Women In Media & News guest blogger Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser’s examination (3/12/09) of the “media firestorm” that “erupted… when Nadya Suleman gave birth to octuplets” shows that in initial “stories playing on the well-worn ‘wow factor'”–like “the AP‘s piece, posted on Fox News‘ website, [that] bore a cutesy headline: ‘8 Is Definitely Enough‘”–“basic information was missing: the mother’s name, the doctor’s name, and the specific medical treatment undergone,” and “without that information, any medical ethics concerns remained wholly hypothetical.” But then it
turns out, eight wasn’t enough. The story’s focus morphed from medical oddity, to larger ethics questions, to gawking at a woman deemed crazy for having 15 children (octuplets along with six previous kids). Media buzz about Nadya Suleman began building, and quickly….
During the interview–which was rehashed in the media obsessively–Curry probed: “People feel, you know, this woman is being completely irresponsible and selfish to bring these children in the world without a clear source of income and enough help to raise them. The world outside is saying, ‘What are you doing?'” A divorced mother who says all 14 came from a known sperm donor, Suleman insisted essentially that she loved all of her children and could, once she completes her education, provide for them.
From broadcast TV to newspapers to tabloid magazines, from blogs such as Jezebel to MSNBC‘s Scoop, every aspect of Suleman’s life seemed fair game for the media microscope: her motivations, her mental stability (or instability).
Buttenwieser writes that the result of this “massive media rubbernecking” was that “substantive questions about medical ethics, parental responsibility and even how the media covers such outliers have been pushed aside for breathy comment” in which “profit-hungry media simply sensationalized Suleman’s story for ratings-generating, tabloid-selling buzz.”