How much the “rock star” line sticks with Rossen is an interesting question. Journalists usually look with suspicion at praise from interview subjects, perhaps seeing it as evidence that not enough tough questions were asked.
“It makes me uncomfortable,” said Suzanne Lysak, a professor of broadcasting at Rossen’s alma mater, Syracuse University. “But this whole situation is just so crazy.”
The more important issue is the media’s role in giving Sheen a platform. James Rainey of The Los Angeles Times wrote that news outlets are Sheen enablers and, in the case of ABC and NBC, “aiding and abetting the epic meltdown of a celebrity who happens to be the biggest star on the biggest comedy hit at rival CBS.”
Networks have swiftly responded to the market. Morgan’s interview with Sheen did so well in the ratings CNN reran it Friday. After Canning’s “20/20” interview proved a big draw, Rossen put together a “Dateline NBC” special Friday. Celebrity substance abuse expert Dr. Drew Pinsky is doing a VH1 special on Sheen and even Spike TV can’t resist, ordering a countdown of Sheen’s most outlandish moments illustrated with Taiwanese animation.
“I don’t know how you don’t cover it,” said Richard Wald, a Columbia University professor and former executive at ABC and NBC News.
“It’s a bit like (O.J. Simpson’s) White Bronco,” Wald said. “It has little or no meaning, but it’s fascinating: Are you taking advantage of Sheen? Are you helping him or hurting him? These are interesting questions, but I don’t know if they are questions for journalists. I don’t know how as a television producer you can ignore this. It’s the human equivalent of a train collision.”
Rossen also disagrees with critics who say the media should have turned its back on Charlie Sheen.
“This is a public figure,” he said. “He’s in the throes of a life crisis. As we would for a politician, as we would with a celebrity, as we would with any public figure that the public is interested in hearing from, we are telling their story. What better way to tell someone’s story than with that person?
“If that person is making himself accessible to you,” he said, “I would argue that it would be irresponsible not to talk to him.”
EDITOR’S NOTE _ David Bauder can be reached at dbauder(at)ap.org
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