From June 12th to July 4th, I decided to experiment in what many believe will be the world of the future, a world without reading newspapers. I got my entire news diet from watching either popular television or online sources.
Three stories had been dominating the television and online media landscape: David Letterman's joke about Bristol Palin, the meltdown of the Gosselins, of "Jon & Kate Plus 8" reality show fame and South Carolina Governor, Mark Sanford confusing his Argentinean affair with a bible story. The biggest news was yet to come.
Letterman made a joke, which he has been doing with varying degrees of success every week night for over 21 years. Governor Palin was offended with the idea of her family being dragged into the media spotlight, so she dragged them into the media spotlight. She held news conferences and threatened boycotts. Letterman apologized, an unusual gesture for a comedian who does topical humor. Should she forgive him? Would she forgive him? Why does he care?
Palin versus Letterman became a huge story, dominating the news/talk show scene for several days. Pundits on both sides of the political fence voiced serious opinions about Letterman's joke. Palin did more for Letterman's ratings than he could have ever done for himself. The night of his extended apology attracted 700,000 more viewers than his new competition, Conan O'Brien. Letterman gave Palin what she craved, more media attention than she's had since the election.
"Jon & Kate Plus 8", coming into their biggest season ever, with more media coverage and more magazine covers than ever, drew the biggest cable television audience this year on June 23rd, attracting 10.6 million viewers. Why? Jon and Kate announced they were splitting up. "The Learning Channel", in a contradiction to the name of their own network, has not yet learned how to deal with the phenomenon that they created and as a result of their success, blew up. The show is on hiatus until they learn what to do.
Another governor who made news was the one from South Carolina, Mark Sanford. First he disappeared for a couple days, then on June 24th, he admitted, because he could no longer deny, that he had been having an affair with a woman in Argentina. Having an affair ought to be private, something for him and his wife to deal with. However, when you have a history of publicly condemning other politicians for their immoral behavior and pushing for their, Clinton's, impeachment, you become fair game for all to poke at. Citing the biblical story of David, Sanford claims he will not resign, but redeem himself. That's doubtful. He has since admitted to several other "liaisons". He's become an embarrassment to the Republican Party and they're having enough trouble without spending time defending him.
On June 25th, the news to end all news, blew everything else off the front pages and onto television: the death of Michael Jackson. Governor Sanford was probably kicking himself for admitting his affair a day too early. The news became all Michael all the time. His death was met with the kind of media frenzy usually reserved for terrorist attacks, natural disasters or Anna Nicole Smith. Jackson was omnipresent on television and the radio.
In non-Peabody Award investigative style, Anderson Cooper on CNN did a segment on what Michael's chimp, Bubbles, is doing now. The chimp, to its credit, was one of the only associates of Michael who didn't have anything to say.
By the end of last week, Fox News posed the question, "Is there too much media coverage about Michael Jackson?" by further covering themselves covering Michael Jackson. Nothing invigorates a career like an untimely death - just ask Elvis or Marilyn Monroe or James Dean or Van Gogh.
Jackson, unfortunately wasn't alive to enjoy the huge resurgence of his popularity, music, videos and memorabilia, which topped the lists on I-Tunes, Amazon and Ebay.
There are already ongoing discussions about how Jackson's retreat, "Neverland", would be a bigger tourist attraction than Elvis' "Graceland" and how much that would be worth in annual ticket sales. The competition for attention celebrities experience in life doesn't end with death. Jackson's memorial this week is posing huge financial and safety concerns for financially strapped Los Angeles. Over 300,000 ticket requests happened online within the first few hours.
The theory of "celebrities always die in groups of three", once again held true: Ed McMahon, Farah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Karl Malden and Bill Mays - that's five, but who wants to destroy a good myth?
I returned to newspapers today. The news has traveled full circle back to Sarah Palin. She is resigning as Governor of Alaska. The attention she will now get will no doubt fill the media with several days of pundit speculation. My guess is Palin will be offered a talk show on the Fox Network. Ms. Palin, in a statement defying all logic said that she was not going to be seeking re-election at the end of next year, so she didn't feel it was fair to her constituents to continue in office. I wonder if she will bring this same commitment to her presidential aspirations.
There were other stories on the front page: The war is still going on in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan is ramping up, Iran is still in turmoil, unemployment rates continued to climb and it looks like national healthcare reform is the next big political debate.
What did I learn from my 3 week media experiment? It's easier to zone out in front of a glowing rectangle than engage in reading. Reading requires more of us than watching. In going on a diet of more television and internet coverage, I got a lot less nutrition and a lot more fat.