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Too Much Info

9 March 2007

There is such a thing as too much information.

Our culture is not as polite as it used to be.

Put those two bits together, and you get trashy news. The news outlets are racing to the bottom, and today’s example is the publication of the pillow-talk emails sent by the two lovers in the Lisa Nowak / NASA love tryst imbroglio. I won’t be posting links because, first, it’ll be easy enough for anyone to do a quick search to find the articles I’m talking about, and second, the links, being news links, probably won’t last forever where they are now.

Here are the newsworthy facts. A married woman with three children had an ongoing affair with a co-worker. Her husband moves out. At the same time, her lover leaves her for another woman. She falls apart, makes a cross-country journey to either confront her rival, kidnap her rival, or kill her rival—who really knows at this point?—and becomes front page news. She remains on the front page because she is an astronaut (well, because she’s a woman and an astronaut), and because her lover is also an astronaut.

Is this really news? No. It could be, if we learn something about the stresses of the culture of NASA, or if we find some weakness in the psychological support provided (or not) to people serving in the armed forces, specifically in the space program, and take steps to fix those problems. Otherwise, it’s just a personal affair of the heart.

So could someone please explain to me the necessity for the world at large to have access to the personal messages sent back and forth by the two bystanders in this fiasco, the lover (William Oefelein) and the rival (Colleen Shipman)? Their family, their co-workers, and especially all of us strangers, don’t need to know how they corresponded with each other or how much attraction they felt for each other.

I felt this same repulsion with the secondary news accounts that came out of Abu Ghraib. Lynndie England was having an affair with Charles Graner. Yes, this was worth knowing, because they were both involved in the inhuman treatment of Iraqi prisoners, and their relationship explained why England was front and center in some of the more infamous photos, and why she had access to parts of the prison that someone with her job normally shouldn’t have. But what use at all was it for us to know she was pregnant with her boyfriend’s baby? None at all. It was just titillating gossip that everyone, even the New York Times, felt was newsworthy. *

Relationship gossip about the human failings of people who make poor choices is not news. I wish more news outlets remembered this.

*I even emailed the Public Editor, because at the time I thought they would take a question about the approriateness seriously. Unfortunately, they didn’t. I just got a pat response from the assistant to the Public Editor, not really addressing my question at all. That was the last time I paid any attention to the Public Editor at the NYT. Pffft.

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