you know what I mean? It does get a bit weird.
stephley stephley 9 years
I think the Russert coverage is a combination of tribute, shock and cable doesn't control itself. A friend of mine pointed out that Russert is getting more wall to wall coverage than Peter Jennings did - but Jennings' death wasn't sudden. I think the Russert coverage has been a bit much, but at least it has been respectful tribute and not a lot of salacious stuff - and there isn't likely to be any 'on the other hand, Tim had a dark side' in the days to come.
Kimpossible Kimpossible 9 years
"In general, I just think if the media goes to far with something, turn the channel and don't pay attention." I agree completely and did not mean to indicate that people are "forced" to watch things they don't want to. I'll take it even further and say that sometimes changing the channel isn't enough (ie: coverage is on every channel), that's when it's time to turn the tv off and get up off our butts and actually do something ;-)
KrisSugar KrisSugar 9 years
well, whatever the case, I really respected the guy. I have to say, until I discovered Meet the Press, I hated and avoided political commentary. His level-headed, calm and fair approach to interveiwing actually allowed me to LEARN about the issues. All without getting my blood-pressure up watching people bicker and insult one another. So in a way I owe a thank you to Tim Russert. in 6th grade, (I think I told some of you guys this) my friend and I put on a skit called "Line of Fire" which was modeled after "Crossfire" on CNN. In it we debated school issues, but purposely insulted each other, shouted over each other, and acted crazy. it was fun! we got an A!
Melo-D Melo-D 9 years
I agree with yesteryear that coverage of the private viewing is unnecessary and the family should be given their private moment. Nonetheless, Tim Russert was a colleague/friend/mentor to the journalism world. He deserves the tributes from them. I will say the best tribute I did see was on ESPN on PTI (Pardon The Interruption) with Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser. A good friend of theirs, particularly Wilbon, briefly spoke about Russert's impact in their lives. In general, I just think if the media goes to far with something, turn the channel and don't pay attention.
Jillness Jillness 9 years
"I'd rather see these kind of people exalted over and over again instead of someone like Anna Nicole' I agree. Also, I think I heard someone say that MSN was going to cover Mr. Russert's memorial at the request of his family. :? They had his son on a program the other day, and he is a very well spoken young man. I do think that 24/7 coverage is a little too much. I was surprised they were still doing it last night, when it had been several days of this. He was so respected, but I do think that too much coverage can be a bad thing.
sashak sashak 9 years
I agree with Yesteryear 110%
Kimpossible Kimpossible 9 years
Celebrities and people who live in the public eye are no more important than the average person. There are plenty of every day people who live their lives in such a way that exemplifies honesty, kindness, loyalty, integrity etc. who are just as deserving of a grandeous tribute as these celebrities and public figures. I don't mind the persons life being acknowledged and celebrated but to continue with coverage for days on end I think is taking it too far and even lifting these people up to a level that is inappropriate. I'm not saying that people shouldn't be allowed to mourn or to remember the life of the one who has passed, by all means it's an important part of the grieving process, I just think that the media takes it too far in many cases.
yesteryear yesteryear 9 years
i remember a few days after heath ledger died anderson cooper actually said something like "we aren't going to cover the death of heath ledger any more, not until there is something new to report"... i think that's what should happen today with russert. the more i think about it the more i realize that the reason he had so much respect was because he was a humble guy who never made the story about himself. i hope everyone gets their closure and moves on after today -- judging by his style of reporting, he'd be really upset to know that real news was being overshadowed by his own death.
KrisSugar KrisSugar 9 years
i agree yesteryear. his private memorial should actually be private.
yesteryear yesteryear 9 years
i think tim russert was in a class of his own and deserves this kind of send off from his colleagues in the media. i'd much rather hear about his life in retrospect than that of heath ledger or anna nicole. however, that being said - i don't like the cameras outside the church where the funeral is being held today. yes, he chose to lead a public life, but that's over now and it's time to give his family some privacy - they didn't choose the public life, he did.
javsmav javsmav 9 years
I watched Meet the Press occasionally, so I tuned in to the tribute on Sunday. It was weird & I felt like I walked into a room where people were grieving the loss of a friend who I didn't really know. It felt wrong watching, so I had to turn it off. I'm sure they are all saddened & I don't think there is anything wrong with remembering him during the time slot of his show, but what they did was just air what should have been a private conversation. Also, they aren't really "celebrities" & they may be suffering from high-self esteem by thinking that the public cares that much about this. Don't get me wrong, I feel so sorry for his family and it does scare me someone suddenly dies. I also had great respect for Russert & enjoyed his show. But it's not like he had a great impact on my life and I don't need 24-hour coverage of this sad event. I also think it's a little disrespectful of the family. I think it would be much harder to cope with a death if you are constantly hearing about it on the news and being followed by reporters.
Kelliegrl Kelliegrl 9 years
I'm only going to comment on the way they've treated Russert's passing not celebs in general b/c he was not a celebrity. Tim was one of the greatest TV political journalists out there. And the fact that NBC wants to pay as much tribute to him as they have is not inappropriate. He was one of their own, why shouldn't they mourn him the way they want to, he was a colleague and friend to many at NBC from what I understand. You're never going to satisfy everyone, and there's always going to be someone to complain.
KrisSugar KrisSugar 9 years
"Did the grievers really think Russert was so important, so vital to the nation's course, and such an elevated human being that he deserved hour upon hour of tribute?" Well, from my experience watching his show and hearing about the kind of guy he was, he actually WAS a really nice man and probably deserved those accolades. And Diana ranked high because in general, she was a nice person. People loved her because she was a princess, and also because she did good things. I'd rather see these kind of people exalted over and over again instead of someone like Anna Nicole. Sure she was probably a good soul as well but people only paid attention because she was a trainwreck. and when they showed video of heath ledger's body being removed on a stretcher, or told us every little detail about how he was naked and face down, etc.. that was too much. it doesn't make it less tragic for them, being human beings and all. but spending some air time on Tim Russert doesn't seem inppropriate to me.
longhornlass04 longhornlass04 9 years
I think what these editorials are missing is that Tim Russert wasn't a "celebrity", he was one of their own. He was a friend to most of these people that are airing these tributes. A comparison would be if Perez Hilton passed away suddenly and then all of the other bloggers paid tribute. (Just an example, so please don't follow this comment about how much you like or dislike Perez.)
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