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Fred Silberberg Headshot

Broadcast Journalism Has Reached a New Low

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We live in an age when the quality of news reporting by the mainstream television media has stooped to new lows. It is an era where instead of reporting a story, television media now make the story. It is an era where the media allows itself to be manipulated by those who wish to use it for their personal gain. And as a result, what ultimately happens is that we, as Americans, are less informed about the state of our world than we should be.

The manner in which the television media handled the death of entertainer Michael Jackson demonstrated that American television journalism has been brought to new lows. In the nearly two week period between the death of Jackson and his media-event memorial service, and even continuing after that, broadcast journalism allowed itself to be manipulated by the Jackson family to the exclusion of nearly every other newsworthy event which took place in our country during that same time period. CNN, for example, took the story to new lows by making it the focus of its evening and night-time news programming with nonstop coverage of every little development in the Jackson case. Major networks were not far behind. Nearly each of them featured Jackson or his death as the subject matter of their television news magazines. The culmination of all this media frenzy was the two-and-a-half hour memorial service which was broadcast live on all three networks, without interruption. In the history of American broadcast journalism, it is virtually unheard of to devote that type of coverage to a funeral or memorial service for anyone, with the exception of a U.S. President.

Michael Jackson was a private citizen, not a public figure. While it is a fact that Jackson may have been in the public eye for much of his life, it is also a fact that until recently, he had been living as an American expatriate in, of all places, Bahrain. Jackson only returned recently to this country and that was to enable him to prepare for a concert tour scheduled to take place in Britain, not the U.S. There was certainly nothing which Jackson had done during the last phase of his career to reinsert himself back into American public life, and even if he had, it certainly would not have warranted the kind of coverage which the broadcast media gave to him upon his death.

During the past two weeks many significant events took place in our world that were worthy of reporting. American soldiers continued to die in Iraq. Economic issues continued to plague our country. Thousands of Americans lost their jobs, their homes, and their health insurance coverage. Matters were continuing to develop in the Middle East, the President was promoting his health care reform bill, North Korea was rattling its nuclear sabers, just to name a few. We weren't told much about those events, and if we wanted to know about them, we had to make a concerted effort to find any information about them in the broadcast media. The information that we did get, consisted of nothing more than a few snippets here and there, nothing like the coverage that was given to the deceased Jackson. While some of us were concerned about matters affecting the environment, or the job market, we were instead fed a never ending diet of details about such irrelevant items as where Jackson's body may have been at any particular moment, or whether his funeral would take place at Neverland or another venue.

Broadcast journalistic standards met a new low in the past two weeks. Rather than reporting the news and educating Americans about issues that affect us today and into the future, the networks allowed themselves to be used by the Jackson family and concert promoter AEG to promote interest in Jackson. By releasing details of the potential funeral arrangements in bits and pieces, by sending out announcements that he may be interred here or there, that there may or may not be a memorial service, by preserving Jackson's body for what seemed to be an untoward period of time before burial, the family obtained unprecedented exposure, culminating in their ability to obtain uninterrupted network coverage of Jackson's memorial service broadcast around the world at no cost whatsoever.

This is not to say that the death of Jackson wasn't a newsworthy event, it certainly was. It is to say, that it did not warrant the amount of coverage it received, and it was not an event that should have consumed the majority of news coverage by the broadcast media for the past two weeks. By giving it that coverage, broadcast journalism in America has shown that rather than keeping the public informed about newsworthy events, it is willing to sensationalize whatever story will bring in the most viewers. Without even realizing it, those viewers have been hoodwinked. The news hasn't really been reported.