By ROBERT RECTOR
AMERICA Held Hostage by Anna Nicole Smith: Day 6.
I take no satisfaction in the passing of a human being at the young age of 39, especially one that leaves a baby motherless.
Bt at the same time, I am slack jawed at the fact that the death of a Grade B celebrity whose claim to fame was a pair of oversized breasts and a sketchy marriage to an aging oil billionaire continues to dominate the media.
Welcome to the brave new world of tabloid-driven news where tawdry trumps substance time and time again.
Consider: NBC's "Nightly News" devoted 14 seconds to Iraq compared to 3 minutes and 13 seconds to Anna Nicole, according to one report. CNN referenced Anna Nicole 52.2 percent more frequently than it did Iraq. MSNBC was even worse - 70.8 percent more references to Anna Nicole than Iraq.
Over this weekend, almost every cable network I saw wallowed in the Smith story, highlighted by Fox News' hour-long special "Anna Nicole: Tragic Beauty."
This, of course, occurred at the same time Barack Obama was announcing his historic presidential bid and a trial involving the outing of a CIA agent was winding its way toward the vice president of the United States.
The heck with that.
Anna had them all coming out of the woodwork. Geraldo Rivera and Greta van Susteren were pulling 24/7 shifts since Smith died Thursday. Panel discussions were formed. Windbags described as experts were interviewed. The contents of Smith's refrigerator qualified as breaking news.
Boxing promoter Don King held a press conference to reminisce about Anna Nicole Smith. Zsa-Zsa Gabor's 59-year-old husband, Prince Frederic von Anhalt, proclaimed he was the father of Smith's 5-month-old daughter, Dannielynn Hope Marshall Stern. So have assorted other characters in her life. Can O.J. be far behind?
The luckiest woman in America is NASA astronaut Lisa Marie Nowak, whose alleged attack on a romantic rival was headline news until Smith's death booted her off the front page and into relative obscurity.
Does anybody watch this stuff, read it, revel in it? Apparently, and unfortunately, yes.
Fox's prime-time viewership on the night of Smith's death jumped to 2,225,000, an increase of at least 400,000 over a typical weeknight, the cable station said.
Traffic on entertainment and personality Web sites leapt 54 percent compared with the day before Smith's death became public, Matt Tatham of Hitwise, a firm that tracks Web traffic, told the Los Angeles Times.
More than 14,000 blogs posted information, opinions and rants about her death, according to another tracking service, Technorati.com.
"I loved her," one blog gushed. "I miss her," others wrote. "She was beautiful."
"I truly believe she had a lot of love to give and just wanted to be loved back," a blogger said. Added another, "We'll certainly miss her charm, her on-cam blunders and bloopers and we'll pray she's making the sandy shores in the hereafter very happy."
Here, on the rocky shores of journalism, we are left scratching our heads. Do we watch what we are fed? Is the drive for ratings the altar at which all media worship? Or is it what Newsweek calls the "Girls Gone Wild Effect," a combination of out-of-control celebs and online sleaze?
Or does the life and death of a stripper turned Playboy bunny turned Marilyn Monroe wannabe turned wealthy widow provide a brief respite from the agony of Iraq and Katrina?
If so, it's an odd exchange to make, one sort of tragedy for another.
Soon enough, Iraq and Katrina and Barack Obama and Dick Cheney will dominate our news and our thoughts again.
Until then, rest in peace Anna Nicole.