As I write this, midday on Tuesday, July 9th, country music superstar Randy Travis is lying a few miles away in a Plano, Texas, hospital fighting for his life. He was admitted last Sunday with cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscles caused by a viral infection. At last report he was listed in critical condition.
All of this is being dutifully and accurately reported by the local Dallas and national news media outlets but many of them can't stop there. They can't just tell you the guy is seriously ill and then move on to the next story. Most insist on harkening back to last year when Travis, who lives near Pilot Point, north of Dallas, was arrested twice for offenses related to public drunkenness.
Randy Travis is a very famous man. His arrests were news last year but not now.
Yet, everywhere I looked on the Internet and on TV news this morning I saw Randy's ugly mug shot, the one where he's scowling, sporting a cut over his nose and a black eye. It's a picture taken nearly a year ago when the very sad side of Randy's personal life became humiliatingly public.
It was news then. It's not now.
Now, Randy Travis is fighting for his life and that alone is apparently not dramatic enough to satisfy the reporting instincts of people who seem to wish they were writing movies rather than news. The media accounts are conflicted, disguised as sympathy while piling on the retelling of Travis' bad behavior nearly a year ago leading the reader/viewer to tie it to his current life-threatening condition.
The implication is clear: Randy Travis is a drunk. He did this to himself. And, from what I can learn by researching viral cardiomyopathy, long term alcohol addiction can, in fact, be a factor. Randy's doctors haven't said that it was and by law they can't. So, without attribution the journalists just suggest it by retelling the story of Travis being cornered drunk and naked one night last year, resisting arrest. Not long after that he reportedly got in a fight.
The nasty mug shot is exciting. Let's bring that back!
And, in our reporting we must sound very sad and noble about it all because it is our uncomfortable duty to impose on this great, though tortured man's privacy and dignity and to reveal his personal demons again, with heavy judgmental implication.
These days it's not enough to simply report the facts, we must give you context and lead you toward a conclusion, suggesting what you should think and how you should feel.
You are the public, after all. You have a right to know.
Update, July 16th, reported by TMZ:
Randy Travis' heart issues which landed him in the hospital a week ago ... are NOT the result of drug or alcohol abuse, according to his doctors.
Doctors at the Texas hospital where Randy is getting treatment just said -- based on images of Randy's heart -- it's more likely that a family history of cardiomyopathy is to blame for his ongoing heart trouble.