Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Media Watch: The Michael Jackson Extravaganza

The trial and verdict of the Michael Jackson extravaganza are now over. Not that I have been paying attention to it; but I have been observing the media. And the media acted rather as I expected them to act. If we consumers of information became weary of the hackneyed and clichéd coverage of the O. J. trial a decade ago, the media coverage of the M. J. trial was at least as intense, even if not as time consuming. At least, I don’t judge it to have been as time consuming. I suppose we’ll just have to wait for someone to enumerate the hours of coverage, which I am confident someone will eventually do.

I have been interested in the media and it coverage of events for at least forty years. It began with the Viet Nam War. Until later in my life, I did not realize that the coverage of that war was different from the coverage of previous war. To ability to bring pictures and commentaries into our living rooms—or wherever you have a TV—made the war different. In a book by William H. Hammond, a senior historian with the U.S. Army's Center of Military History, entitled Reporting Vietnam: Media and Military at War, the manner in which media journalists subjective commentaries on the war even as the events were taking place literally affected the war and the decisions the generals and administration were making.

I’m not suggesting that the media’s commentaries on the Michael Jackson trial affected the jury’s decision. What I am suggesting is that the media’s—and especially the “talking heads”—subjective evaluation of the trail even as it was taking place affected how the consumers of that information judged the trial and Michael Jackson. And those non-objective commentaries will continue. For example, CNN is already adverting that its Morning America show will feature “how the verdict was reached and what’s next for Michael Jackson.”

I wonder what happened to the old “who, where, when, and what” imperatives that I learned in college journalism classes? The “just the facts, mam” of Dragnet’s Joe Friday have had added the question “why.” When that question is answered by a journalist he/she ceases to be a journalist and becomes a columnist or commentator. That’s my concern and why I spend time watching the actions of media news.

Of course, I’m an amateur when it comes to watching the media. In a copy righted story, Tom Dorsey, the Louisville Courier-Journal radio and television critic, pointed out that, for the most part, the three major TV networks did basically report the “who, where, when, and what” of Jackson’s trial. ABC, CBS and NBC evening news programs did not spend an extensive amount of time on the story, although their morning news programs went into more detail. In that respect it was much different from the Simpson trial.

As for the cable networks, Dorsey suggested that they “gorged” on the story, much like they did on the Simpson story. I suppose that’s another reason I have chosen to boycott cable and satellite TV. It seems the cable TV networks and the talk radio shows began their continual analysis of the verdict the moment it was announced, will continue until the next celebrity “event.”

I may write more about this at a later day. At the moment, I am as tired of the M. J. story as I was of the O. J. story.

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