“If there had been a TV in every living room 60 years ago, this country does not elect a man in a wheelchair.” So said Martin Sheen’s character in the film “The American President” (1995). Having just seen Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt in “Hyde Park on the Hudson”, I gained an enhanced appreciation for the privacy a president was given by members of the media in those times. A paralyzed polio victim, FDR went to great lengths to ensure that he wouldn’t be photographed in his wheelchair; in fact, only two known pictures exist. But as shown in “Hyde Park”, reporters were quite aware of the president’s disability–and they also knew of his extramarital affairs–but they respected his privacy without question.
That respect continued for the next couple of decades. From JFK’s love life to Rock Hudson’s and Liberace’s homosexuality, the press usually kept quiet about the private “challenges” of the rich and powerful. But privacy has since been stood on its head and shaken to the core.
The NRA gained questionable publicity this week when it brought President Obama’s daughters into the school safety debate. The White House viewed the NRA’s ad as a terrible intrusion into the president’s private family life. But such privacy rarely seems to matter to anyone anymore. Can you imagine an America without a Monica Lewinsky or an Elliot Spitzer or an Andrew Weiner? And what of the poor Kardashians and our countless reality shows? If reporters backed off on sharing others’ private lives, where would the scandals come from? The crime sheets of a Lance Armstrong or a Lindsay Lohan? There’s meaty stuff there, but hardly enough to fill dozens of channels with their ongoing coverage of bad behavior. Media is a ravenous consumer of time which needs constant feeding. Factor in the head-spinning changes wrought by the Internet and social media, and real privacy is truly a thing of the past.
The slow death of privacy is an issue this blog will explore quite a bit more in 2013 and I look forward to your suggestions. Your thoughts?