Thursday, July 9, 2009


On the very day that Michael Jackson was memorialized at the Staples Center in L.A., while worldwide viewership was estimated at tens of millions of people, high profile media figures were in full bashing mode. Why is it, one wonders, that the Bill O’Reillys of the world could not restrain themselves for even a few days from badmouthing Jackson? It is not a rhetorical question. There is a clear answer. Bashing Jackson furthered O’Reilly’s racist agenda, and helped him maintain his standing as the highest rated talking head on cable TV. Still, in the interest of respect for Jackson’s survivors, could the following presentation possibly have been at least delayed a few days?

Media’s quest these days is to be as extreme as possible, in the ongoing effort to keep your attention and cause you to put the remote down instead of in your hand at the ready. That has everything to do with the intense competition among media entities. It causes media organizations to do whatever it takes to be first with information, even if the information is sometimes not verified. It has also to do with reasonably intelligent men and women saying things to a national audience that cause them to look foolish – knowing the whole time that the foolishness is the very element of their presentation that will keep you tuned in. On the same day O’Reilly sacrificed whatever is left of his dignity to say what he said, MSNBC talking head Donny Deutsch, who owns a multi-billion dollar New York ad agency, had this to say about Jackson’s throngs of mourning fans:
One could argue that Deutsch simply doesn't get it. He is unaware of the true impact Jackson had on our culture. But the real issue here is Deutsch's motivation. What does it really add to the mix of ideas for Deutsch to question the fans' emotions and loyalty? What does it do for the national conversation? Not much. Mostly it just helps Deutsch call attention to himself, and for some, even negative attention is better than being ignored.

And then there was this: Representative Peter King (R-NY) felt it would somehow serve his constituency to make a video about Michael Jackson. Watch:

I wonder how the good citizens of New York benefit by hearing their Congressman call Jackson a pervert, a pedophile, a child molestor and a low life. Again, does it enhance the national dialogue? Is there something more productive for the state of New York that King might be doing? Is King truly qualified to critique media's decisions about who and what to cover and when?

Jackson's death has brought to the forefront a disturbing trend among Americans. We seem to be looking for the worst of everyone and everything, even at the most inappropriate times. I would ask O'Reilly, Deutsch, King, et. al: Does media influence what happens in our culture or does our culture shape what media projects? If it is the former, then perhaps we should remember that it is our own history of elevating media to authoritative status that makes it so. If it is the latter, then perhaps we need to look harder at our own cultural trends and remember that media is doing nothing more than showing them to us on larger and larger screens, in high definition.

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