Social Light: The Media Makes Much About Very Little
“Socialite” must be the latest flavor of media candy. In almost every reference to Florida resident Jill Kelley, “the other other woman” in the David Petraeus scandal, she is referred to as “Tampa socialite Jill Kelley.” Google it and you get 355,000 returns; look around the blogosphere and she’s everywhere a socialite. I didn’t get it at first; Ms. Kelley just doesn’t seem the classic socialite type (but then, I live in dour old Washington, a far cry from the 24/7 fever-pitched Tampa scene).
Michael Winter, in today’s USA Today’s syndicated column, asks, “Who is Jill Kelley, the Tampa socialite at the heart of investigations involving two of the most powerful military men in the world?”
MSNBC’s Nightly News headline: “Socialite Jill Kelley…vivacious…and in debt.”
The Tampa Bay Times leads with “Second general tied to Tampa socialite Jill Kelley kept low profile in Tampa.”
There’s definitely a trend here.
Matthew Yglesias of Slate, asks the question, “What Does It Take To Qualify as a ‘Socialite’ in Tampa?”
After some comparative analysis with the social set in New York, Yglesias concludes, “…perhaps the moral of the story is simply that to be a socialite you just need to be friends with the right people. The Kelleys appear to have been on good terms socially with people at Tampa Bay Magazine, with genuine rich guy David Straz, and with celebrity general David Petraeus. So why not?”
Because it’s lazy journalism, that’s why not. A sex-fueled story breaks and suddenly the women in the accounts are pigeonholed into a few categories: mistress, escort, socialite. How does that work? Does the classification depend on the tightness of, or the labels in, their dresses, the color of the soles of their shoes, the number of strands of pearls they wear, the car they drive or their zip code? It’s so totally arbitrary, and in Ms. Kelley’s case, it verges on pejorative.
The Wall Street Journal almost gets it right: “… there is no formal job of volunteer social planner.….Ms. Kelley carved out that role for herself, one way the couple became fixtures of the Tampa social scene, throwing charity soirees and mixing with city and military dignitaries, current and former defense officials said.”
Ms. Kelley also carved out the role of honorary consul to South Korea; so why not skip socialite and go right to dignitary or even diplomat?
For me, the whole Kelley “socialite” thing was made clear in the MSNBC story, when, after mentioning the “Kelleys’ lavish parties,” reporter Kristin Welker noted that the Kelleys “frequented the pages of Tampa Bay Magazine,” a commercial publication with the mission, “…to entertain and inform our readers about the People, Places, Pleasures and Wonders of the Tampa Bay area of Florida…which gives our advertisers the most for their marketing dollars.”
Now I get it. Not a socialite. Just circulation bait. How dignified.
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