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Corey's story: fair game or camera fodder?

By Ann Lund

18 January 2008

Published on ABC online's Opinion.

They say a week is a long time in politics - but it can be even longer in the world of celebrity status. One minute a hero, the next minute the fall guy.

I'm referring of course to the recent 'star' turn of 16-year-old Melbourne boy, Corey Delaney.

Was there ever really a news story here or was this just part of what's known in the media as the 'silly season', when everyone's on holiday and there's little 'real' news to report on?

Actually yes, there was a very serious news story here, particularly in the light of a number of parties over the years that have escalated out of control, often resulting in violence, sometimes even in death.

But when the journalists turned up on Monday to cover the legitimate story, it's highly unlikely they expected to find this teenager - egged on by his mates - ready to talk to them. His blond hair, bare chest and, oh, those sunglasses made him appealing to the cameras and also easy fodder for the media.

Commercial current affairs went into overdrive scrambling for the 'exclusive' and it appeared by Monday night that Channel 9's A Current Affair had secured it with a one-on-one interview between Leila McKinnon and Corey.

But rather than a probing interview to find out what this 16-year-old was really thinking, it became an aggressive and petulant display. "Take off your sunglasses and apologise," she demanded.

He said he would apologise but he wasn't taking off his sunglasses and this then became the substance of the interview. Is this really what current affairs news has turned into? It would be laughable if it wasn't so sad.

McKinnon's dismissive sign-off at the end "I suggest you go home and take a long, hard look at yourself", prompted nothing more than a smart-arse kid retort which has made him legendary among youth worldwide: "I have... everyone has... they love it."

You can watch the interview here, courtesy of YouTube.

Love him or hate him, this kid seemed extremely media savvy. His interview with McKinnon was posted on YouTube, his MySpace site had thousands of hits and news organisations and bloggers around the globe were obsessed with the story.

But the media outlets which were condemning him were merely perpetuating his new found 'star' status. If they hadn't given him the airtime they did, it would have been all over and done with.

The story now is not about what had or hadn't happened on the weekend but about Corey Delaney himself. Sadly, our current obsession with 'celebrity' and hence the media's coverage of it, allowed this to happen.

By Wednesday it appeared he was demanding money or freebies in return for media interviews. At least one radio station apparently complied - but again the focus was on those sunglasses - and as a presenter tried to snatch them off his face, in true celebrity style, Corey got up and walked out of the studio. What a professional.

Party promoters and top publicists were saying he was worth more than bad girls Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears put together and could demand thousands for appearances all over the world. What for? Clubs he couldn't legally enter himself at just 16. And while we're on the matter let's not forget what happened to those three party girls last year. How soon they can fall from the media high life - but once you court the media in this way it's almost impossible to turn it off.

Did Corey know what he was doing with the media when he fronted them on Monday? No. Did he think his face and name would suddenly be known worldwide? Of course not. No matter how media savvy he thinks he is - he's a 16-year-old kid.

Was the media acting irresponsibly by interviewing a minor? This is an interesting question. He wasn't hounded, pestered or harassed - he didn't try to hide away and take refuge behind a closed door - he openly talked to them and then asked for money from them. Fair game. Or is he?

Look on the internet today and it's well beyond this teenager's control - and if he ever thought he was in control he was sadly mistaken. While his few minutes of fame on Monday night may have given him that feeling, now he's being parodied on websites and made to look an idiot among his peers.

Fake websites have been set up, appearances on US radio stations have been faked and his image (or one similar to it) has been used in online advertising. I've even heard the expression 'Coreygate' - and he has no say over it.

The power of the media cannot be underestimated. Where they see a drawcard for an audience they will use it every time.

I'm not defending Corey Delaney's actions this week. But there are many people who should consider carefully how this teenager has been used and exploited, and all because he was left home alone and his parents trusted him.