What’s With Cable’s “All Jack-O All The Time” News Coverage?

michael-jacksonYesterday’s solemn, over-the-top, wall-to-wall, commercial free coverage of Michael Jackson’s death left me wondering if Archduke Ferdinand had been shot a second time.

Yes, Jackson once was an entertainment and music genius but he hadn’t done anything in years, yes, and his parents doomed him in childhood to a miserable life. But Prince is a music and show biz genius, too, yet he keeps his private peccadilloes private. And, besides, many of us had parents who doomed us as kids to something or another awful in adulthood.

Somehow, though, we didn’t end up with totally unhealthy and unnatural – possibly illegal – attachments to young boys that Jackson thought was just fine. Nor did we dangle our own newborn by the ankles over a hotel balcony, constantly sponge off of other people in recent years because we couldn’t afford our lifestyle, show up one day for a trial wearing pajama bottoms, became addicted to prescription medicines and rely on thugs from the Nation of Islam for security.

We didn’t end up wack-o Jack-o.

As news helicopters kept circling the UCLA Medical Center where Jackson dies, one anchor after another talked about the “crowd” gathered outside the hospital to pay tribute.

First of all, there were maybe 200 people at any one time, hardly a crowd. In Los Angeles, a city of 3.8-million, you can get 200 people who are silly enough to worship the famous to show up for a garage door opening if it somehow involves a celebrity.

Second, the fact that he was quite possibly a pedophile was conveniently overlooked in yesterday’s “All Jack-O All The Time” coverage: The jury found Jackson not guilty, which doesn’t always mean innocent. Just ask former Sen. Ted Stevens. In Jackson’s case, the DA didn’t prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Fine. In our system he wasn’t legally guilty and I accept the fact. But let’s not forget that, in the early-to-mid 1990s, it was widely reported that Jackson paid untold millions to another family on the same issue involving their young son and, in return, the parents withdrew charges they’d filed against him.

Infamous Fascination
I’m not the first to note that America has become a culture obsessed by a macabre fascination with the infamous.

In the past 10 days alone, along with Jackson’s death we’ve been treated ad nauseum to coverage of tearful admissions of infidelity by Sen. David Vitter and Gov. Mark Sanford – with interest in Sanford multiplied by his colorful disappearance for five days followed by his convoluted, sniveling story of finding true, meaningful love in Argentina, of all places. Add widespread coverage of Ryan O’Neill saying that Farah Fawcett finally agreed to marry him as she lay days away from death, the marital traumas of Jon and Kate, and probably something about another trailer trash relative in the goofy Palin family, and cable news had no time left yesterday to give much coverage to, oh, Pres. Obama’s morning announcement on the energy bill moving through the House or following up on his news conference compromise with himself about the absolute need for a public option in health care reform.

The problem is ubiquitous.

Even the normally sober Juan Cole’s blog Friday morning was devoted to why Jackson was popular in the Middle East. At least Paul Krugman asked if any reader remembered Wilbur Mills and his “Argentinean firecracker” in explaining that he wasn’t going to comment on the Sanford debacle.

Absurd Realism
As absurd as is the Jackson coverage, I’m realistic enough to know that something like the sudden death of a notorious celebrity draws viewers. Even Walter Cronkite and Ed Murrow recognized that fact. But they kept it in perspective, devoting the time the story deserved: A brief introduction, a quickly assembled bio, perhaps a clip of another celebrity saying how sad it all is, and that was that.


Still, I can’t help feel unsettled when Keith Olbermann is on air for hours, garbed Murrow-like in a vest and shirtsleeves as if telegraphing that Something Momentous Is Being Reported Here, talking gravely about what essentially is an Entertainment Tonight story.

It’s a shame when anyone dies prematurely. But it’s even more of a shame when the death is treated by the media as a major event, worthy of the kind of coverage given to a state funeral or outbreak of war. When did we lose our perspective?

Charley James
The Progressive Curmudgeon

LA Progressive


  1. Maria says

    if you’re going to defame someone, at least tell the truth. He did NOT dangle his child by the ankles. If you actually LOOK at the video, he held it tightly around the waiste and it was NOT upside down. I agree it was irresponsible, the he was sick, made so by lots off issues and the relentless media. The man changed music as we know it. He deserved the attention. It passed quickly. You can’t even let him have that?

  2. Cherry says

    You earned your title as “curmudgeon” today. while I totally appreciate and agree with your complaint that too much media coverage has been spent on an entertainer rather than the real news that will have an effect on our lives, I also recognize that you have a personal ax to grind.

    You got a little carried away and sloppy with your facts: “Nor did we dangle our own newborn by the ankles over a hotel balcony…” What I see on the clip, that has been replayed on the major networks at least a half dozen times per hour- he was not dangling the child by his ankles, nor was the child a newborn. Facts matter.

    The fact that this celebrity was an accused child molester ( with multiple accusations) will always and forever be, at the very least, an asterisk on his bio. Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle is forever remembered as weighing over 300 pounds and, according to imdb.com “Was tried three times for rape and manslaughter of Virginia Rappe.”

    Posthumously tearing away at a musical legend will not end all unhealthy attachments to young boys. If only.

  3. Billy Ray says

    Any “news” station that spends all day doting on this pedophile is really relegated to the likes of TMZ etc. Sad that he gets more coverage than the Pope or a former president dying would.

  4. Su says

    We didn’t talk about Watergate when Nixon died, either. In the pause after the death of someone famous, we tend to let go of the less pleasant memories.

    But if you don’t think his 45-year career had significance on issues like race and identity in America, and that his life and and art didn’t have meaning to people around the world, well – you haven’t been paying attention.

    Yesterday I spoke to a woman who grew up in a small village in Iran. What was on her mind? Protests in Teheran, sure, but mostly how her entire community would gather around a tiny television whenever someone had a bootlegged copy of a new Michael Jackson video. Our cultural exports are probably just as important as exporting ideals like democracy, and no one was more of an exporter than Jackson. Although he said “We are the World,” really, he was.

  5. Sonya says

    I usually like your writing, but this was poor journalism. Why are you trying to downplay the man’s contribution to American culture? You obviously didn’t listen to him and don’t realize that with him dying, an era has died. And plenty of stations have been covering his “pedophilia” charges. Creepy, but most legends have shadows…he is not exempt. Give credit where credit is do…the man is a legend, equivolent to Elvis and the Beatles. That’s why there’s round the clock coverage.

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