Did Nancy O’Dell take a stand against smut?

If it’s true that Nancy O’Dell is bolting Access Hollywood because she thinks the show has taken a turn for the sensational worse as People reports, then I applaud her.  I decided in the fourth grade to become a journalist and am sometimes embarrassed for what passes for journalism these days.

Before I get on my high and mighty horse, let me say that in the past I have helped contribute to the slinging of gossip but there’s a tipping point for everyone. There’s news, gossip and getting down and dirty in the smut bin. I don’t know when journalism became going through someone’s trash, videotaping a subject through the windows of restaurants and boutiques and ambushing them at airports and valet parking stands with microphones and cameras. I cringe every time the recent clip of Tigers Woods’ wife Elin Nordegren is shown and a British female is heard asking her if there’s anything she would like to say to Tiger’s “14 mistresses.” The female throws out a couple of other tacky questions before an American female is heard telling the Brit that she should try asking a question like “How are you holding up?” The Brit then asks that question.

But the question journalists should be asking themselves is how can I do this to someone whose idyllic world has just been rocked? Apparently, it is one that Nancy asked herself. And she gave us her answer yesterday. Today marks her last show. She had two years left on her contract and word is she already has another gig lined up.

I don’t watch AH as much as I used to when I covered entertainment around-the-clock but I like to tune in when my friend Shaun Robinson is anchoring. I admit I was a little shocked two nights ago when I saw D.L. Hughley note the similarity of the scandals between Tiger and O.J. Simpson because both involve race, a star athlete and a young blonde. His comments made news and that is the point of journalism today. Last night I was equally shocked to see Bill Plaschke, whose columns I have enjoyed reading in the L.A. Times for years and whom I have much respect for, on AH questioning Tiger’s muscular body in light of the New York Times‘ story linking a doctor being investigated for providing performance-enhancing drugs to the golfer and other athletes. As Bill said on air, if Tiger takes chances off the course with all of these women then maybe he takes similar risks on the course as well. Wow! Talk about jumping to conclusions. I thought he was out of bounds with that shot.

But there comes a time when we should stop and think about what our bosses (because this often comes from above) are asking of us. We’re instructed, no make that under extreme pressure, to produce content that is going to make headlines in other media outlets. It used to be get it first and get it right. Now it’s just get it first and make sure you say or write something sensational enough to make news. Journalists have never been known for being the most sympathetic bunch so rarely have feelings mattered.

I remember when I was a cub reporter in Iowa City. I was the last one in the office one evening in December 1986  and news came over the police scanner about a disgruntled resident of nearby Mt. Pleasant walking into a city council meeting and opening fire. There was a mention of the shooting victims, the mayor and two city council members, being taken to the University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City. Being the eager-beaver reporter who is drawn to crime and the law, I decided to drive by the hospital on my way  home and do interviews. Once in the parking lot, it took me no time to recognize the cars from the nearby county because in the state of Iowa, the county names are on the license plate. I parked my car but never opened my door. I sat in my car and thought about how I would feel to have a journalist in my face with a notepad when doctors were trying to save the life of my loved one. I turned on the ignition and drove home. The mayor, Ed King, died and the other two victims survived.

I knew then that covering sports was the right decision for me. With athletes, rarely is it a matter of life and death. Back then, the most difficult question may have related to a missed shot or NCAA violation. Not asking an athlete’s wife about her philandering husband when she’s out running errands with her children.

I end with Gabrielle Union’s post on Russell Simmons’s website UrbanGrind.com. She asks that we all, not just journalists, look in the mirror. And I say, if you don’t like what you see, change it. Nancy apparently did and I applaud her.

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