Last week's stunning announcement that California First Lady (no, not Ryan Seacrest) Maria Shriver would leave her position at NBCDateline to concentrate on her official state duties sent shockwaves through American journalism with all the force of a truck rigged to explode on contact.
In newsrooms everywhere, reporters asked why their editors were such dickweeds, then asked if anyone had checked out the new receptionist and then asked who would take up Shriver's mantle and tell the nation about Czech sex slaves and Hollywood studio executives' wives unhappy with their Botox treatments.
Shriver said she came to the decision after it was obvious that being the governor's wife would mean her "journalistic integrity and that of NBC News will be constantly scrutinized"—which she apparently couldn't bear given that the last time NBC News came under scrutiny, people found out that Dateline had rigged trucks to explode on contact. Wasn't this apparent conflict of interest a problem during the campaign? Shriver doesn't say, despite the fact there was almost universal agreement among media critics that she really should eat something, even if it was only a piece of fruit.
Not that her reporting couldn't stand up to scrutiny. In the spring of 2000, while other reporters obsessed over the presidential campaign, only Shriver had the guts to take on the Czech sex industry, telling the story of Katya, who told Shriver she was forced to have sex with "around seven, eight, sometimes 11" men a night, to which Shriver, in a Murrow-McCarthy-esque moment of clarity, fired back:
"Did you ever say, 'Wait a minute, this is a big mistake. I don't want to do this'?"
Problem solved. As was the rampant problem of girl knife fights at parties. It was Shriver who brought to the nation's attention the emerging problem of high school kids going to parties. As she told a stunned—more than usual—Phil Donahue:
"These kinds of parties are going on all over the country, with good families, nice neighborhoods, kids all coming together. They find out about a party . . . and next thing you know, they're at a party at a house that they don't even know who the host is. There's no chaperones. There's liquor. And you know, the fact is that kids do come to these parties today. Some come with knives."
But perhaps her greatest success has been in casting a light on the plight of the very rich and privileged, whether it's fellow dwindler Celine Dion or Irena Medavoy, wife of producer/former studio chief Mike Medavoy. In an hourlong report, Medavoy recounted for Shriver her experiences using Botox—specifically her disappointment that having botulism injected directly into her head was not the panacea she assumed it would be. Shriver astutely played up Medavoy's torment with heartbreaking visuals of her cutting flowers on her estate and playing board games in her zeppelin hangar of a bedroom.
With last week's announcement, though, one has to wonder: Who will do the stories of rich women who can't have everything they want? Indeed, Shriver is one now. So, for now, or at least until her husband is the subject of an Internet sex tape, she will have to be content with answering other reporters' questions about groping and Nazis. We can only hope that lunch is served.