Better late than never.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – When the news broke Thursday of Michael Jackson's death, cable television immediately went into 24-7 rolling coverage, magazines scrambled to put out commemorative issues, and the network newscasts devoted large parts of their broadcasts to the passing of "The King of Pop".
But the media faced a couple of tough questions: whether to talk about the unseemly aspects of Jackson's life along with his heralded musical and performing talents, and whether to cover the Jackson story ahead of other major stories such as the unrest in Iran, the infidelity of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, and the death of actress Farrah Fawcett.
Howard Kurtz posed these questions to a panel of entertainment journalists Sunday morning on Reliable Sources.
Extra Correspondent Carlos Diaz recalled that it was Jackson himself who gave the media the odd stories – his pet chimpanzee, the hyperbaric chamber, and his many legal troubles.
"It was Prince, Michael and Madonna all trying to combat their weirdness…They could kind of like shape their own image and give questions that only they could answer."
Diane Dimond, investigative reporter and author of Be Careful Who You Love: Inside the Michael Jackson Case, pointed out that Jackson's public image was actually carefully structured by his management team.
"Michael Jackson had the master of that–the late Bob Jones. He said to me one time after he was out of the [employment] of Michael Jackson… he said, 'The theory was: Why stick with just one day of coverage because you media people will lap it up? So we put out the hyperbaric chamber picture, and let it sit there for a few days and let it fester. Everybody picks it up. Then we issue a denial. Bingo, I've got five days worth of coverage.’"
Dimond said constant updates on a big story is a part of the cable news culture, but the network newscasts went overboard
"I'm a longtime trained journalist. I worked right there in Washington, D.C. and Capitol Hill, and when the evening newscast is 99% Michael Jackson, now, I have trouble with that. Their reason for being is to tell me what's happening in the world, all over the world, encapsulate it for me, not just give me one story."
Kurtz asked Extra correspondent Carlos Diaz whether the standard for news is not whether the story is important but whether people are talking about it.
"Yes. It is now," Diaz responded. "Everyone was talking about Michael Jackson's death… Farrah Fawcett died five hours earlier, and it's as if she never even existed."
Kurtz said the real question is whether the public and the media will still be talking about Michael Jackson in a week or two. Diaz and Dimond both responded unequivocally, 'Yes.'
Some friends and I actually had this conversation the day after Michael died.
When the event was only 24 hours old.
And the wall-to-wall coverage had only gone on for 24 hours.
Here’s what I thought then.
And think now.
Admittedly Michael Jackson was a major celebrity.
But that’s not the reason the coverage went on and on and on.
Sensationalism notwithstanding, it was less about how he lived.
Than it was how he died.
Had he lived to be an old man and died in his sleep, it would have led the evening news, there would have been a few cable hours of video retrospectives and enough “Billie Jean” alternating with “You Are Not Alone” to last us a lifetime.
Instead, he died young, relatively, of what is almost surely going to end up being the result of drug abuse.
That, friends and fans, is why the media coverage was, and remains, a classic case of overkill.
On a scale of star to superstar, I think a case could be made that The Beatles had more of an impact on pop music, let alone world, history than Michael.
And at this writing, the most successful singer/songwriter in the history of pop music is Sir Paul McCartney.
But I’m willing to bet you my limited edition of Rubber Soul to your autographed copy of Thriller than when Sir Paul’s time comes, assuming he lives to be an old man and dies in his sleep, it will lead the evening news, there will be a few cable hours of video retrospectives and enough “Yesterday” alternating with “All You Need Is Love” to last us a lifetime.
Unless, of course, Heather Mills decides to get even and poison him.
In that case, be prepared for a couple of weeks of “Yesterday”.