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Pseudo-Crises: Celebrity News’ America’s Dangerous Distraction

Updated: Sep 8, 2021

The “excessive coverage of these real-world soap operas causes two serious problems: It exaggerates their significance and makes more significant happenings seem less significant (Graber, 2018).” As well as Americans have become increasing more desensitized to significant happenings in the news. The attention of Americans is being unfairly divided between immediate significant events, celebrity news, and a minuscule amount of feel good stories on a regular basis. The media is able to condition people on how they should think and feel in response to the significant happenings through the framing of the stories and what stories come before and after them.

The media peppers in celebrity news, in an effort to downplay the critical nature of the more significant happenings. By doing this they also consume valuable time and print space that could be better served covering other more significant events and stories that often go unreported. This post will serve to illustrate how entertainment or celebrity news, known by the media as pseudo-crises, extorts coverage time and space from significant happenings assisting in the downplay of their importance and urgency.

Journalism is “the activity or profession of writing for newspapers, magazines, or news websites or preparing news to be broadcast (Oxford English 2000). What is the point of journalism? Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel believe it to be an obligation to the truth, a loyalty to the citizens, a discipline of verification, the practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover, it must serve as an independent monitor of power, it must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise, it must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant, it must keep the news comprehensive and proportional, and its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2014).

When the media follows these points of journalism to cover both significant and celebrity news it makes it easy for them to sensationalize the break up of Christina Anstead and her 2nd husband Ant to the point that coverage of the sars-cov-2 was almost absent from most news broadcasts on September 23, 2020 (Robidoux & Furdyk 2020). Celebrities are in the forefront of American lives way beyond what they were in the 90’s. In the 90’s for information in regard to celebrity gossip news you had the tabloid-type papers, Entertainment Tonight, and People Magazine. America has never been so preoccupied with the notion of celebrities, like it is currently, or with them as personalities whose ideals and beliefs are something to be valued.

For Americans entertainment news has been an exciting and enduring time-honored event. The novelty of entertainment news, has long been discussed in academia, to satisfy a simple want for amusement, stressing both the benefits and dangers of the fascination (Gabler, 1998; Postman, 1985). Entertainment or celebrity news promises to take people from their routine duties somewhere more pleasant so they temporarily forget what is going on in the real world. Entertainment news accomplishes this through showing the general public the lives of people they previously could not see. This shifts society as a whole to embrace fantasy as extended reality (Tabbanor, 2020). There is plenty of evidence that supports the impact of entertainment on society through the sensationalized stories in politics, religion, education, sex and other news (Postman, 1985).

Americans obsession with celebrities’ stems from something called “parasocial behavior”. Parasocial behavior is both a psychological and a media phenomenon referring to the relationships that media consumers develop with media personas. Media consumers form bonds with media personalities over time that resemble social interactions however they remain one-sided and mediated (Horton & Wohl, 1956).

Celebrities attain this type of devotion because they exemplify the things we’ve been taught to crave. “We all have dreams of wealth and fame and happiness and style and social influence and so on, which starts early with fairy tales and the way we raise our kids,” Dr. Frank Farley, a professor and psychologist at Temple University and a former American Psychological Association president says, adding that it plays into our deep-seated attraction to heroism. “That stays with us, to some extent, through our lives. Royals and other people, like Hollywood figures and Kardashian types, keep that phenomenon alive (Ducharme, 2018).” Continuous exposure to the media will produce a feedback loop. Since people are concerned about celebrities, the media continues covering them. With celebrities continually being in the media, people notice them. The cycle repeats, over and over again.

Nonetheless, the rise in the American preoccupation with celebrity news has been exaggerated to the point it is detrimental for society (Piazza, 2012). The news capitalizes on this knowledge by framing substantial events into shorter segments and smaller stories then maximizing the coverage of celebrity news to help drive increased viewership. Why are Americans so obsessed with celebrities, however the emphasis should be on the work that these renowned movies stars and musicians turn out, not what is going on in their private lives. They’re renowned for what they are good at, that is what should matter most, their personal lives should remain personal. “The efforts of these celebrities should be critiqued, not their private lives (Recker 2007).”

Why then does the media pepper in such large segments of celebrity news? It is simple really; regular news is often hard to follow. The news can be dull, negative, disheartening which can deter viewership. Many do not keep up or take the time to follow the news simply because it can make them feel awful. Yet one in 10 adults checks the news every hour, and fully 20% of Americans report “constantly” monitoring their social media feeds (Heid 2020). This often exposes them to what is the trending news headlines, whether they want it or not. Over half of Americans say the news causes them anxiety, and many people report feeling fatigue, stress or loss of sleep as a result of watching the news.

Celebrity news however is relaxing, comical, entertaining, and it makes people feel better knowing that their favorite celebrities have hard times similar to everyone else. A break from reality, a break from their own lives and a look into someone else’s, someone who they know, that is what celebrity news provides the public (Mallin 2013). The media relies on America’s love of these celebrity new stories to help them capitalize on viewership. The media understands the dichotomy of the stressing reality news and the entertaining celebrity news and they frame their broadcasts or news stories to a specific blend of both to ensure maximum viewership.

Nevertheless, while celebrity news is fascinating and delivers a break from American’s mundane lives, when put into perspective, all entertainment news has done is amuse our society to the point that Angelina Jolie is more significant and important than the war on drug cartels and opioids, public health concerns, and Congress or the president. The Media, by focusing on celebrity news during mainstream news, also sends the message to the public that being famous and beautiful matters more than finding the parents of 545 children still being held in federal custody. All in an effort to make people feel better about their lives so they will continue to watch, read, or listen the next time.

Any news covered by the paper, a magazine, a radio program, or the broadcast news has a dirty little secret; “most of it is a marketing ploy (Houpt, 2012)” It's really a simple formula for success: Sensationalized story about a celebrity leads to higher viewership due to America’s parasocial behaviors towards celebrities. This leads to higher demands for more stories about celebrities, which leads to more profit for the media company.

There was a time when news coverage of celebrities was mostly confined to tabloids, distinctive magazines and special sections of newspapers. Today, celebrity news is an endemic phenomenon; it has found its place across the entire media spectrum where it proved its capacity to attract a wide range of publics and to drive consumption (Turner, 2010). Celebrity coverage has become omnipresent and pervasive even to the extent that it constitutes a new normality in the contemporary media world (Dubied, 2013).

Celebrity news seems to also deliver various standardized lifestyles, this helps America relate better to celebrities. Being able to relate to celebrities allows Americans to feel a sense of deeper understanding to celebrity news than to reality news. Reality news generally covers harsh intangible events Americans cannot imagine making it impossible to relate to or comprehend, this then leads to stress and anxiety. When Americans feel this way, they will not continue to watch or read reality news, therefore the media uses celebrity news to increase viewership by decreasing the emphasis on the reality news stories that most Americans have a hard time following.

In an effort to keep the media profitable and Americans comfortable media has sensationalized celebrity news. This gross display of celebrity news by the media has not only made the reality news segments smaller over time but they have taken time and space from many issues Americans should be aware of, that they are not being shown due to celebrity coverage. The danger in this is Americans are receiving less information from credible sources on less topics of social importance. This lack of information is creating a social ignorance to pressing topics as Americans continue to turn in to the “amusing” stories of celebrities and shy away from the hard realities of daily American life and its struggles.

By using American “parasocial behaviors” the media has been able to successfully use pseudo-crises to shape how Americans prefer their news covered. Afterall, “Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images. They do not argue on propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities, and commercials (Postman 1985).”


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