BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. Brooke Gladstone is out this week. I'm Bob Garfield. The President went to Russia to negotiate with Putin. North Korea fired missiles into the Sea of Japan. A Central American president was deposed. Ethnic riots broke out in China. Congress debated revolutionary changes in health care and energy policy. Oh, and we're at war in two countries. But the big story on action news this week, the death of a pop star.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
MALE CORRESPONDENT: The many images we are tracking today at Forest Lawn Cemetery there on the top, Staples Center on the bottom of the screen, people still milling in -
BOB GARFIELD: Funny how the same news organizations that have pinched pennies by closing bureaus and firing reporters somehow scrounged up the resources for wall-to-wall coverage of a celebrity funeral. And why? Because, as Henry Luce famously observed, people make news, and dead people make more news, and dead superstars make even more news. And dead superstar man-child freaks possibly drugged into oblivion, well, expense be damned. It’s time to bring in the A-Team if, you know, they're up to the emotional challenge.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: I, I - I'm fighting my own instincts here to be a newsman. I want to be a consumer of our own pop cultural history in the passing of an icon.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: I think about Mi – I'm a fan of Michael Jackson’s music, love it. As a journalist, a reporter covering this, it’s very difficult because, you know, I love Michael Jackson. At the same time -
MALE CORRESPONDENT: I'm not embarrassed to say I was emotional, I was moved. And knowing you as I do, I know you were, as well.
BOB GARFIELD: Maybe they were just choked up by the lack of civil insurrection among the trillions of mourners they'd all predicted would be laying siege to L.A.’s Staples Center. FOX News’s Greta Van Susteren couldn't believe her eyes.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN: No, I'm looking down and I see big chunks of open space in these seats, you know, I'm stunned at how many open seats. Now, there are people still coming in, but only stragglers – yes.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Adam Housley is reporting that outside Staples Center they're actually handing out tickets for this event. And I'm wondering now, with great respect and admiration for Michael Jackson and his talent, if the news media has not, has not run away with this thing in a way that the people have not.
BOB GARFIELD: Oh, people paid attention, all right. According to Nielsen, 31 million Americans watched on TV and many millions more online, but maybe because it was the only thing on. A survey of news coverage by the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that last week 17 percent of the news hole for broadcast, cable and print was filled with Jackson coverage. On network news it was 30 percent of airtime, and that was all measured before the memorial service. For a media critic, this sort of episode is red meat. Bill Mann, writing for The Huffington Post, called it quote, “the most disgraceful coverage by corporate media since the days leading up to the Iraq war.” That’s a little harsh. My vote goes to FOX and CNN, every single day. Besides, Jackson was one of the greatest - and certainly weirdest - entertainers of the 20th century. Rioting by ethnic Uighurs in China may have more importance, but Uighurs never paid 20 million dollars to settle child molestation allegations or surgically turned their faces into albino Barbie. Of such matters, inquiring minds want to know. That fundamental fact led to one of the more bizarre bits of criticism, from none other than the Reverend Al Sharpton.
REVEREND AL SHARPTON: You would think that Michael Jackson was convicted. You would think that he was just some weirdo and that he became famous being weird. You would not think this man changed pop culture.
BOB GARFIELD: Never mind that he apparently missed the tears of Geraldo. But was Sharpton, the ringleader of many a media circus built on scurrilous allegations made before rooms full of camera crews, actually objecting to basic reporting on the bizarro world that was Jackson’s life? But never mind that either, because even that was not the event’s thickest slice of irony. That honor goes to a moment in the memorial service for a man whose tragic story began as a child forced onstage for an audience of millions, abusively exposed to pressures few children are equipped to bear. So who goes before the crowds and the cameras to eulogize him? His 11-year-old daughter, Paris.
PARIS JACKSON: I - just want to say –
JANET JACKSON: Speak up, sweetheart, speak up.
PARIS JACKSON: Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. [CRYING] And I just wanted to say I love him - so much. [CRYING]
BOB GARFIELD: USA Today put a giant photo of Paris on its front page. The L.A. Times called her halting words “the signature moment” of the service. And the cycle begins anew. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER/YOUNG MICHAEL JACKSON SINGING I’LL BE THERE]