9:56 am Feb. 22, 2012
The coroner's report released yesterday on the death of pop diva Whitney Houston is probably not the last you will read or hear about her.
But reports today that Houston died when her respiratory system failed, suppressed by a lethal mixture of alcohol, Xanax and Valium, was the last news directly related to the circumstances of her death that news outlets were waiting for.
It caps a story that entered the news cycle after she was found partially submerged in a hotel bathtub the afternoon of Feb. 12; and while her death did not actually dominate the headlines, as it might have seemed to anyone who has turned on a TV lately, it still managed to crack the top-three stories of last week.
Houston's death was the third biggest topic in American news, accounting for 10 percent of all coverage between Feb. 13 and 19, according to Mark Jurkowtiz of Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism, which does a weekly analysis of U.S. news coverage.
The Houston saga, which reached its apex in coverage of her funeral on Saturday, trailed only standing topics like the presidential campaign and the economy, each of which accounted for 16 percent of news coverage. (P.E.J.'s full weekly analysis of news trends, based on coverage in 52 outlets across print, online, TV and radio, is expected to drop sometime later today or tomorrow.)
Meanwhile, millions tuned in to cable news to watch Houston's funeral service, which was live-streamed via the Associated Press, the sole media outlet allowed to film the proceedings at Newark's New Hope Baptist church thanks to the close rapport the wire had established over the years with Houston and her publicist.
CNN, as is often the case with these sorts of massive news events, got the biggest ratings bump, averaging about 5 million viewers during the roughly three hours the funeral was streamed live, according to Nielsen.
The media's coverage of Houston's death has not escaped criticism. Some have suggested that journalists gave Houston a pass on her long history of drug and alcohol abuse.
Conversely, on the "Today Show" last week, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly said the media failed covering Houston's death much as they failed covering her struggles with addiction, which he claimed were "sensationalized to exploit the woman's condition. Not to try to help her."
The latest pundit (albeit one of the comedic variety) to weigh in on the media's treatment of Houston is Lewis Black, who skewered the press (in particular TV news) on "The Daily Show" last night.
"As with past celebrity deaths, the media observed her passing in the tradition of the Native Americans, by using every part of the tragedy," he said. "For instance, did you know that with very little skill, you can turn a song catalog into hours of terrible segues?"
You can watch the full clip below, starting around the 8:30 mark:
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