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I heard it through the grapevine

Gladys Knight doesn’t have pancreatic cancer and isn’t on the verge of dying, whatever the hysterical press coverage of Aretha Franklin’s funeral might say.

This is wonderful news, as I’m going out of my way to see the Empress of Soul perform in Hyde Park next week. I wasn’t always a fan, but after stumbling upon her performances on YouTube last year, I rapidly became one. This video, for instance, is sensational:

Yesterday on the same platform, I watched the legendary Ms Knight pay her last respects to the Queen of Soul. Interviewed shortly before the funeral service in Detroit, she talked about the last time they’d met and said: “We shared the fact that we had the same disease.”

It was a vaguely worded, alarming and easily misinterpreted remark. At the end of the video, the reporters around her clamour for clarification, but she carries on into the church. What exactly did she mean by “the same disease”? The media, in full-blown clickbait mode, immediately diagnosed her with the exact same pancreatic cancer that killed Ms Franklin.

Not only was this deeply unethical, but it revealed, in horrifying detail, how quickly unsubstantiated rumours spread across Twitter (and, shamefully, the media nowadays). Despite a statement from her publicist that she was cancer-free, wild speculation was hurtling across cyberspace before the truth had a chance to get its trousers on.

True, an experienced media operator like Ms Knight should have been more careful with her words, but she was at a friend’s funeral and no doubt had other things on her mind. A more circumspect take would have been something like: ‘Fears for Gladys Knight as she reveals she and Aretha Franklin “had the same disease”’.

Ms Knight has now clarified that she was treated successfully for stage-one breast cancer. I’m very relieved to hear that and can’t wait to see her dominate the stage in London. In fact, I’ll be ticking that one off the bucket list.

What I won’t shake off, though, is my feeling that at some media outlets, an ‘anything goes’ attitudinal cancer is killing journalistic standards.

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