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Media Says Mistakes Were Made in the Coverage of Whitney Houston’s Death

When news broke of Whitney Houston’s death, many people probably jumped to one conclusion: substance abuse was to blame.

This doesn’t in the least diminish what Houston accomplished: numerous awards, well-received turns in a number of movies, a spot in our Rolodex of memories of that time we did that thing and that Whitney Houston song was playing.

The media was charged with, somehow, capturing all of this. Vulture.com criticizes how broadcast media, specifically, handled the story. From irrelevant celebrity interviews to reading tweets, the site casts its verdict in matters such as this where social media takes the lead in spreading the word and the remembrances: “the news networks’ last shred of incidental usefulness in these types of stories has been rendered moot.” (Jon Stewart also does a good job of illustrating some of the absurdity, above.)

TheWrap tackles the issue of how to deal with the death of Whitney Houston in a way that respects her accomplishments while honestly discussing her troubled past.

One source in the story, Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the non-profit Media Psychology Research Center, says that Houston was an inspiration to many and the focus should be on the positive. That was the argument last year when Roger Ebert made comments about drinking and driving in the wake of Jackass star Ryan Dunn’s tragic death. In that case, Ebert was accused of setting off “truth bombs.”

Poynter Institute’s Al Tompkins says that attitude “lets the media and Houston’s fellow celebrities off too easily.” Instead, we should be pushing for some sort of change.

Taken from this perspective, the issue becomes one of communicating a difficult story.

We argue that it’s not an insult to tell the full story, even when some things aren’t happy and bright. If a substance abuse problem is what ultimately caused her death, that doesn’t mean she was any less a talent. And if we were to call for changes to avoid this sort of tragedy in the future, wouldn’t that be another positive to add to the long list Houston accumulated in her lifetime?

Over on Technorati, Jerry Flattum argues angrily that the focus has been too squarely on Houston’s substance abuse problems.

“Clearly when so many in the entertainment profession have died from overdose, this is not something we can deny or ignore. However, the utter lack of empathy on the part of media to view addiction as an illness contributes to the jaded and terrifically negative view that entertainers represent the worst side of human nature,” he says.

What are your thoughts on the way the issue has been covered?

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