The concept of irony is often abused and invoked much too easily. But sometimes events conspire to provide true and rich irony that cannot be ignored. The near juxtaposition of the deaths of Michael Jackson and Walter Cronkite yield to us such an event.
Upon the death of another beloved entertainer, CBS News anchor Cronkite started the evening newscast with the following statement about John Lennon's murder: "The death of a man who sang and played the guitar overshadows the news from Poland, Iran and Washington tonight."
And now, in a cruel twist of ironic fate, that very statement could be applied to Jackson's death relative to Cronkite's own.
Cronkite had the proper sense to know that the response to Lennon's death was disproportionate to its importance. Like Jackson, Lennon was an iconic figure, a giant in the music industry, a legend in his own time. Like Jackson, Lennon's death brought forth a huge outpouring of public angst, candlelight vigils and somber prayer sessions. Like Jackson, Lennon's death evoked a response that revealed more about us than about the deceased. Cronkite understood this and reported accordingly.
As we witness Cronkite's death being overshadowed by Jackson's as presaged by the news anchor's own words, each of us should ask ourselves the following questions: what is my reaction to the death of Michael Jackson compared to my reaction to Walter Cronkite's death? Is that reaction appropriate to the contributions each made to society and humanity? Let's compare the two.
Michael Jackson was an extraordinary entertainer with an amazing talent for song and dance, but also perhaps with an inappropriate affinity for little boys.
Walter Cronkite was the calm voice of reason that held together the fraying fabric of American society that was rapidly unraveling in the face of war, riots and assassinations. Cronkite reassured the country in the face of tragedy followed by tragedy. His reluctant public opposition to the war in Vietnam changed the course of history. He thrilled the entire globe with his wondrous descriptions of man's first step onto another world. He brought us his soothing professionalism as the world held its collective breath during the Apollo 13 near-disaster. In a public life never far from the spotlight, Cronkite's personal and professional integrity were never questioned.
One sang to entertain; the other spoke to inform.
Now let's look at the news coverage. Jackson's demise evoked ceaseless, 24 hour, wall-to-wall coverage for more than one week, and the story still lives on as a headline even today. Walter Cronkite's death warranted a few hours of coverage on the day of his death, a few tributes, and we have already moved on to the next story. Yet according to a Pew poll, half of those interviewed thought the media struck the right balance in covering Jackson's life and death. That is probably one of the saddest statistics I have read, proving to me that half of us have lost all sense of proportion, balance and priority. The comparative response to these deaths can only be considered pathetic.
We fashion a myth and then mourn its death. We have done nothing but create a secular religion, complete with our messiah. We can no longer discern fact from fantasy or myth from reality. We confuse entertainment with news. We're losing it.
Our president is struggling with a declining economy, an ascending Iran, a nuclear North Korea, a war in Iran, an expanding military presence in Afghanistan, and a ceaseless threat from al Qaeda. And we focus on Michael Jackson, largely ignore Walter Cronkite and completely forget important political scandals like the adulterous demise of family values proponents Mark Sanford and John Ensign.
We have become a parody of ourselves, an embarrassing example of self-indulgence and shallowness.
I tremble for my country...