Covering Michael Jackson

Paris Jackson at her father's memorial, July 7
Paris Jackson at her father's memorial, July 7

I get a discomfiting sense of unease during occasions such as today’s marathon coverage of the Michael Jackson funeral and memorial service, watched by hundreds of millions around the world. Media (and news media in particular) are, at times, the ultimate bandwagon jumpers, trying desperately to create the illusion of leading a parade from somewhere around its middle.

I was never a fan of Michael Jackson’s music, though I’ll gladly acknowledge the enormous impact the child-cum-man had on popular art forms, including dance and the recording industry. In the annals of the pop music history of the past century, his contributions will stand alongside those of Elvis, Sinatra and the Beatles. He should be given his due.

The current avalanche of newsprint, broadcasts, website excitation, tweets and blogs would sit better with me had the same news media, which today bathed itself in the Jacksonian legend and aura, not so recently been just as hyperbolic in their scathing coverage, documentaries and commentary-laden reporting of child sex abuse criminal proceedings against him. News anchors clucked their shock and disapproval and shot each other knowing glances. The prose of reviewers, writers and columnists dripped with sarcasm, innuendo and double entendre. Jackson’s plastic surgeries and personal quirks were the stuffing of a million punching bags. Mockery and raised eyebrows were de rigueur. And yet today (not to mention the past week), most news media rushed from port to starboard — the side of the ship that asserted how misunderstood, human, sensitive, pioneering and charitable the man was.

We’re still a long way from understanding Jackson in any kind of context, thanks largely to the celebrity- and pack-type journalism that devalues restraint and context, deferring instead to the immediate, the sensational and the glib.

Sure, journalism is about reporting the news. But it should also be about balance, frames of reference and perspective.