Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rihanna & Chris Brown: How the Media Should Have Portrayed It

The life of a celebrity is newsworthy. In fact, I have a “celebrity blog” of my own, further suggesting that people of all places and statuses are obsessed with the lives in which they could only dream of. 

In addition to the blogs, there are television shows such as “Entertainment Tonight,” celebrity gossip magazines like Star and People, even segments of local news that feature a celebrity’s activities, if they are "significant"—meaning if there was a movie premiere of an anxiously awaited film or if a celebrity visited the area in which the local news is based. Then, there are those news stories that highlight the everyday, menial activities of a celebrity—foretold by the paparazzi, per se—or analyze a personal piece of a celebrity’s life and enlarge it to a scale that they did not wish it be. I could think of no better example than that of the Rihanna and Chris Brown incident, in which Brown physically beat Rihanna to the point of unconsciousness after she found a suspicious text message on his cell phone from a former girlfriend. The incident occurred during a ride to a residence from a party in Los Angeles, in February 2009, a night before the 2009 annual Grammy awards. Rihanna said that Brown would not admit the “truth,” transforming the verbal argument into a physical altercation. Neighbors surrounding the eventually parked vehicle called the police and found Rihanna bloody and bruised in the car. Brown was not at the scene when the police arrived, but turned himself into Los Angeles Police later that evening. 

Less than a week after the physical altercation occurred, TMZ, a celebrity-paparazzi network, published a photograph of a battered Rihanna on its site. At a time in which the media did not identify the battered woman as Rihanna, TMZ suggested that it was the songstress, causing frenzy with fans, celebrities alike, and sparking a police investigation into how TMZ obtained the crucial evidence. Celebrities and fans were pouring their perspectives on the incident into all media outlets, including Oprah, who aired an entire episode based on the incident, offering battered women a perspective that the nation seemed to support. “Love doesn't hurt and if a man hits you once he will hit you again,” said Oprah. “I don't care what his plea is; he will hit you again." This uproar from society, as well as the court proceeding and charges themselves, lead to Chris Brown and Rihanna “hate society,” in which Brown lost some of his endorsement deals—including his Doublemint-gum ad—and radio play, while blogs about what Rihanna “must have done to him [Brown] to make him do that” surfaced on the Internet. In reference to banning Brown’s music, Java Joel of Cleveland’s WAKS-FM said “it felt like the right thing to do.” Rihanna said that in regards to the blog posts blaming her for Brown’s actions, that the authors knew no better. “It’s just ignorance,” said Rihanna in an interview with Diane Sawyer on “20/20.” 

The photograph of a beaten Rihanna hastened court proceedings, in which Brown was sentenced to 6 months community service, 5 years probation, and a court order to remain 50 feet away from Rihanna at all times, excluding music events. Rihanna later asked that the “stay away order” be lessened. She is reported in saying that the photograph caused her to go into hiding, suggesting that the photograph hindered her healing process. Undoubtedly, being a Grammy winner at age 21 with the success that Rihanna has had would make a simple life uneasy to come by, but to be abused by a boyfriend that is as equally as successful and to have the world literally see those scars had to have brought a tumultuous amount of pain onto the event that formerly occurred. I believe that the media, at times, forgets that celebrities are humans as well and as Rihanna said, they are put on an unrealistic pedestal and are expected to handle human situations supernaturally. If the paparazzi—who may not be deemed journalists in some eyes but had disclosed themselves as such in this situation—journalists, and bloggers, had put themselves in Rihanna or Chris Brown’s shoes before completing such assignments, they would not, in my opinion, have published those works in any form. My question to the media, therefore, is as follows: If you sat back and thought of the celebrity as a human being instead of the money you could make or of a reader’s desperate need to know, would you publish possibly detrimental work about their personal lives? The hopeful answer would be “no,” but the realistic answer, in my opinion, is “yes” because journalism is a business, therefore entailing that customers—readers, in this case—demand to know the details of their “world” and that money will be made from what they see and read. 

Rihanna and Chris Brown were referred to as “the modern Ike and Tina Turner,” hinting at the “rockstar” couple and the abuse that Tina endured from Ike throughout their marriage. After a chart-topping career throughout the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, Ike and Tina Turner ended their marriage due to abuse. In 1986, Tina wrote an autobiography titled “I, Tina,” in which she went into great detail about the abuse she endured. The couple were said to have used drugs to lessen their hard times, in which is visually portrayed in the 1993 film “What’s Love Got To Do With It?,” starring Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne. Ike reportedly never admitted to physically abusing Tina and died of a drug overdose in 2007. As with Michael Jackson’s life story, Ike’s detrimental ways were as well documented as the music that made him a household name. “Many years have passed since Tina Turner suffered at the hands of her violent, coked-up former husband,” said David McGee, a Rolling Stone columnist, in 2004. “It’s high time to acknowledge that Clarksdale, MS’s, Isaac Lustre Turner, for all his inexcusable and shameful behavior behind closed doors, is as much a monster on the stage and in the studio as he is off.” 

Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee are household names for reasons other than Anderson’s iconic role in “Baywatch” and Lee’s “godlike” career with Mötley Crüe, but Lee was jailed for 6 months in 1998 after he was accused of beating Anderson with their infant child in hand. According to Deputy District Attorney Kathy Solorzano, Lee abused Anderson after she was unwilling to inform her parents not to come to their residence. Lee plead “no contest” to the spousal abuse charges, was divorced from Anderson that same year, but caused an uproar in the media when he was seen with Anderson in 2008, supposedly rekindling their relationship. The two have parted their separate ways yet again, but both parties admit that Lee used his love of the camera to rebuild his humane image. 

A key principle of journalism is that “Citizens are a vital point of journalism.” Citizens are inhabitants of a nation that are protected and abide by its nation’s laws. Therefore, the definition of a citizen can be applied to a celebrity. This citizen might have more money and power than the average person of their nation, but there is a shared implement in the definition of a citizen and that of a celebrity: humanity—the difference is that one human is regarded as higher in the world’s social hierarchy than the other. As noted in the principles of journalism, “journalists must have a conscience,” meaning that all humans have a conscience and that people must be respected because they have a conscience—they have feelings and experiences that should be safely guarded because they have them and are affected by them. Journalism must, at times, make the “tough call” and decide, “Although this crime was heinous, significant, local, unusual, timely, and has an impact on the community, someone’s child was brutally raped and abused [for example, by means of its fictitious story] and might not want every detail told to the public because they are grieving.” The “journalists” at TMZ and bloggers across the world should have thought about the tumultuous emotions and situations that Rihanna and Chris Brown had endured from the altercation and thereafter. Like the example given above, these journalists should have considered the effect on those involved. In other words, although the situation was timely because it occurred the evening before the Grammys; involved the celebrities Rihanna and Chris Brown; of human interest because a woman was brutally beaten by her boyfriend; spurred from a verbal conflict between her and Brown; and impacts the decisions of youth involved in dating abuse because it involved two “teen idols;” the media should have acknowledged Rihanna and Chris Brown’s youth and the fact that Rihanna was beaten by a man that she loved. Both parties were mentally confused and emotional hurt, which in turn emphasized Rihanna’s physical pain and Brown’s guilt. They both needed to physically and mentally heal and not have the world weigh in on what should have happened and what went wrong. The reporters at TMZ did not have a conscious in publishing the picture of a battered Rihanna, in my opinion, and the head of that organization with a conscience should have fired those involved in its publishing, or should have been fired his/herself. If it was them or their child featured in that picture, it would not have been published. Tina Turner and Pamela Anderson are adults that had been in the public spotlight years before their domestic abuse cases were brought to the media. Rihanna and Chris Brown are in their youth and may not have known how to handle the situation, let alone keep the media out their personal lives. What they want the public to see is what fuels their payroll: their music. Unless they approached TMZ’s—and every other media organization that published their information unconsciously—front desk and asked them to tell their story and to offer their opinion on the ordeal, then those articles and that picture should not have been published. 

Journalists are working for a paycheck in the same right that they are working to tell the public a story. I would have loved to have asked to a TMZ reporter, “What if you knew that the money used to buy your family’s groceries generated from the emotional and physical pain of a 20-year-old woman that was brutally beaten? What if that was your daughter? What if the shoe was on the other foot, and someone else was feeding their family by the money they made from the publishing a picture of your brutally beaten child? Would you want that picture shown? Would you want that journalist to still make that dollar ''though it’s causing your family pain?” If that journalist had responded “Yes,” I would no longer believe that there was any sanctity in the art of journalism. It would no longer be an art, in my eyes. It would strictly be a business. 


  1. Abdul-Aleem, Maryam. "Domestic violence highlighted by Rihanna and Chris Brown case." New York Amsterdam News 100.11 (2009): 32-34. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 20 Nov. 2009. <;col1>.
  2. "IN THE NEWS." Rolling Stone 1073 (2009): 19-20. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 20 Nov. 2009. (The original post is no longer available) 
  3. Itzkoff, Dave. “Police Investigate Photo in Chris Brown Case.” The New York Times. 21 Feb 2009. 19 Nov 2009. <>.
  4.  “Celebrities Speak Out About Abuse.” 20 Nov 2009. <>.
  5. McGee, David. “Ike and Tina Turner: Biography.” 2004. 19 Nov 2009. (The original post is no longer available)
  6. “Oprah advises Rihanna to split with Chris Brown.” The National Post. 9 Mar 2009. 19 Nov 2009. <>.
  7. “Rihanna Speaks Out: A 20/20 Special.” 20/20. ABC. 6 Nov 2009. 

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