Ted Koppel, President Obama and Us: Writing about the Children of Celebrities and Bloggers

7 years ago
Meet The Press

Ted Koppel is from my home town. I used to rent videos to him at the local video store; his daughter was my friend's baby sitter. I read about his son's death through that lens -- Ted is not a celebrity, and his son Andrew's death is not this remote story designed for the pages of People magazine. They are our neighbors, I can't imagine the grief their family is experiencing today.

The New York Post made Andrew Koppel's death a splashy headline: "Koppel Son Dies after a Bender." It's easy to reduce a life down to a sound-byte when you are so far removed from the family, and I know that I have certainly read media coverage of a celebrity's loss and never gave much thought to how the material was presented. But my throat caught on the description of his sister crying at her building: "Tara was spotted weeping at her Manhattan apartment. She also didn't want to talk."

Reading about his life as a culmination of legal run-ins topped by binge drinking -- with only a passing mention of his accomplishments as a lawyer -- not only doesn't tell the whole story, but media-izes someone's life who never chose to live in the limelight. It was Ted Koppel, not his children, who chose to put himself out there, but somehow we've made the children of celebrities fair game in media coverage.

The same type of thing happened this week with Glenn Beck. From Mediabistro:

Just a few days after Beck spoke out against mocking the children of public figures in an interview with Fox News contributor Sarah Palin, he proceeded to mock President Obama's daughter Malia on his radio show.

Pretending to be Malia, Beck and his guest go back and forth, creating a mock conversation between the president and his daughter.

And frankly, we've seen the same thing on a smaller scale in the blogging community. It's the bloggers who put themselves out there, but it's their children who are verbally attacked or mocked.

Sweetney put herself out there via her writing, but it was her child's image that was photoshopped and mocked on another site. Even if a blogger chooses to explore her feelings about something connected to her child doesn't mean that the laws of decency go out the window. Heather Armstrong spoke about having her child mocked on another site and how "she has sought therapy to cope with vitriolic posts."

The Obama's go shopping on their vacation in Hawaii

A line needs to be drawn between the person who chooses to live his or her life publicly and the family members connected to that person. Because while Ted Koppel or Barack Obama have chosen to place themselves in the limelight, Andrew and Malia haven't made a conscious choice to have their life critiqued in the media. That while we may believe that it's fair game -- the price of fame, for instance -- to mock celebrities, Andrew and Malia are public figures not by choice.

And just because a public figure acknowledges his or her child doesn't mean that that child has used free will to step into the limelight. Bloggers write about their children, Ted Koppel doesn't hide his family, and Obama brought his kids along to the inauguration, but none of these examples show a person consciously stepping into the public eye with the knowledge that taking a job can bring criticism as well as accolades, and that sometimes, it's not even the job itself that is dissected, but the person doing the job when we critique the personalities and physical traits of celebrities.

Should the children of celebs or bloggers be news? Or should you wait for that person to bring it up? What do you think?

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her book is Navigating the Land of If.

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