But by 4 p.m. no one commanded more universal news attention than Anna Nicole Smith. CNN, for one, devoted the entirety of its late-afternoon airtime to the breaking news of her death, with entertainment reporter A.J. Hammer and medical expert Sanjay Gupta taking turns covering the event with the same weight the cable network would give its Iraq war coverage.
By this morning, the war of exclusives had raged. "Entertainment Tonight" fittingly had bragging rights to the final televised interview, while "Good Morning America" had nabbed the first chat with Ms. Smith's mother. Even Fox News got its own piece of the action with footage of the "dramatic final moments" streaming from Liveleak.com. The magazines, however, could only wave the red flag of deadline defeat with commentaries and photo retrospectives.
Yet a cursory glance at the news-heavy home pages of The New York Times and Los Angeles Times proved Smith's tragic demise wasn't as omnipresent as the tabloids would have you believe. Even Entertainment Weekly, which shares parent company Time Warner with CNN, was soft on its coverage of the biggest entertainment news story since Britney's lack of underwear. (The "NYT" obituary described Ms. Smith as "obtrusively voluptuous and almost preternaturally blonde," and it strikes us that "obtrusive" might be an apt word for the most likely nonstop celeb coverage.)
Why the difference in news judgment? For one thing, it could be that Anna Nicole was always a tricky subject for the mainstream media to cover. Like Paris Hilton, she was more famous for being rich (via a short-lived marriage to an octogenarian billionaire) and having her picture taken than she was for doing anything. Her most significant contribution to the American lexicon is her animated Trimspa campaign, while her drunken appearances at awards shows and on her own eponymous E! reality series garnered enough media attention to make Courtney Love seem sober by comparison.
Time will tell how Smith's legacy holds up, given a career short on actual acting but full of golden moments in public humiliation. At least one celeb blogger, though, was banking on legendary levels of posthumous notoriety for the one-time Playboy model this morning. "Like Marilyn Monroe before her, Anna Nicole's death will immortalize her," Perez Hilton posted this morning. "She was flawed. She was tragic. But above all, she was captivating. And her story -- the death, the inheritance, the baby -- will continue to grip us for months (if not years) to come."