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Is It News or Entertainment?

OPINION features excerpts of pieces by columnists from the Op-Ed page and other sections of The New York Times. All columns from the last seven days are available at nytimes.com; Op-Ed pieces (by columnists and outside contributors), plus Editorials and Letters to the Editor, are at nytimes.com/opinion. Please let us know what you think of OPINION at upfront@scholastic.com.

Since her death in February, Anna Nicole Smith has been on the tube around the clock. We've homed in like vultures on this and other celebrity stories. The nation may be at war, and Al Qaeda may be gearing up for a rematch. But that's no fun, not when Britney is shaving off her hair and Jennifer Aniston is reported to have a new nose. If air time is any guide, there's no contest. The line between news and entertainment has vanished. Today, news is entertainment. No one can figure out what to do about Iraq or Al Qaeda; New Orleans was washed away, and no one knows how to put it back together; the ice caps are melting, and Al Gore is raising the alarm about global warming. But none of that has really gotten the public's attention. None of it is amusing enough. As a nation of spectators, we seem content to sit in front of the TV, obsessing over celebrities and giving no thought to the possibility that calamitous events around the world may someday reach our doorsteps.

Bob Herbert