Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Gossip Is The New News

What Howard K. Stern and Larry Birkhead may or may not have done and what Anna Nicole Smith’s two nannies may or may not have seen may (forget the option of “or may not”) be given priority over what may or may not be happening in Iraq.

If there’s something new with Lindsay Lohan or O.J. Simpson, it's bad news for Anderson Cooper, who's sure to be bumped even if waiting in the eye of a hurricane, protected only by a windbreaker. It’s no accident that there’s a new series called “Gossip Girl”, which, given the climate, will get better ratings than “Informed Girl” or “Wonk Girl”.

In today’s New York Times there’s a story on gossip in the Science Section, removed from gossip we’re fed in the other sections. There was a test conducted to determine the power of gossip. They needed a lab to study gossip?!! One has only to recall the speed with which the story about the actor and the gerbil (I’m taking the high road and not naming either the actor or the gerbil). Within a week, we each heard the story several times from someone claiming, "I heard this from the nurse who removed the gerbil". This gave rise to many questions, adding to the life of the story. How many people could this nurse have known? Do HMO’s have a code for removing a gerbil? Is it considered elective or cosmetic surgery?

Politicians and celebrities are generally seen as fair topics unless they're personal friends, which heightens interest in the story but makes you look shabby and disloyal. Less clear is what you can disclose about those you know. I make an effort not to repeat a confidence told to me directly, particularly if it might cause pain or embarrassment. Sometimes I'll allow myself to tell one person who’s a stranger to the subject of the story but only if I'm sure they'll never meet. I was once troubled by the question of whether or not I remained obligated to keep the secrets of a friend who'd dumped me.

A new wrinkle is my memory has become less reliable. I can't trust myself to remember who prefaced a story with, "Promise you won't repeat this". The result is I'm now more discrete than I may or may not want to be.

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