Dog Days

Published: June 21, 2010

By Jim Lichtman
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Picking up my newspapers last Thursday, I’m walking back to the front door when a front page story on the Wall Street Journal grabs me by the throat – Little Dog Caught in Big Estate Feud. Is this the Journal or an accidental delivery of The National Inquirer?

What’s the deal with rich, old widows who die and leave millions to their pets? (Write if you have an answer for this one.) Anyone remember Leona Helmsley who left $12 million to Trouble?

What was the dog’s name?

Trouble.

Yeah, I know it caused a lot of trouble, but what was the dog’s name?

Trouble!

I know this is the land of the free and the home of the brave, but what’s valiant and liberating about leaving a 7-bedroom, Miami Beach mansion and a $3 million trust fund to a pet Chihuahua named Conchita? But that’s exactly what Mrs. Gail Posner did.

However, Conchita has to the share the mansion and money with two other unnamed dogs. Clearly, Conchita was the favorite because the other two dogs didn’t even rate a mention on the front-page of the Journal story (June 17).

But that brings up my real question: who’s in-charge of the front page at the Journal these days?

There were four stories on the Journal’s front page that day. BP Agrees to $20 billon Fund. Below the fold, The End is Near for Free Checking and the millionaire dog story. At the bottom,The Newest Wonder of the World: The Ruins of Modern Greece that talks about how the Olympic facilities built in 2004 are going unused.

Honestly, people at the Journal, what’s happened to the word “priority”?

We have a rollercoaster economy, continued unemployment, two wars, not to mention the Celtics losing a 13 point lead in the last half of the final game of the NBA Championship and the top stories the Journal comes up with for the front page besides BP are the possible end to free checking, an unused facility in Greece and a millionaire dog? (Write, if you have any ideas on this one, too.)

Back to Conchita.

“Seven of her bodyguards, housekeepers and other personal aides were left a total of $26 million under her will,” the Journal writes, “and some also were allowed to live, rent-free in the mansion to care for the dogs.”

Well, that’s good. Posner’s rewarding those staff members who apparently secured her trust and confidence while she doted on little Conchita. However, “…in an attempt to revoke the will, Ms. Posner’s only living child, Bret Carr, has filed a lawsuit against a bevy of his mother’s former staff members and advisers alleging a dark intrigue.”

After receiving a measly $1 million from the estate, Carr claims that aides “drugged his sick mother… and conspired to steal her assets by inducing her to change her will and trust arrangements in 2008.”

The story goes deeper to reveal a history of drug and alcohol abuse by Posner as Carr claims that “the aides directed a ‘deeply disturbed’ Ms. Posner to hire a publicist to promote Conchita as one of the world’s most spoiled dogs.”

How spoiled?

“Mrs. Posner said… she considered getting the dog her own Range Rover for transportation to the animal’s weekly spa appointments for manicures and pedicures, but decided to get herself a new car and gave the dog her Cadillac Escalade…”

According to the terms of the will, “A housekeeper and personal assistant… would receive $5 million if she agreed to care for Conchita and two other dogs ‘with the same degree of care’ they received while Ms. Posner was alive…”

Wacky story, to say the least. Don’t get me wrong, wacky can be refreshing, particularly in difficult times, but that’s not the overarching question here.

Why is a paper, with the reputation of the Wall Street Journal, positioning three exceedingly mundane stories – one, clearly tabloid in nature – on its front page?

What is the purpose of journalism?

According to the Pew Research Center’s Excellence in Journalism Project, “The central purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with accurate and reliable information they need to function in a free society.”

This goes to a broader and more important question. What is the responsibility of press? I’ll be exploring that question Wednesday.

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