Michael Jackson’s tragic, untimely death was certainly newsworthy. The network news organizations covered it from every angle in the following days. A previous Culture and Media Institute study found that 13 days after Jackson’s death the networks devoted over one third of their evening shows to Jackson.
But every news story fades, right? Not Michael Jackson and not on the network morning shows.
The networks have made it a part of their morning programs for more than five weeks. In what have come to seem like regularly scheduled daily segments, “Good Morning America,” “The Early Show” and “Today” have continued to obsess over every detail of Jackson’s life and death, and even tie him into segments that are irrelevant to him. All this comes at the cost of information of actual value to viewers.
On July 6, the day before the funeral, ABC’s Robin Roberts posed the question, “So, how do we say goodbye to our pop icons?” Well, in the case of Jackson, the answer is slowly, with as much coverage as possible.
From June 26 to August 4, Jackson was mentioned in 98 percent of the morning shows weekday broadcasts. “Today” discussed Jackson in all 28 of its broadcasts since his death. ABC’s “GMA” and CBS’s “Early Show” failed to mention Jackson in only one out of their 28 broadcasts.
The Jackson story hadn’t been driven from those two broadcasts by important events. It was replaced by more fluff. On July 20 “Good Morning America” singer Jordin Sparks performed and actors David, Patrick, and Shaun Cassidy were interviewed. On July 21, “The Early Morning Show” featured segments about tofu, tips to make clothes look good, and kangaroos.
CBS’s Maggie Rodrguez wasn’t kidding when she announced on the day after Jackson’s death that, “Of course, we will continue to pay tribute to Michael Jackson…”
And pay tribute they did. Along with digging up dirt and scrutinizing nearly every aspect of the singer’s life, lifestyle and career.
The summer of 2009 has been an eventful one. Americans witnessed events and debated issues that included cap-and-trade, health care reform, cash for clunkers, North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs, violent Iranian demonstrations, milestones in Iraq and intensifying combat in Afghanistan.
But the burning questions for the morning shows were: How many children did Jackson really have? Were they his biological children? Who were their mothers? Where would he be buried? How much debt did he leave behind? What did the toxicology report tell us? Would there be a movie? Jackson’s father and brother Jeremaine were interviewed, as were a host of employees caretakers, and friends. NBC’s Matt Lauer reported from Jackson’s home, Neverland.
Day after day, viewers saw footage of him rehearsing and dancing, including the now infamous Pepsi commercial in which he was badly burned. The topics covered were many. Here, for example, is just one week of “GMA”:
July 27 – Jackson’s drug dependence.
July 28 – Jackson’s personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, and his use of anesthesia.
July 29 – Physican Michael Roizen discussed Dr. Murray. Jackson’s mother, Katherine.
July 30 – The custody battle over Jackson’s children, Interview with Jackson’s personal chef, Douglas Jones.
July 31 – Jackson’s son Prince, his addictions, and Kai Chase, another personal chef.
Jackson continued to be “breaking news” for CBS more than a month after his death. On July 30, CBS’s Harry Smith teased, “Breaking Michael Jackson news this morning; a custody agreement has been reached between Jackson’s mother, Katherine, and the mother of his children, Debbie Rowe.”
It seemed there were always new exciting details emerging about Jackson. On July 15, Roberts stated, “New details in the Michael Jackson investigation.” That same day, Roberts’ co-anchor, Chris Cuomo discussed “the latest on the Michael Jackson investigation” and the “new photos out this morning.”
On days without what CBS’s Julie Chen on July 28 called “stunning new developments” to report, the shows did their best to keep Jackson on viewers’ minds by inserting him into unrelated segments.
Almost a month after Jackson’s death, on July 24, NBC’s Kathie Lee Gifford asked musician Flo Rida, “Any thoughts on Michael Jackson’s passing recently?”
During an interview on July 29 about a new gossip web site designed to filter out fact from fiction, correspondent Natalie Morales couldn’t resist asking, “And finally Michael Jackson. What’s the latest rumor you uncovered there?”
On August 3, discussing the “Octo-mom’s” stated regret at having so many children, “Today” contributor Dr. Gail Saltz quipped, “Have we not seen now, you know, Michael Jackson, have we not seen enough incidences of celebrity children?”
Strangely enough, it was NBC’s Hoda Kotb and Gifford who decided to limit themselves on their “Today Talk” segment on July 9. Kotb reported, “We are only going to talk about Michael Jackson for a minute…”The hosts even placed a timer on the screen for a countdown. After the minute was up Kotb screeched, “And now we’re finished. That’s it. Stop it! Stop talking!” Gifford promised, “I’m not going to talk about him.”
If only her colleagues had been listening.