Thursday, January 13, 2005
The Ring of Untruth
Although it is not yet monitored by the Center For Disease Control in Atlanta, the Celebrity Headline Virus (CHV) is now rampant. It has even infected the front page of the mighty New York Times today. Under its "All The News That’s Fit To Print"logo, and amidst more conventional news about Iraq, torture guidelines, and the Supreme Court’s transformation of the legal system, is the dazzling headline, "At Celebrity Nuptials to Die for, Vendors Give Themselves Away."
The story itself is a replay of a similarly-infected 3-day-old New York Post story that Donald Trump was given free a 13-carat diamond ring, "worth up to $800,000," by Graff, a London-based jeweler seeking publicity. Even though, like much of CHV-infected journalism, the premise was untrue– Trump in fact paid Graff $750,000 for the diamond ring– Trump easily kept the bogus story alive in an interview in Business Week:
Business Week: You were just on the front page of The New York Post, with that free ring for your fiancee, Melania.
Trump: People give me wedding rings. I have every major diamond group throwing diamonds in my face. "Please take our diamonds. Please! Here's a million dollars!" And if I take it, I'm on the front page of the Post.
By the time the Times had recycled the story, Graff acknowledged it had actually sold the ring to Trump for $750,000. Since it is hardly front-page news that a jeweler sells a diamond to a millionaire, the Times reported, "Graff, the diamond sellers, made national news by chipping in [to Trump's celebrity nuptial event] a 15-carat, $1.5 million engagement ring." In doing so, it both increased up the number of carats in the ring and its price from the Post version. It only then added in a parenthesis: "It was not free, as reported, but half that price."
Since CHV-induced stories are based on celebrity quotes rather than facts, the Times finessed the value problem by quoting Trump as saying ""Only a fool would say 'No thank you, I want to pay a million dollars more for a diamond,"
Trump may be correct that only a fool would pay more for a diamond than its sale price, but as such wisdom alone did not justify a front-page story, the Times moved to enhance its non-story by suggesting that vendor-gifting is a wide spread phenomenon at celebrity weddings.
A non-Trumpian example the Times found of "social wattage" was the wedding of Sasha Lazard to Michael Mailer. Sasha Lazard is an accomplished soprano, having sung Cinderella in Rossini's La Cenerentola, 'Cherubino' in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, the title role in the anime movie Princess Mononoke and her own songs in her album The Myth Of Red; her husband Michael Mailer is the successful producer of no fewer than a dozen movies. The Times made no mention of their artistic accomplishments noting instead "Before Sasha Lazard, a banking heiress, married Michael Mailer, Norman Mailer's son, in Tulum, Mexico, in May, her bridesmaids were invited to pick through trunks of designer dresses in the Los Angeles office of Harper's Bazaar." Evidently, when the Times is in its Celeb mode, fact-checking is not a requisite. If it was, the Times would have discovered that the talented Ms. Lazard did not really inherit a bank (her father Sid Lazard was a prominent NBC TV correspondent.) The temporary loan of clothing for a photo-shoot by a fashion magazine could only be stop-the-presses news in a CHV-infected story.
Finally, to add a global economic dimension to its front-page celebrity wrangling, the Times concluded, "The London-based Graff Company noted an uptick in traffic in its New York, Chicago and Palm Beach stores after the Trump publicity." Before these media-driven shoppers stampede into buying rings at $60,000 a carat at the Graff company, they might consider the fact that diamonds, after television sets, are perhaps most common consumer product in America. How the illusion of their value has been brilliantly maintained by De beers can be found (free) in my book The Diamond Invention.