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Michael Jackson media coverage goes toward bizarre excess

Rolando Ocampo, of Los Angeles, poses for a photograph while others signs a large poster at the Staples Center in Los Angeles Monday, where the memorial service for pop star Michael Jackson is expected to attract thousands today. 

Associated Press

Rolando Ocampo, of Los Angeles, poses for a photograph while others signs a large poster at the Staples Center in Los Angeles Monday, where the memorial service for pop star Michael Jackson is expected to attract thousands today. 

What is it about Michael Jackson that can make the media world lose its collective mind?

When you think about it, there are few celebrities who can hammerlock American news outlets the way Jacko has: O.J. Simpson? Princess Diana? Anna Nicole Smith?

Consider coverage plans for today's 1 p.m. memorial at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, featuring basketball star Kobe Bryant, Mariah Carey and a finalist from Britain's Got Talent, among others.

Broadcasts will sprawl across all major channels — expect continuous coverage starting at noon on most outlets, including MTV, TV One, CNN teaming with Facebook and the TV Guide Network. It's an orgy of coverage last seen back in January, when the nation inaugurated its first black president.

No doubt Jackson is a worldwide star deserving of a grand memorial; a new school Elvis complete with reclusive habits, child molestation allegations and a corrosive level of fame that seemed to eat his life up from the inside out.

But when Elvis Presley passed 30 years ago, there weren't 24-hour cable networks with dipping viewership desperate to own a worldwide story.

Presley's death didn't even lead Walter Cronkite's venerated CBS Evening News back in 1977. But when CNN gets a 900 percent viewership bump on the day of Jackson's death, is there a single news outlet that won't paper over the slow news of a July 4 weekend with Jacko speculation?

In life, there were few people surrounding Jackson who didn't profit from the association. That dynamic has grown to nightmarish proportions in his death, from father Joe Jackson pushing a new record label to rapper-singer Akon touting a song with Jackson on NBC's Today show Monday that just happens to appear on his new record.

The lucky 8,750 people awarded two tickets each (from 1.6 million applicants) can bring anyone along. Small wonder some are selling their wingman's spots for thousands on eBay.

And all this is hardly new. In Jackson's case, absolute media attention has often corrupted absolutely, including allegations that CBS paid Jackson $1 million for a interview on its venerated 60 Minutes newsmagazine in 2003 (the network denied the story, saying it only insisted he refute recent child molestation charges before airing a prime time celebration the next month).

Consider a recent poll: 64 percent said the media covered Jackson's death too much, while 58 percent said they tracked the news "closely" or "fairly closely." We may be sick of the coverage, but we can't stop watching.

As Jackson's fame and eccentricity fueled his tragic fall, it has corrupted friends, relatives, journalists and even casual fans. For one media-fed moment, we are all united, grasping to snatch a little piece of his legend in a final burst of bizarre excess.

Our last hope: that today's deluge of Jackson tributes finally stuffs us full of this story for a while.

At least, until a new Elvis comes along.

Michael Jackson media coverage goes toward bizarre excess 07/06/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 6, 2009 11:33pm]

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