×

Bieber Fever Outbreak Sweeps Cable News

It's hard to blame cablers for picking low-hanging fruit, but where's the balance?

In the wake of Justin Bieber’s arrest on DUI and drag racing charges, Al Jazeera America issued a press release somewhat high-handedly noting that while it was covering stories like Syria and Edward Snowden, it had not reported on the pop star’s legal troubles.

As business decisions go, good luck with that.

Frankly, in an era driven by ratings and traffic, it’s hard to blame cable networks for lustily going after Bieber’s latest run-in with authorities. Sure, it’s not big news, but it is newsworthy, inasmuch as the singer is a well-known public figure, and celebrity is a legitimate facet of news. From a commercial perspective, something like Bieber is low-hanging fruit, and if news operations help pay the bills in part by pandering to those prurient interests, it’s hard to say they’re wrong — or misreading the public’s appetite.

The question, as always, is one of perspective, which was certainly absent on HLN, where Jane Velez-Mitchell hosted no less than six attorneys to debate the merits of the case — seriously, they all went to law school to wind up doing this? — and Nancy Grace, practically breathing fire out of her nostrils, immediately began probing whether it would be possible to have Bieber deported.

The silliness didn’t end there. CNN’s Don Lemon featured former child stars Barry Williams (“The Brady Bunch”) and Corey Feldman (via phone, alas) to discuss the Bieber situation, helping the audience overtly process the young adult’s troubles through the prism of Hollywood kids steeped in temptation. Clearly considering the matter somewhat beneath him, Bill O’Reilly brought in his lead-out, Megyn Kelly, to fleetingly discuss Bieber, with the elder host suggesting the pop figure was in danger of winding up like Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix, names which will mean a lot more to the Fox News audience than any of Bieber’s fans. (To be fair, O’Reilly opened the show with his favorite topic — himself, and the fact he would be interviewing President Obama before the Super Bowl.)

CNN’s “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter turned his Twitter feed into an ongoing debate about the propriety of the Bieber news (he even recirculated one from the fictional anchor of HBO’s “The Newsroom”), but he needn’t have bothered. A story like Bieber’s legal troubles — with all the juicy parallels it instantly evokes — is simply too good to resist.

All one can ask in these situations is for a little sobriety, balance and proportion, and perhaps some acknowledgement of such a story’s relative importance — or lack thereof — in the bigger scheme of things.

Not that asking will make any of those things happen, of course. The battle against TV’s tabloid impulses has pretty much been fought and lost. But to quote another fictional character who knew a little something about excess, isn’t it pretty to think so?

Popular on Variety

More Voices

  • "The Stockholm Syndrome" - Pictured: Rajesh

    Emmys: Is It Time to Give Multicams Their Own Category? (Column)

    The question of whether multi-camera sitcoms are a dying breed isn’t a new one. The few remaining purveyors of the format, including “The Big Bang Theory” executive producer Chuck Lorre, have been asked that question for years. But even as Lorre ventures into the single-camera world with such shows as the Golden Globe-winning “The Kominsky [...]

  • Veep HBO

    Celebrating Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Emmy's Comedy Queen (Column)

    Let’s take a moment to give Julia Louis-Dreyfus some much-deserved praise. As HBO’s “Veep” ends its run — and aims to add a coda to its already amazing haul over the years at the Emmys — the actress is poised to make history one more time this September. All signs point to another win in [...]

  • Emma Watson MTV Movie Awards

    It's Time for the Emmys to Eliminate Gender-Specific Acting Categories (Column)

    As TV and storytelling continue to evolve, does it still make sense to silo male and female performers into separate Emmy categories? Splitting up “outstanding actor” and “outstanding actress” awards as if they’re different skill sets seems like an outdated practice — yet combining them, and eliminating half of the key acting Emmys in the [...]

  • The Good Place NBC

    Broadcasters Committed to Emmy Telecast Despite Cable, Streaming Dominance (Column)

    Here’s what you won’t see much of at the Primetime Emmy Awards on Fox: Fox.  It’s Fox’s turn to telecast the ceremony, yet it’s a somewhat bittersweet affair for the network, which only landed 18 nominations this year. That means few Fox stars will even be in attendance at the Microsoft Theater, let alone onstage, [...]

  • Eugene Levy Schitts Creek

    Emmy Nods to Veteran Actors Prove Importance of Longevity (Column)

    Despite some well-documented snubs, Television Academy members did a great job with this year’s Emmy nominations when it came to recognizing new series, such as FX’s “Pose” and Netflix’s “Russian Doll,” as well as rising talent including Anthony Carrigan (HBO’s “Barry”), Joey King (Hulu’s “The Act”) and Billy Porter (“Pose”). That spotlight on fresh series [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content