Saturday, December 23, 2006

Donald Trump has figured out America is addicted to addiction stories. With Tara Conner, the current Miss USA, you see the pattern with red-white-and-blue efficiency: Young hottie works hard, makes it, parties too hard, is seen bouncing half-naked on Fox News every 20 minutes, middle-aged male solons on same network tut-tut young babe’s immorality. When that gets old even for middle-aged men, she enters rehab.

Yes, this is the age of the short-attention span scandal. Overachievers hit rock bottom before they’re 21. And what a story, with the possibility Mr. Trump could utter his signature “you’re fired” phrase. Thus, Miss USA’s story was exported to media around the globe. O joy to the world.

Shame as a spectator sport? To believe that, you have to believe Mr. Trump has moral standards, although I suppose one can believe the Donald has moral standards for other people. You also have to believe Miss Conner is truly ashamed, not pretending to be ashamed, of stories that have garnered more press coverage than her coronation. (A Nexis check of news stories on Miss Conner showed 94 stories this week, compared to 10 when she won her tiara.) You don’t have to be a cynical New Yorker to figure that people don’t care as much about beauty pageants as they did 40 years ago, but if Trump Inc. can throw in some silicone and scandal, maybe pageants could make a comeback. Here’s a fitting slogan: Miss USA, she’s not wholesome anymore.

Anyone who has seen Miss Conner’s bikini strut — and if you watch TV news, you’ve seen it — should be clear on Miss Conner’s image. She was not about “world peace” — unless you spell it differently. Her presentation was a celebration of youth and sex appeal.

So who is Mr. Trump to harrumph if Miss USA wants to have some fun? True, until Miss Conner turned 21 on Monday, it was not legal for her to drink, and there have been rumors of drug use. Leave such matters to the authorities, not a comb-over morality czar.

And spare me all that nonsense about Miss USA being a role model. Actually, she is a model. Given her tearful gushing at Mr. Trump’s decision to give her a “second chance,” Miss Conner may be an actress, too. She did, however, seem none too pleased to be cast in the role of alcoholic. It says something about the demands of the scandal machine that a 20-year-old can’t simply go wild when handed goodies and freed from parental supervision. No, she has to have a disease.

When she exits rehab, Mr. Trump noted at last Tuesday’s press conference, Miss Conner can be “a great example for troubled people.” You don’t have to close your eyes to imagine the segment on “Oprah,” with a bright-eyed Miss USA marveling at how Mr. Trump and rehab helped turn her life around.

At the press conference, Mr. Trump and Miss Conner trumpeted the beauty of a world that gives people “a second chance,” but methinks they had their eye on the Second Act.

Debra J. Saunders is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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