There’s no need to be snobby about it – the Brangelina divorce really is news, writes Will Gore.
London - There was a strange moment at the end of Tuesday's Newsnight when host Evan Davis suggested that serious media outlets around the globe had been desperately casting around for a way to justify coverage of the impending divorce between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Having apparently failed to come up with a particularly novel angle on the story, the closing titles of the BBC's flagship news programme simply played out to a soundtrack of Angelina Jolie talking last year about the stability of the couple's marriage – in the context of the pair having just portrayed a crumbling relationship in By The Sea.
But the idea that there must be some sort of deep, public interest justification for reporting the couple's split is absurd. The fact of any couple getting divorced is not intrinsically private. When the individuals in question are both incredibly famous in their own right, and among the half-dozen most famous couples on the planet, the announcement of their separation (publicly made by Jolie, with a statement following from Pitt) is plainly newsworthy. The devil, of course, comes in the detail. The fact of a divorce may not be private, but that isn’t to say the couple's marriage or their personal lives as individuals are fair game.
Even more obviously, the Brangelina brood – six-strong, and all under the age of 16 – must have their privacy respected. It is primarily for their sake that the media should show a degree of caution when it comes to speculation about the reasons for the divorce. Some information may enter the public domain by virtue of the legal proceedings which a divorce necessitates. But endless tawdry rumours as to why the marriage has failed can end up being intrusive, however much people want to read them.
Putting aside the question of whether reporting on a high-profile celebrity divorce is legitimate insofar as privacy considerations are concerned, there is the broader argument about whether the separation of two movie stars should – from an ethical point of view – be given precedence over other news. To put it another way, when people are being bombed in Syria, or starved in Yemen, or are protesting against the shooting of unarmed black men by police in the US, how really can journalists in all good conscience spend time writing about a rich couple who’ve decided to call time on their relationship?
But this is a false dichotomy. It assumes that the media doesn’t have the capacity to report on a range of issues, and that consumers of journalism cannot be interested in a broad range of stories. If you take this approach to its logical conclusion you might as well stop news outlets reporting on sport, or publishing cookery supplements, or any number of other items which would not, by their absence, cause the world to stop turning.
It is also the height of intellectual snobbery to conclude that celebrity lives don’t or shouldn’t matter to “real” people, and shouldn’t therefore be the subject of news reports. The reality is we all look up to others. Why should we be forced to feel that looking up to famous people we don’t know is somehow less tangible (or even less acceptable) than admiring individuals we are personally close to?
There are, inevitably, plenty of people on social media who are declaring their lack of interest in the end of the Brangelina dream. Well fine; we can’t all be fascinated by everything. But if there is one thing we agree on, surely it is that the indignant and pious indifference of the pompous social media bore is fascinating to nobody.