Smith isn't a news story to residents in Bahamas

The Baltimore Sun

NASSAU, Bahamas -- Reporters for The Bahama Journal newspaper and Love 97 radio station packed their joint newsroom one recent morning and scribbled their story assignments upon a whiteboard.

"Morton Salt Follow-up" referred to a union dispute between the Morton Salt Co. and miners on the island of Inagua. The "Haitian Poachers" headline related to Haitian fishermen who cruised into Bahamian waters and illegally fished the prized Nassau grouper.

One topic absent from the board: Anna Nicole Smith.

"We're doing it," said Candia Dames, the station's news director, with a sigh. "But not willingly."

Dames' begrudging involvement in the case echoes in groans heard throughout the archipelago, as Bahamians display a mix of distaste and lack of interest in the tale that has centered a foreign media storm on Nassau.

"It's an opinion that's gotten lost," said Quincy Parker, a local reporter who has been covering the story for the Journal. "Generally U.S. media have been clueless to the way Bahamian society works."

One such way is the nation's culture of discretion - a trait that has brought banks and bankable stars to the islands' shores since the 1940s. Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Nicolas Cage represent just a few property owners who've been known to stroll through town, and Nassau residents pride themselves on their blase attitude toward the celebrities in their midst.

The same still holds true for former Playmate Smith, who - if you haven't heard - died mysteriously Feb. 8 in Florida, after months of living in a house that overlooks Nassau's Montagu Bay.

"It turns a lot of Bahamians off because we believe in letting people rest in peace," said Darlin "Chicago" Johnson, who sells fruit in the shadow of the Atlantis resort on nearby Paradise Island.

Johnson - who said he earned his nickname for the 15 boyhood years he lived on Chicago's South Side - made it clear he wasn't claiming that Bahamians have no interest in U.S. celebrity culture. They do. And countless copies of People, Ebony and local tabloids such as The Punch can be found in Nassau barbershops, salons and storefronts.

"But this is different; this is here," he said as hotel employees picked through his selection of tangerines and Scotch bonnets.

"We don't like it, and we don't like how they're [portraying] her," he added. "She can't defend herself."

Ken O'Brien, a forklift operator who lives in a clapboard house south of downtown Nassau, said he, too, feels the attention on Smith amounts to harassing the dead.

"Let bygones be bygones," he said, while getting a haircut from a barber who grunted in agreement.

One aspect of the case that Bahamians have focused on much more than Americans is that of Shane Gibson, the popular immigration minister who resigned after a photograph emerged that showed him in a very friendly embrace with Smith.

"My jaw is technically still attached, but it was on the floor when that happened," said Parker, the reporter.

In a country of 300,000 people, everyone around town has a Shane Gibson story, and most believe the Smith saga will wind up affecting parliamentary elections scheduled to occur before May.

"But this will blow over, too," said Patrick Green, a barker at a conch fritter shack who had to shout above cars blaring American hip-hop and Soca music from Trinidad.

Jason George writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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