The Importance of Being Michael


“Why aren’t you talking about Michael Jackson more?”

The question, from a caller to Larry Mantle’s KPCC-Pasadena public radio program “AirTalk,” interrupted a ” title=”study” target=”_blank”>study by the Project on Excellence in Journalism.  At the start of the week, nearly a third of the stories monitored – 58 outlets, covering print, online, network, cable and radio news – were about the protests in Iran.  By the end of the week, the velvet revolution wasn’t the only story that had largely been abandoned by journalism.  The economic crisis, health care reform, the energy and global warming bill: you’d need an FBI investigator to find coverage of them.  Only Governor Mark Sanford’s soap opera could compete, barely, with the death of the King of Pop.

By going all-Michael-all-the-time, cable news wasn’t jamming this story down America’s throat.  Even though nearly two-thirds of Americans said last week that the Jackson story was getting too much coverage, the same HCD Research “>“Planet Money” guys on National Public Radio, you know that credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations can be as interesting as Natalee Holloway’s disappearance.  When Arnold Schwarzenegger suggests that negotiations on California’s fiscal crisis should be broadcast (“Budget talks as a reality TV show?” was the ” title=”story” target=”_blank”>story about the daily 4 p.m. meeting where the paper’s editors decide what stories warrant front-page treatment.  In The Times’s Page 1 conference room, “the belief remains that editing isn’t tyranny but perhaps a little closer to curating.  Pick whatever metaphor you like: wheat from chaff, signal from noise, gold from dross.  Without that process of selection, one is left to find the news on a Borgesian online map that is as big as the world itself.”

I’m glad that anyone who needs to can Google the meaning of Borgesian.  I’m just a teeny bit less glad that no one on the planet needs to Google Michael Jackson. 

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear Professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication.  Reach him at {encode=”martyk@jewishjournal.com” title=”martyk@jewishjournal.com”}.