Heath Ledger, Depression, and the Media
As a medical writer, I'm considered part of the "media," a designation of which I'm sometimes rather embarrassed and even ashamed. Today is one of those days.
Yesterday, the news of actor Heath Ledger's death broke. It was sad news about the young, quite talented actor. It wasn't long before it started -- news stories and blog entries speculating about his admitted insomnia, alleged drug addiction, and rumored depression. This morning, the headline on the Melbourne Herald Sun's web site read, "Heath Ledger dies battling drugs and depression." The first sentence in their article is, "HEATH Ledger was battling drug addiction and depression in the lead-up to his tragic death yesterday."
Rather than celebrating Ledger's life and paying tribute to his talent, more of the "media" are reporting rumors and innuendo. Today's autopsy report was inconclusive pending toxicology and pathology reports.
Welcome exceptions to this were New York Times writer A.O. Scott, whose article is titled "An Actor Whose Work Will Outlast the Frenzy," and EW.com blogger Gary Susman, who blogged "Remembering Heath Ledger."
Responsible members of the media report facts, not rumors. They report the news; they don't invent it or make it. Why is it that so many felt compelled to jump on the news of Ledger's death and speculate about his cause of death rather than simply reporting that the autopsy was inconclusive and awaiting the results?
Why indeed? We can't blame only the insensitive, perhaps attention- and money-hungry members of the media. If such writings didn't sell papers and magazines and bring readers to web sites, there would be no market for them, and they would cease to be written.
The principle of supply and demand is at work here. Readers demand, and these members of the media supply. Our society has become obsessed with celebrity. Are real lives, our own lives, so pathetically boring that we've come to demand this kind of sensationalized writing? Are celebrities' talents and accomplishments so mundane that we don't read about them, but wait impatiently for Britney to be arrested, Lindsay to fall off the wagon, or another young life to end this tragically?
Did you rush to read the stories about Heath Ledger? If so, which ones interested you? Answer that question sincerely in your heart. Then ask yourself if you contributed to the tasteful coverage of his death or the tasteless.
Most of us here have very personal experiences with depression. What has been written about Heath Ledger impacts us and how we're perceived too. As readers, we have the power to impact what's written. Let's exercise that power in what we read and which writers we support. Let us exercise good judgement.