June 28th, 2009
11:30 AM ET
14 years ago

Reliable Sources: Was coverage of Jackson's death too much?

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."

Dimond also said she was approached by a Canadian magazine which wanted to use excerpts from her book Be Careful Who You Love to help fill out the issue dedicated to Jackson.

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.'

Filed under: Michael Jackson • State of the Union
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