The recent Charlie Sheen debacle is the kind of public spectacle that underscores the current media environment – one that encourages the outrageous. The more outlandish, the better. If you want global public attention, and you’re willing to do something crazy enough to get it, then the media are a willing accomplice. Fair or not?
Talk with almost any reporter and they’ll tell you they’re just reporting the news. In the case of Charlie Sheen, for example, the media would argue that this guy is the highest paid actor on television on the top-rated comedy series in the country. The circumstances of Sheen leaving the show and his willingness to embrace any and every media outlet he can find to tell his story is both fair game and newsworthy. Of course, the public bears some responsibility here as well. The intense social media activity punctuates the media’s case. (When we follow him on Twitter, or we watch his appearances on television or online, we are tacitly enabling and endorsing the coverage). Reporters would also say that Sheen’s antics during interviews make for good television – a double bonus if you will.
This may be true, but many would strongly suggest that the media are not simply observers here, and even if they were, the effect on behavior and outcomes is undeniable. For some, it’s a clear example of the Observer Effect – the simple act of observing will influence behavior and outcome. Seems if the media weren’t watching and so willing to chase whatever story provides the best ratings, maybe Charlie Sheen behaves differently. Maybe not.
What we do know is even with all the 24-hour news channels we have today, there’s only so much time to cover the important issues that tell the stories of this rather large planet we all live on. The impact on business is not small, as we are forced to compete for share of voice with the likes of Charlie Sheen and every other train wreck that so easily finds its way into the public spotlight. When it comes to whether our overall society is winning, even if you side with the media, the ultimate answer to that question is up to us. Let me know what you think!