Breathtaking coverage, but lamentable

Times Staff Writer

The centerfold, the gold digger, the demimonde redneck.

Anna Nicole Smith is a smorgasbord of easily classified metaphors, each with plenty of “girl gone wild” B-roll. It’s why KCAL Channel 9 devoted its 8 p.m. news hole to her death after the Lakers-Pistons game Thursday night.

It’s why E!, the network that cemented her redneck period with “The Anna Nicole Smith Show,” announced a special “True Hollywood Story,” airing tonight -- the network’s way of flying its flag at half-staff.

And it’s why, on the many-paneled video wall behind host Wolf Blitzer on CNN’s “The Situation Room,” the Anna Nicole story swept the board Thursday afternoon as if she were Fidel Castro.


Not one of Blitzer’s “This Just In” TVs was trained on a reporter standing in Baghdad or even in a Midwestern ice storm. Still, the tableau of screens provided the most chillingly accurate view of Smith’s tawdry appeal to the body politic -- what a newspaper could never capture.

Anna Nicole in red. Anna Nicole in white. Anna Nicole’s breasts defying gravity and/or giving in to gravity. Overweight Anna Nicole. Anna Nicole kissing her infant baby. Anna Nicole kissing the decrepit face of an elderly oil tycoon.

CNN had plenty of in-house expertise. Nancy Grace and Larry King were rushed onto the air, via phone. King, from Beverly Hills, spoke of her beauty in his older man’s gravelly voice and mentioned how he had one of Smith’s oil paintings hanging in his house. CNN’s in-house lawyer, Jeffrey Toobin, came on to discuss the legal ramifications of a woman who might not have made out a will, while the network’s in-house doctor, Sanjay Gupta, came on to discuss possible causes of death, which included “cardiac compromise,” “pulmonary embolism” and “medication interaction.”

It was news as an episode of “House” or “CSI” or even, given the whiff of hangers-on thrust into commentator roles, “Ugly Betty.” “There will be no reporting on the passing of Anna Nicole Smith,” CNN’s Lou Dobbs couldn’t help editorializing when Blitzer kicked it to the host of “Lou Dobbs Tonight.” “We hope you’ll join us.” Bah, humbug.


By Friday, the website had tallied up the damage to the public trust via a chart that showed CNN had made reference to Smith 141 times by Thursday afternoon, versus 27 references to Iraq. The Anna Nicole versus Iraq scores for MSNBC (170-24) and Fox News (112-33) weren’t much different. But it was all, somehow, as breathtaking as lamentable, because you expected the lamentable part. When Fox News host John Gibson asked, “What was she?” he sounded annoyed and out of touch.

In her supposed quest to be like Marilyn Monroe, to hit every sex-symbol trope in Monroe’s legend, visiting troops overseas was one career move Smith had neglected to make. So on this day authority was offered not by a man in a general’s outfit but by a younger man, in couture, called Bobby Trendy.