NBC news correspondent Jenna Bush Hager had a news exclusive. And, like news exclusives in the Era of Infotainment TV, this one was broadcast by the entertainment division. Specifically, Jenna Bush interviewed her mother, Laura Bush, on 38th episode of “The Jay Leno Show.”
It makes no difference what the questions or answers were. Journalism hasn’t been a priority of television for a long time. What matters is that a network hired someone with no background into a job with an income substantially above what most journalists earn. Jenna Bush isn’t the only one to parlay dubious credentials onto network television. Beauty pageants—it makes no difference if it’s the Miss Rutabaga or Miss America contests—are full of contestants who say their ambition is to be a TV anchor—or an actress, whichever comes first.
Now, Jenna Bush, in her mid-20s, had also become a best-selling author, something that rarely happens even to the best writers. HarperCollins, owned by Rupert Murdoch of Fox News fame, printed an initial 500,000 copies of Ana’s Story in 2007. The press run was about 100 times greater than the average run of a first book by even a good writer. A year later, HarperCollins published a children’s book co-written by Jenna Bush and Laura Bush, who promoted their books on the major talk shows, including “The Tonight Show, with Jay Leno.” Thousands of publicists and authors literally beg to get network exposure. Most books that do get published can be found in the remainder bins—or recycling bins – within a year of publication—if the author is fortunate enough to even secure a contract.
The Bushes aren’t the only celebrities who have written children’s books. Among dozens of celebrities who easily found publishers for their children’s books were Julie Andrews, Bill Cosby, Katie Couric, Jamie Lee Curtis, LL Cool J, Jay Leno, Will Smith, Jerry Seinfeld, and even Shaquille O’Neal.
Superstar pro athletes can often get book deals in the six- and seven-figure range. Among them are 7-foot-5 NBA star Yao-Minh, whose command of English is minimal, but who scored a $1.5 million advance for his autobiography; and Dennis Rodman, aided by a fluorescent-hued hair, multi-body tattoos, and a seven-figure advance, who wore a dress and feather boa in Detroit and a wedding dress in Manhattan to promote his own in-your-face autobiography. O.J. Simpson was a cross-over—a superstar pro athlete and a criminal. Criminals whose stories make the front pages, and who while in prison “find” religion and do a great job of feigning repentance, can often secure book deals.
Thousands of 20-something students and recent graduates have worked extremely hard, usually in anonymity, to earn internships, many of them unpaid, in the media or in government. However, unlike most interns, Monica Lewinsky, Bill Clinton’s presidential playmate, became a best-selling author. And, like other celebrity-authors, she was able to parlay her notoriety into numerous talk show appearances, all of which helped promote Monica’s Story and more than $2 million in income.
Add Paris Hilton to the list. In 2004, she secured a book contract for an autobiography, reflecting her entire 23 year life of entitlement and near uselessness. Of course, the book became a New York Times best-seller.
At one time, “legacy children,” the ones whose parents or grandparents earned fame or fortune, would have settled for being admitted to the parents’ Ivy League colleges, even if minimally qualified, and then getting some job in the family business. But, the omnipotence of the mass media has given the entitled darlings other opportunities. Chances are there’s a TV gig or a book contract somewhere in their futures. And all that this says is that those who work hard to learn and perfect their craft, perhaps to contribute ideas to society, and hoped-for mass distribution, will probably continue a life of anonymity while buried by the train wrecks that have become the mass media.
[Walter M. Brasch, an award-winning former newspaper reporter and editor, is a syndicated social issues columnist, author, writer-producer, and professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University. His latest book is Sex and the Single Beer Can, a probing and humorous look at the nation’s media. You may contact him through his website, www.walterbrasch.com. Assisting on this column was Rosemary R. Brasch]