The new news cycle: rags to riches to rehab

Update March 21, 2012: Remember Ted Williams? I got thinking about him after I wrote the Mike Daisey post. Turns out, Williams is not too doing too badly! Rags to riches to rehab to a condo and a middle class life?


Original blog: 

I didn’t weigh in when media around the country discovered the story of Ted Williams, he of the “golden voice” and the life story that reads like a disfunction and disappointment how-to manual.

True, the voice is remarkable.  Less remarkable: the quick rags to riches to rehab storyline.

First, an Ohio newspaper uploaded a video of the homeless Williams speaking – with that golden voice – about his life: a 97-second tale of how he sabotaged his own existence. That was Jan. 3. In the following week, Williams appeared on The Early Show, the Today Show (twice), Inside Edition, Entertainment Tonight, and Dr. Phil. He reunited with his mother and his children. He got voice over gigs and other offers of paid work.

The fawning and adoration spread around Williams like the warm blanket he might have wished for those many nights he had to sleep rough. The story was just the ticket for that typically slow news time just after the arrival of the New Year:  Man with troubled life gets a fresh start.

By Jan. 10, Williams – who admitted to trouble with addiction in the video – was cracking under the strain of fame.  That night, after a full day of television tapings and a meeting with Kobe Bryant, Williams was arrested after an altercation with one of his daughters.

Now, Williams is headed to rehab. This morning — after a recap of the Ted Williams trajectory — I watched as Today Show host Meredith Vieira interviewed two mental health and addiction experts about “how this could have happened.” Really? And is it just me, or did the two guests seem a bit snippy about the whole thing? Like they wanted to ask Vieira, “What did you think would happen?”

If I were a conspiracy theorist or extreme cynic, I would be tempted to float the idea that the nation’s media bosses did all of this on purpose: “We need a good story to carry us through the first week or so of the year,” they might have agreed as they sat around a massive conference table in an undisclosed Manhattan location.

Alas, the truth is simpler:  We journalists can’t resist the rags to riches to rehab storyline (or any configuration thereof). We gravitate to redemption and ruin like… well, the media to a homeless man with a golden voice.

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