On July 5, 1998, José, my visiting mom and I went to see Cabaret on Broadway with Natasha Richardson and Alan Cumming. It's still probably the second best thing I've ever seen (after Chicago, ahead of Equus). After, my mom posed with Cumming:
...and Richardson walked past, graciously stopping for a moment for a photo:
While she was not an actress I spent a lot of time thinking about, her tragic outcome is one of those saddening pieces of news that make you think twice about what you're doing with your life and if you're cherishing it.
It made me think how poignant it is that her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, recently performed on Broadway in The Year Of Magical Thinking, based on the novel about writer Joan Didion's reactions to her husband's death and daughter's grave condition. The play had been updated to include the daughter's death.
I also thought, "I know we'll have a tacky Lindsay Lohan blog post about this soon"—they starred in The Parent Trap together).
Also, the reporting of her accident has opened a can of worms. Everyone I know is outraged that Time Out New York announced she was dead: "RIP Natasha Richardson 1963-2009. Actor Natasha Richardson dies in a skiing accident." They later clarified this post by noting, "Richardson is brain dead but has not passed away. Sources close to the family indicate that they regard this as death. We will update you on this sad story as circumstances warrant. We apologize to the family and to our readers."
This, to me, is an excusable lapse. Brain death is death—it's more accurate to specify brain death, but she was already dead, for all intents and purposes. It's not like prematurely reporting the death of someone who is terminally ill. It was hilarious to have Perez Hilton (who once reported the death of Fidel Castro and never admitted he was wrong) chastising TONY for this error based on "irresponsible journalism." !!!
I've noticed that most of the outrage people seem to have over TONY's reporting (FOX and the New York Post also chimed in independently) seems to hinge less on the brain dead vs. dead issue than on the fact that because the family had not reported her death, it should not be reported to us as fact, that it is disrespectful to proceed with the story without the family confirming it officially and on the record. I strongly disagree with this.
Aside from obvious cases of abuse and aside from the troubling connection between the news media and the profit incentive, I think the main reason people dislike the news media is that they are literally the bearers of bad tidings. In theory, the news is what happened, and people don't always like what happened. I'm thinking of cases where people became angry at photographers capturing images of World Trade Center death plunges, or how people bristle at the idea of sticking a microphone in someone's face as their house burns. There are, of course, limits, there should be a protocol, but ultimately, the news is not about handling things with kid gloves or being overly reverential toward the parties in any given news story (convicted felons, shaken survivors, witnesses, mourners), it is about what happened.
And since when did the public become so sensitive toward public figures? It's okay to harass them interminably while they're alive, but report their death and that's disrespectful?
(This is all separate from personal ethics; personally, I think it was wrong for sources close to the family to speak to any news media if the family asked them not to. I would never be the family friend who thought, "I can't wait to call up my friends in the media over this juicy morsel!")
Natasha Richardson's death is, indisuptably, news. It's not the same kind of news as the death of a world leader, but it's news—she is a well-liked, well-known public figure with an even more famous husband and mother, she has died very young and she has died as the result of a freak accident. Regardless of the family's wishes, this is a legitimate news story to be reported.
What's legitimate and what's not? Is it not legitimate to report her brain death based on anonymous family sources? Clearly, the journalists involved had good reason to believe their sources. Is what TONY did wrong, and yet what other media (like TV stations which will suddenly air The Parent Trap or celebrity magazines that will publish lavish tributes for a price) have done/will do okay?
In this case, I would fault TONY only for stressing that Richardson was "dead" and running an RIP headline. But considering their mistake really was one of semantics, as TONY's PR pointed out, and was not, for example, completely off base, I don't think what they did was utterly outrageous in the least.
I also think people need to realize that we all rely on anonymous sources and common-sense conclusions, and that to rely only on on-the-record statements from parties directly involved would leave us all in the dark on things far more important than the admittedly tragic loss of a popular actor.