NASHVILLE SKYLINE: In Defense of Jessica Simpson

Singer Was Victim of Journo, Blogo Cheap Shots

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

As regular readers of this column know, I’m no cheerleader for Jessica Simpson. Nonetheless, I am compelled to defend her in the matter of recent shoddy so-called journalism and blogging. I believe in fair play for all artists. At least until they prove themselves unworthy of any play, fair or otherwise.

I believe that all artists (hell, all people) should get a fair shake. And that they should be allowed to succeed or fail on their own merits. In the blogosphere at large, not to mention areas of journalism itself, that sense of fairness does not exist. Large numbers of sites, including so-called reputable news organizations, took an initial report about Simpson and ran with it unquestioningly. It all stems from her country music debut on Saturday (July 19) at the Country Thunder USA festival in Twin Lakes, Wis.

In Simpson’s case, she was the victim of a series of cheap shots, in which an isolated couple of quotes were taken from a single source and spread around the world. That’s the easiest “reporting” to do, though: Take anything that’s “reported” and run with it, without questioning it or attempting to do any real reporting to determine its veracity. To feel legitimate, note that you’re citing “published reports,” for phony authenticity. Never mind where those reports were published.

For Simpson, she will be eternally followed by variations of the early headlines “Country Fans Heckle Jessica Simpson” and “Jessica Simpson Booed at Debut Country Gig”. There have been hundreds of others published around the world, and in the blogosphere, they will never disappear.

If I were her and had a sense of humor, I’d be selling T-shirts (since she’s a big T-shirt fan) reading “Jessica Simpson Heckled.”

Obviously, fear of being scooped in the blogosphere has created a climate in which accuracy overwhelmingly is not considered a factor in reporting anything. For newspapers and other news organizations, though, opinion is one thing. News stories are another. Opinion of any sort — or gossip, as it’s become — should never be peddled as news. As far as blogs go, there are many that maintain standards. For most, though, that long ago ceased to even be an issue.

In a case like this, when the “heckled” and “booed” headlines began turning up, you look for the source. In these cases, it’s like tracing a case of salmonella. There’s usually one tainted or dubious starting point. Here, the linchpin of the whole matter was a story in a small Wisconsin newspaper. The Kenosha News reporter’s story was heavily weighted toward quotes from a handful of fans who were not predisposed to like Simpson.

The reporter wrote that Simpson was met with a mixture of boos and cheers, which is not surprising. But the quotes chosen were heavily anti-Simpson. Admittedly, Simpson’s entry into country music has not been universally welcomed, and that day at Country Thunder, she was following crowd favorite Kellie Pickler on stage. Still, how fair is it to begin what the newspaper’s managing editor said was a news article, not a review, thusly: “Country music fans are probably the toughest music critics around. Skepticism was elevated hours before Jessica Simpson’s debut country performance, opening for Sara Evans, Saturday night at Country Thunder. With only one country single released, fans doubted if the pop diva could stack up against other country music acts.” And so on. (The story can be seen at the newspaper’s Web site.)

The problem is, once those quotes were picked up by a few newspapers, other news organizations and blogs then ran with the whole generalization that Simpson’s country debut was a disaster. And the only source given (when writers bothered to list one at all) was unnamed “published reports.” Further digging of the incident itself shows that there were in fact a few hecklers, but by and large, Simpson was accepted by the crowd. But no one bothered to do a little real reporting.

The whole issue of the matter of gossip and sleaze in blogging is a whole ‘nother thing. Nothing will stop it. You can’t legislate or make it illegal. Fair-minded people can only ignore reading it and not practice it.

This is far from being an isolated case. Miley Cyrus was recently tarred with the same journo-blog brush as Simpson. Headlines about the “nude Miley” recently raced around the world when she showed part of a bare back in her Vanity Fair shoot — and that quickly became “nude photos” in the blogosphere. Truth be damned.

The problem is not confined to music coverage or even show business coverage. It’s an epidemic of anything-goes. It’s an infection of get numbers at any cost. I don’t know of any solution, other than for journalists and bloggers to operate with a sense of fair play. And for readers to consider the source if they choose to patronize tainted sites.

As my mother used to say whenever I wanted to do something stupid because all my friends were doing it, “If they jump off a bridge, will you, too?”