Rumors About Richard Simmons ‘Transition’ Highlight The Declining Quality of Online Journalism

Richard Simmons

Of the two Simmons dwelling in the land of popular culture, Richard was by far the most entertaining—until he retreated from the public eye around 2014. Now preferring to live privately, the tabloid mill has openly speculated on where our favorite super-effeminate fitness guru has gone. One of the more outlandish theories had Simmons taken captive by his housekeeper, a claim Simmons broke his silence to debunk.

A more plausible theory emerged recently. With the growing acceptance of non-binary gendered people appearing in media, the idea that Simmons has been transitioning to a woman didn’t seem too far off the mark. Alas, the rumor simply isn’t true.

First “reported” by the notorious charlatans over at The National Enquirer, Simmons’ spokesperson Tom Estey told PEOPLE magazine that the rumors are unfounded, and that Simmons request for privacy should be respected.

“It’s not true,” Estey said. “He is not transitioning into a woman.”

“He has decided to live quietly the last few years. He had knee surgery a few years ago and has a bum knee. He is still on Twitter and Facebook and works behind the scenes continuing to inspire and motivate people to lose weight. When he decides to come back, he will come back.”

Estey goes on to say that Simmons “was in the hospital over the weekend for dehydration and was out the next day. He’s a human being. He was in the public eye for over three decades, but he deserves his privacy. He should be able to have a private life. He just needed a break. He is still taking care of the people who need his help.”

Shamefully, a number of media outlets simply parroted the Enquirer’s article in their headlines, without clarifying that the rumors came from the same source that regularly proclaims famous celebrities are dying of cancer, cheating on their spouses, or engaged in criminal behavior, without a shred of evidence to back it up.

The allure of spin is powerful, however, and accurate headlines don’t drive visitors to online news outlets. Everybody involved with this industry is guilty of it—including the illiterate social media users who demand sensationalism while decrying the decline in quality journalism.

Do you want to know the truth? I doubt it. Sure, you can handle the truth. But the truth might bore you, and if it bores you, we aren’t interested. The internet is a vast resource of information—but information and knowledge are distant cousins at best.

There is no solution to this problem. The worldwide web is simply the latest in a long-stream of revolutionary technologies co-opted by uneducated consumers and an unethical business class. No longer can we rightly be called a profession of gatekeepers or whistleblowers. Independent media was supposed to answer the troubling consolidation of power in the news industry, but instead it panders to the lowest common denominator.

Until we solve our educational deficiencies, until we kill anti-intellectualism and place critical thinking at a higher value than rote test-taking, we will continue to be stupid, hungry, blind, enraged consumers—and our favorite blogs and news outlets will be eager to meet our petulant demands.

Even if the Enquirer report were true, it is appallingly irresponsible for media outlets to keep the rumor-mill spinning without any evidence to give the story merit.

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Timothy Bertrand
Writer and journalist living in the Houston, Texas area. Follow me for breaking news, editorials, pictures of cats doing human activities, and other such content from around the web.


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