Archive for Thursday, February 5, 2009

Press should show respect for private lives

February 5, 2009

How private should the lives of public people be? Depends.

If we are talking about elected public officials who make the choice to be in the public eye, those who elect them have a right and the public official has a duty to be relatively transparent. We are speaking here of adults. If we are speaking of their children, especially minor children, we are speaking of something else all together.

The question came home to me through two different observations.

I watched the television production of “The Queen,” with Helen Mirren in which the death of Princess Diana and the Royals response in the week following was portrayed. The Queen tried desperately, in Royal tradition, to be reserved and restrained in her emotions. In part, she was protecting tradition; in part, protecting her grandsons — Princess Diana’s sons.

She was not allowed the option of private restraint to what became a public matter and was forced to not only express her emotions in a speech but to make a public appearance and allow for a public funeral. Was it the right outcome? Did the press go too far in demanding a public forum for such intense and dramatic grief?

What became apparent in that portrayal of events was that in spite of being Royal, underneath the tradition and bric-a-brac was an intensely human person struggling to cope with unprecedented tragedy. It takes time to absorb and respond to loss and grief, no matter who one is or what position one occupies. Should she have been allowed more personal time to work through such public tragedy? Was it the right outcome? Did the press go too far in their demands?

The flip side of the coin is the jubilation associated with the election of our new President — unprecedented celebration of the man, of social and cultural change, of new beginnings, which is the polar opposite of public tragedy and loss.

To what extent should the public be allowed into the private lives of the Obamas? To what extent should cameras be allowed into the private living quarters of the family during dinner, at private matters, when the youngsters are doing their homework, or other small moments? How far should the press go in making the personal lives of the Obamas transparent?

The Obamas have chosen public life at its zenith. One could argue that the trade off of living life in a fishbowl is that one is under 24-hour scrutiny, seven days a week. I say where the youngsters are concerned, that should be an entirely personal and private matter all the time. The press owes it to the First family and to the public to show restraint and respect where the daily lives — school, soccer, bike rides, car rides, dog walks, time with the children — are involved. To show restraint and respect, privacy of others, even public officials, should be a part of who we are, especially where children are concerned.


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