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The Big Picture
Rebecca "Becky" Coates Nee, a veteran TV news anchor/reporter, is a professional life/career coach. Check out her website at to take the coachability test, subscribe to her free "Beyond the Box" newsletter and to find out if you're an adrenaline junkie.

The Dirty Laundry Habit
By Rebecca Coates Nee

"We love to cut you down to size. We love dirty laundry." -Don Henley

The reporters at FOX8 in Cleveland shouldn't be too embarrassed about their "Elvis Presley Lives!" two-part special report for the May sweeps period, uncovering "substantial evidence" that the King is not dead. If you believe the latest research about gossip, they were actually doing us a great public service.

Gossip helps us survive as a species, according to Frank McAndrew, a psychology professor at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. McAndrew delves into the reasons we love to gossip in an article published in the May issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

Essentially - like everything else - it comes down to sex. Caveman used gossip to gather material about their rivals, McAndrew believes, and those who had no interest in spreading the dirt were cut out of the social loop. Therefore, they were unable to get mates - or sex.

Who is the target of our gossip? McAndrew says most of us still want the goods on potential rivals - celebrities of the same sex and similar age. I'm not sure who would still be threatened by Elvis - but if he is alive, he could make a Las Vegas comeback. One never knows.

"We seek exploitable, damaging information about high-status people," McAndrew and a colleague write. While people might share good information about friends and relatives, they "keep a very watchful eye on friends."

After all, friends can be rivals, too - particularly at work. That's why gossip also is touted as a good way of moving up in our jobs - you need to know who's in and who's out. And - having all the gossip makes us incredibly popular with our peers, who keep coming back to us for more fascinating tidbits.

So, it makes sense that when I interviewed more than two dozen ex-broadcasters for my book, Leaving TV: A Guide to Life After News, one of the aspects they missed most about working in TV was "being in the loop."

Most people who leave TV do feel an incredible attack of being nobody, without 24-hour access to news wires, satellite feeds and a room full of other busybodies. We no longer are able to captivate people at parties with our insider knowledge. We now have the same access to information - and gossip - as all the other unpopular losers.

Indeed, the fear of being shut out of the loop is often the lure that keeps some broadcasters in the business, even when they'd rather be out. But not everyone believes gossip is such a great habit to have. In The Four Agreements (Amber-Allen Publishing 1997), author Don Miguel Ruiz compares gossip to a computer virus. Once it enters our brain, it causes everything else to malfunction. We get so many conflicting messages that we stop producing good results.

"Gossiping has become the main form of communication in human society," Ruiz writes. "It has become the way we feel close to each other, because it makes us feel better to see someone else feel as badly as we do."

Gossiping breaks Ruiz's first agreement: Be Impeccable With Your Word. "When we see the world through a computer virus, it is easy to justify the cruelest behavior," he writes. The problem is it keeps us down, too.

Next time you feel the urge to gossip about someone ask yourself what you're really hoping to accomplish. Most of the ex-broadcasters I spoke with worried less about being in the loop once they started concentrating on their own lives, instead of focusing on what other people were doing. Much of the news we spread is valuable information that the public needs to know. Some of it isn't.

You may not be able to control whose dirty laundry you air in your public life, but you can make a choice in your private world. Your ultimate success may depend on it.