Legitimate news ... or tabloid topic?
"Double Trouble," blared the headline of the New York Daily News. "Jenna and Tonic," wailed the New York Post. "Appeal for Privacy After Bush Twins Are Cited for Alcohol," intoned The New York Times.
What a change in headlines from Chelsea Clinton's tenure as first daughter. Journalists and media critics agree fairly uniformly that when the 19-year-old Bush girls stepped over the legal line by allegedly sipping forbidden drinks, they forfeited the special consideration usually given the progeny of the powerful. Even White House spokesman Ari Fleischer didn't argue with the appropriateness of reporting on what's in the public record.
But some critics note a difference between passing along facts and delving in with relish. And, they argue, the coverage given the daughters of the two presidents highlights one of the inherent and seemingly intractable challenges for mainstream media. As commercial entities with corporate bottom lines to meet, they have grown increasingly entertainment driven, blurring traditional journalistic standards.
For some scholars, that's the real motivation for the media's tone in reporting the Bush girls' problems - the difference between their behavior and Ms. Clinton's notwithstanding. To these experts, the justifications about "crossing legal lines" are nothing more than excuses used to exploit the twins' privacy.
"No one wants to dismiss the problem with alcohol abuse, but the media's excuse does seem rather lame," says Charles Figley, a psychologist who studies the children of celebrities. Other critics also warn the media against the slippery slope of "tabloidism" in dealing with a sensitive story like this.
"By definition, you don't know where the boundaries of privacy are anymore," says Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington. "The problem with the story about the twins is that it opens the floodgates so other things will get reported now when they ordinarily wouldn't."