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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Posted: June 27, 2009 11:33 AM

Enough With the Jacko Media Coverage! Here's Why


For its new Question of the Day feature over at Editor & Publisher's main blog, we asked: Is the press overplaying the death of Michael Jackson? The question produced a good number of responses, even as the coverage -- right or wrong -- continued with little let up. Nearly all hit the over-coverage hard.

Commenters mainly stuck to the extent of coverage, not the blatant misinformation and hyperbole, such as comparing Jackson to Jackie Robinson (MTV: partly segregated for one year, Baseball: Fully segregated for 70 years) or suggesting that he was the first black pop star to gain wide white audience (decades after the super-popular Fats Domino, Sam Cooke, Jimi Hendrix, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and dozens of other examples). Or, more importantly, glossing over the, shall we say, unsavory, relationships with young boys.

My view: younger fans can rightly accuse many oldsters for not quite "getting" MJ's influence. On the other hand, many younger fans are very weak in the historical perspective department. I say this as a former editor at Crawdaddy which covered Michael throughout the 1970s.

Anyway: To read all of the comments, go to the Pub here. Below I present some of the views already there.
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Commenters at E&P:

--Yes, they're overplaying his death: but with the 24/7 news cycle, the TV press, with the print journos in tow, overplay almost any story, especially those that have a high "fluff" factor. To convey real news requires time, contextualization, and a seriousness that runs counter to the info-tainment paradigm. So, what better than a celebrity death? It's easy, it's cathartic, and has little real meaning in the greater scheme of things.

--MSNBC: Silent on Iran this past weekend, strike one. Olbermann in shirtsleeves getting breathless over Jackson, strike two.

--Yes! There are a lot of important things going on in the world and the media isn't reporting on them. It's hard to find news on anything else.

--Considering he is the best known artist in the world, I would say no. This deserves more attention than Jon and Kate's divorce.

--We didn't even run it in our newspaper. We are delivered by mail the next day, so we could have gotten it in. But Jackson doesn't rate any story in a small, western Nebraska town. Anyone who cared watched all those network specials anyway. We focus on hyper-local, not hyper-ridiculous.

--Sad! Let's take our hats off for five minutes....say a couple of nice things and move on....all in all, not that important!

--Whoa, wait. Michael Jackson died? They haven't announced it even once on HGTV.

--Michael Jackson died? 5 million mothers of pre-teen boys let out a collective sigh of relief.

--Downright disgraceful. Jackson's death unlikely will impact few outside of his family and business associates short of another "celebrity" death. The swoon by the mainstream media is not only sickening, it is another sign of the death of a free press and it's impending transition into all tabloid all the time. It is a crying shame the impacting news has to take a backseat or disappear altogether.

--So I ask this question for those making news judgments: Most significant death of the week -- Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson or Neda Agha Soltan? (I can tell you which one will get the most eyeballs and therefore revenue. Will history agree?)

--I would like to say, that first, one death is not anymore significant or better than anyone else's. Let's please be rational here while we talk. Second, whether you like it or not, the man was a global icon, despite his faults. Not only that, but his death came as a massive shock, and there maybe reports that he wasn't treated properly like he should have been.

--Michael Jackson was as much a creature of the media as a performer, and the coverage reminds me of Dr. Frankenstein mourning his creation.

--Leave it to these same editors, who convicted the man in the court of public opinion, to milk the cash cow one last time as they pay overdue respect to a progenitor.

--Overplayed compared to what? Iran? Health care reform? Cap and trade? Darfur? The collapse of the banks? Yes. Laci Peterson? The missing girl in Aruba? No. At least Michael Jackson was someone people recognized.

--It is IMPOSSIBLE to overplay this story. Michael Jackson was THE most famous person on Earth! In every part of the globe, people knew and loved him. He was the most talented performer the world has ever seen, and probably ever will see. The other news stories -- health care reform, Iran, the economy, Gov. Sanford, etc. -- aren't going anywhere and will still be news in a few days.

--How many drug overdoses in LA yesterday? How many had live in personal doctors? Why is opium still growing in Afghanistan?

--All the TV coverage was fine for a while, now it is getting on my last nerve. I want to know what is going on in Iran, will we get a public option , can we do any thing to rid the world of the crazy North Korea idiot before he blows up the world. Its Jackson all the time all day.

--Have refrained from posting until now however, with the continued front line coverage of this I have to wonder. Why didn't the headlines read as they should, "Accused Pedophile taken to hospital in cardiac arrest"? "Michael Jackson, who has been accused multiple times of inappropriate contact with young boys, was found dead at his rented home today." Nothing more needed to be said; he lost all right to any hero worship after the first incident.


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Greg Mitchell's latest book is "Why Obama Won." He was executive editor at the legendary Crawdaddy for nearly all of the 1970s.