Charlie Sheen's antics keep media busy but better reporting needed
Charlie Sheen's antics are keeping a lot of reporters -- both in the mainstream and tabloid media -- in business. On Thursday, after ranting to radio personality Alex Jones and later TMZ about Chuck Lorre, the co-creator and executive producer of the CBS hit "Two and a Half Men," the show that employs Sheen, the network and producer Warner Bros. said they were pulling the plug on the season.
Unfortunately, in the rush to get out the latest rants from the sitcom star, lots of slipshod and misleading reporting and headline writing has been going on.
The latest examples of lazy reporting come from TMZ and Radar and even ABC's "Good Morning America." All three took Sheen, the star of the CBS hit "Two and a Half Men" at his word when he said he is in talks with HBO about a new show. If any of them had bothered to wait for a response from HBO, they'd have gotten a statement that the network is not talking with Sheen or his camp. (Note: See correction below regarding Radar)
Now there may soon be spin that HBO was talking to him and pulled out or that they were approached and passed. Regardless, greater effort should have been made to get a comment from the pay cable channel.
That phone call, however, would have taken 10 seconds and in the gotta-get-it-online-fast world of today's media, flushing out a story with more reporting before throwing it out there is a thing of the past. Today it's shoot first, aim later.
One could counter that if Sheen said it, then it must be true. But given Sheen's recent behavior and run-ins with the law, it might be best to take a few extra seconds and do more digging instead of just going with everything he says.
Then there are the misleading stories that are posted online only to drive traffic. Last week, Radar ran a story with the headline: "EXCLUSIVE: Two And A Half Men + One (Supporting) Woman: Charlie's Co-Star Holland Taylor Stands By Troubled Star."
In the story, Taylor is quoted as saying, "All I can say is that I have the highest regard for the people working-on and producing the show and for Charlie's well being too."
That's standing by him? Actually that is a generic statement meant to offend no one and does not reveal anything.
Another example of questionable journalism comes, unfortunately, from ABC News, which should know better. Besides also not checking out the HBO angle, "Good Morning America" posted a story on its website that among other things says that Sheen's father, actor Martin Sheen, is "standing by his son."
Again, reading what Martin Sheen actually said does not give that impression. He said, "with prayer, we lift him up and we ask for everyone who cares about him to lift him up." That's not a father standing by his son, it's a father asking people to pray for his son's well-being.
Lastly, the "Good Morning America" piece wrote that "Two and a Half Men" executive producer Chuck Lorre "accused the actor earlier this week of having reckless sex and a drug problem."
That, of course, is a reference to a recent "vanity card" that Lorre attached to the end credits of "Two and a Half Men." Those cards are seen as satrical but context was lost in ABC's piece as well as the fact that Sheen had laughed off the vanity card in question.
There is a real story here. The fights among Sheen, CBS and Warner Bros. have put a lot of people out of work and will be a big financial hit for all involved. It will take more than a few text messages from Sheen, some canned statements from CBS, Warner Bros. and other cast members to figure out exactly what is going down. Hopefully the media can take their hands off the keyboard and work the phones instead of taking dictation.
-- Joe Flint
For the record: This post incorrectly said that Radar did not call HBO for comment on its report regarding Charlie Sheen saying he was offered a series by the pay cable channel. In Radar's initial report, it said HBO could not be reached for comment and in fact did make an effort to reach the network but published before getting a response.
Photo: Charlie Sheen. Credit: Rick Wilking/Reuters.