Soundtrack in my head: Public Enemy, “Don’t Believe The Hype”
Like many other Americans, I read about the tragic story of astronaut Lisa Nowak being charged with attempted kidnapping. The media spoke about the items found in Ms. Nowak’s car– pepper spray, a knife, an unused BB-gun cartridge, a steel mallet, latex gloves, rubber tubing and garbage bags. But what’s with the diaper? That is, the media’s obsession with the diaper that Nowak reportedly wore during the 900-mile drive from Texas to Florida? The media coverage of Lisa Nowak is childish. Why does the public need to know about the diaper? How relevant and important is it in the whole scheme of things compared to the actual charge of attempted kidnapping? Why did police choose to share that information and why did reporters choose to relay that to the public? According to ABC News, a police affidavit went as far as to reveal that Nowak “urinated in a diaper so that she did not need to stop.” Um, thank you for sharing.
Since then, it appears that the media, the bloggers, and millions of readers have become obsessed with that much-maligned undergarment. The Denver Post.com’s headline was “Diaper-wearing astronaut jailed in love triangle plot.” When I took Journalism 101, we were taught the inverted triangle method of writing in which the most important information was placed first in the story. Looks like the Denver Post has its priorities straight. The Detroit Free Press’s Freep.com had the headline “Astronaut — armed, disguised and diaper-clad — charged with attempted murder.” Fox News–always a paragon of good taste–showed a map of the route reportedly driven by Nowak with the title “The 900-Mile Diaper Drive.”
I’m waiting for some headline writer to get confused and write “Astronaut arrested in Florida for wearing diapers.” I think in many ways it would tell a greater truth about our society than what the media is reporting now . It would say a lot about the media coverage of Lisa Nowak.
People are already starting to cash in. Someone has put for sale on eBay a “Lisa AstroNut Diaper Handbag”—opening bid $100. Someone else claims to have found diapers she left behind at a stop along Interstate ten and is selling them for $2,000. But for those of us on a budget, fear not–for 99 cents, you can buy a diaper with a picture of an astronaut drawn on the front.
At least a few media outlets were charitable enough to inform us that for decades, astronauts have worn something resembling a diaper during take-off and re-entry. Newsweek devoted a whole story to it called “What’s With The Diaper?” I never really thought about it before, but I guess it makes logical sense. Given the demands of space travel, I guess the astronauts don’t have the luxury of saying, “Does anybody still need to use the bathroom before we leave? Because once we hit the road, we’re not stopping!”
I read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book “The Scarlet Letter,” in high school. We shake our heads at the notion of a woman in Puritan New England being forced to endure the humiliation of wearing a scarlet letter “A” on her bosom as punishment for the crime of committing adultery. But let’s face it—our modern mass media has got the Puritans beat hands down in its ability to bring public shame and humiliation upon people. Lisa Nowak’s scarlet letter “D” has been discussed and chortled about in far, far more places that Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter “A” ever would have ever been. I really wonder if the word “dignity” appears in the most updated version of the Associated Press Stylebook.
Some may argue that Ms. Nowak deserves the humiliation she is getting. I’m sure that if I were on the receiving end of a pepper spray attack, it would be very tempting to wish utter shame and humiliation on the assailant. But I wonder how many people remember that Ms. Nowak is innocent until proven guilty. We have a criminal justice system to try, and if need be, punish such offenders. Society does not need the media’s help in this case.
Let’s face it. News outlets chose to focus on Ms. Nowak’s undergarments because it sells papers or draws viewers. It makes for great copy. In this line of thinking, the crushing of a person’s dignity is a small price to pay in the pursuit of greater circulation, higher sweeps ratings, and more website hits.
To the diaper-obsessed police, journalists and bloggers, I say this: We all know that in focusing on Ms. Nowak’s undergarments, you are merely trying to deal with repressed toilet training memories that you have not yet come to terms with. Please don’t do so at the expense of the Nowak family’s dignity.