Money or Morality – what really motivates the media?

One of the most recent scandals to take the online community by storm is the leaking of compromising photos of female celebrities by a hacker on 4chan. The related issues of privacy and sexual violation have been well addressed in articles apprearing in national newspapers such as The Guardian and the Telegraph, which highlight the criminal nature of the leak and the ‘slut-shaming’ implications created by the photos, exclusively featuring women. However, one issue that is yet to be addressed is whether such outrage on the part of the media is genuine and, if so, why, out of the numerous female celebrities who have had images stolen, Jennifer Lawrence is the one so continually focused on in media coverage. Even reports that speak of others affected by the leak find a way to involve the star: one article in the Mirror reads, ‘Jennifer Lawrence nude leaked photos: Victoria Justice taking legal action after naked photo hack’. 

Admittedly, it seems inevitable that a young woman who is currently one of the most famous actresses in the world would receive more attention than her peers in anything newsworthy. Yet this alone cannot explain why the Hunger Games star is receiving almost all the media coverage surrounding the issue, or why so many more defendants leapt to her cause than that of Vanessa Hudgens when photos taken of her in 2007 resurfaced.  

A single intimate photo of a celebrity figure is estimated to be worth up to $50,000 per day in advertising revenue for any publisher prepared to upload the image, an act that risks prosecution but promises publicity. In such a light, the decision of many writers to promote the avoidance of these photos seems, at first glance, to be giving precedence to the emotional needs of those affected over financial gain on the part of the media. Were I hopelessly optimistic, I would presume that those currently reporting on the 4chan leak are attempting to do so from a moral stance, joining the ranks of those fighting cyber bullying and gender inequality. Alas, this is not the case.

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Were it so, we would not see innumerable articles focusing almost exclusively on Lawrence, the golden girl of internet memes, the celebrity with a personality big enough to keep the cameras on her on-screen presence rather than on her private life. She has become central to the news story not because of her fame (other stars such as Kate Upton have had photos of them uploaded, whilst the likes of Rihanna and Selena Gomez are included on the ‘master list’ of those who may also have images leaked), nor because she has confirmed their authenticity (Mary Elizabeth Winstead has also publicly acknowledged her photos as real). Rather, Lawrence has been focused on because writing a defence of her sells, and in an age where public figures are often viewed as merchandise available for public consumption, the human side of any issue fails to emerge unless it comes with a financial benefit.

When she gained the title of ‘Cool Girl’ (in other words a woman who acts like a bloke and looks like a supermodel), Lawrence also gained a reputation for endorsing food, clumsiness and a positive self-image – values that serve only to enhance her status as a likeable and relatable celebrity in the eyes of the public. With this in mind, it seems clear that while articles focusing on this new intersection between her public and private life would sell, those stigmatising her for the recent photos would not, unlike in the case of Hudgens, be well-accepted. It is with that realisation that many newspapers dramatically changed their portrayal of the young star. This perhaps is best shown by the fact that the Mirror’s publication of an article called Why Jennifer Lawrence is the sexiest girl in Hollywood – in GIFs on the 31st August was swiftly followed by a piece of writing expressing concerns that beautiful girls are often treated like “nothing but a meatsack” on the 1st September. Clearly the opinions of the newspaper regarding the objectification of attractive women have not changed in the course of one day. The newspaper was responding to public outcry. I almost have more respect for Playboy in their stance on attractive women – at least they are consistent.

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I can only hope against hope that this rapid change in tone signals the start of more ethical reporting, rather than yet another instance of journalistic hypocrisy. After all, who better to change the reporting of issues for the better than the actress who was labelled as one of the most influential people in the world in 2013? The media has not only the opportunity, but also the responsibility, to report and provoke a greater understanding of issues that affect not only celebrities, but also people from all walks of life. Unfortunately, rationality tells me that this change in stance is not a watershed in journalistic ethics, but instead a financial move – in the world of journalism it becomes all too apparent that money, not morals, is what makes the world go round.

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