Dec 08

Much of the news surrounding the whirlwind book tour of Sarah Palin has concerned the media itself, and Palin’s open disdain for it. Press coverage that gathers large crowds at book signings and speeches, apparently, is good. Press coverage that takes issue with any aspect of what Palin says or does at those book signings and speeches, apparently, is bad.

For instance, some members of the press took issue with the seeming contradiction between Palin’s use of a private jet as transportation between book signings and speeches, and the grass roots image she’s wanting to perpetuate by rolling into each of her public appearances on a bus. Palin interpreted that as a personal attack, and used her own new media outlet – her Facebook account – to counterattack, berating the media for raising the question at all. “The media showed the same out-of-proportion obsession with my personal arrangements, clothes, and hairstyles last year instead of focusing on the crucial issues involving the election,” Palin wrote on her Facebook page before poking a specific barb at CBS and “whatever professional integrity it still has.”

While Palin believes that media attention should be restricted to “crucial issues,” she didn’t hold her own memoir, “Going Rogue” to the same high standard. In this literary communication which was under her own control, Palin used approximately 100 pages, or nearly 25%, of the “Going Rogue” memoir not to address those “crucial issues,” but rather to air grievances she harbors against the McCain campaign team in particular and, of course, the media in general.

Seemingly from Palin’s perspective, when media coverage of her patriotism and family values is reported, the media has integrity. But when media coverage questions the disparity between her public image and her private actions, the media is unfair and obsessed. Palin is hardly the first celebrity to curse the source of their fame, while enjoying all the positive benefits of it at the same time. Reportedly Palin has seven million reasons to be grateful that anyone with press credentials ever got obsessed enough to make her a household name.

“We’re seeing this argument take shape where anyone who’s critical of Sarah Palin is portrayed as launching unfair personal attacks on her,” said Betsy Reed, co-editor of the Palin counter-memoir, “Going Rouge.” “It’s really important to tell the other side of her story… and not to fall prey to the Sarah Palin branding machine,” said Richard Kim, the other co-editor in a recent interview with the online political publication, “TruthOut.”

The Kim-Reed book about Sarah Palin is actually a collection of essays that was gathered as a biographical anthology, and released in book form on the same day as Palin’s own memoir. This counter-memoir, “Going Rouge,” initially gained attention due to the similarity of the titles and the satire of the book’s cover. The “Rogue” cover depicts Palin as a patriotic dream in front of blue skies, while the “Rouge” cover depicts Palin as an American nightmare in front of stormy skies.

"Going Rouge: An American Life" is the Memoir About Sarah Palin "Going Rouge: An American Nightmare" is the Counter-Memoir About Sarah Palin

“Although the cover has an element of satire, the book is not a parody. Our goal was to present a serious appraisal of Sarah Palin’s record and an assessment of her role in American politics,” Reed told “TruthOut.”

“She is a very well-packaged celebrity at this point, so we felt it was important to show her beneath the gloss,” said Reed.

“Going Rouge” has also been receiving major mass media coverage along with “Going Rogue” not just because of the media’s mistakes with talking about one book while showing the cover of the other, but also because it is the nature of free speech to find and express opposing views. For every point there is a counterpoint, and reporting the yeah-but side of any story is a pretty big part of the whole free speech paradigm.

No matter how diverse their politics, most American citizens can find common ground in the First Amendment. Despite individual opinions, there is a fundamental acknowledgement that the whole truth is not really found in any left-wing blog, right-wing television network, self-promoting Facebook page, carefully crafted memoir, or cleverly edited counter-memoir. The truth, most Americans agree, is found in the silent spaces between the noise of those who are arguing the loudest with each other to defend their own position.

As long as there is still is a right to free speech in the U.S., it is safe to say there will be a tabloid story for every celebrity, a negative news report for every politician, and a “Going Rouge” for every “Going Rogue.” And as long as there is a desire for the expansive existence that the uninhibited search for truth affords, the world has a need for them all.

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Nov 13

More than 4.5 million people were watching when Shay Sorrells got sent home from the Biggest Loser ranch in the reality show’s current season. Shay’s departure was significant because she was the popular weight loss show’s heaviest participant to date, weighing in at 470 pounds. She had lost 100 pounds before she was booted off, the most for any of the show’s female contestants on its boot camp “ranch.” The blogosphere was flooded with posts from fans who were rooting for Shay and were extremely saddened by her departure.

The show is filled with sad moments, but the saddest reality that the Biggest Loser has delivered so far is the realization that addiction is now so prevalent in the United States that it has become a popular source of prime time entertainment.

“It’s a national epidemic,” says HLN anchor, Jane Velez-Mitchell. The “it” that she’s dubbing as an epidemic is not obesity in particular, but rather the “it” epidemic of addiction in general.

“Ninety percent of the stories that we cover on ‘Issues’ are in some way, shape, or form, related to addiction,” Jane said in a recent interview with TVNewser.com. “Whether it’s alcohol, drugs, money, or sex, this comes up continuously. So it is one of the dominant issues of our time.”

Velez-Mitchell feels particularly qualified to comment on the American addiction epidemic not only because of her position as an internationally recognized news reporter, but also because she is a recovering addict herself. In her recently released memoir, “iWant: My Journey From Addiction and Overconsumption to a Simpler, Honest Life,” Velez-Mitchell reveals her own personal struggle to overcome a series of addictions – to alcohol, cigarettes, work, shopping, food and sugar.

“Addictions jump!” Jane writes in her book. “You give up one thing and something else pops up to take its place. The reason for this is obvious. Addicts will use whatever substance is available to escape and self-medicate.”

So while most of the “Biggest Loser” audience thinks they are watching obese contestants struggle with physical workouts and emotional breakdowns, what they’re really watching is the individual struggle to break an addiction to food as a drug of choice.

Shay Sorrells was one Biggest Loser contestant who seemed painfully aware of how she has used food as a drug to self-medicate throughout her life. The daughter of a heroin addict, Shay was immersed in the lifestyle of addiction in her earliest childhood. When her mother’s addiction caused Shay to be homeless for two years, the lack of food available during that time triggered Shay’s lifetime obsession with getting food and her addiction to consuming that food.

It is certainly easy to imagine the underlying terror and helplessness that Shay – or any pre-school child – would have felt in those childhood circumstances. It is also easy to understand how a young child could become dependent on some type of substance to soothe and medicate those feelings. Shay’s drug of choice was food. For other Americans who have pain that is overwhelming, the drug of choice could be cigarettes, pot, pills, alcohol, work, television, the internet, video games, sex, caffeine, or just about anything else that can be used to escape.

“The problem I have with alcoholism is a problem that millions share,” Velez-Mitchell said to TVNewser.com. That “problem” is not just alcoholism in particular, but the wide variety of addictions in general that an estimated 225 million American addicts are struggling with every day.

If there is, in fact, a common challenge that Americans are having with addictions, then there must also be a common thread running through the stories behind the addictions of Shay, Jane, and every other addict. Velez-Mitchell believes that there is a commonality, and in an effort to remove the stigma and shame from addiction, she created a CNN iReport Assignment for viewers to submit their addiction stories.

The dozens of stories that have been posted on the CNN’s iReport website so far illustrate that addictions can be found in every walk of life in America. The root causes behind the addictive self-medication are sometimes simple, sometimes complex, but always individually overwhelming. The “iReporters” who have shared their addiction stories include:

- A real estate agent who got addicted to crystal meth and went from making $200,000 per year to sleeping in the bushes behind a McDonald’s

- A war veteran whose wife, mother, mother-in-law, and brother all died as a result of their addictions to drugs and alcohol

- A California woman who was given alcohol in her baby bottles when she was teething

- A man who started smoking at the age of eight because the Marlboro Man was one of his role models

- A cheerleader who started drinking to overcome painful shyness

- A woman who had become addicted to food after being abused at age eight, and then became addicted to purging to allow more compulsive eating

- A teen who became addicted to cutting herself after being locked in her closet for most of her childhood

It is these kinds of stories that Velez-Mitchell believes need to be told. She broke her own 12-step vow of anonymity to write “iWant” in order to give the national addiction epidemic a face and a voice. “I wanted to share my experience to try to prevent someone else from going through the hell that I went through,” Velez-Mitchell told TVNewser.com about writing her memoir. “Why waste a good problem?”

HLN will be accepting addiction stories at CNN.com/iReport through November 20, 2009. iReport submissions chosen to be included on “Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell will receive an autographed copy of “iWant” and will become a candidate to visit Jane on the set of “Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell” in New York.

More About Jane Velez-Mitchell and “iWant”:

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