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The Jackson Hangover Consensus: Sanitized Overkill

Columnists love being the first with a thought, but in the aftermath of something like Tuesday’s mind-numbing Michael Jackson media frenzy, there’s also some comfort in consensus — a bit to be said for safety in numbers.

So in addition to my column about the tortured logic and alibis that the media used to conflate its wall-to-wall Jackson coverage from “interesting” to “important,” I recommend Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez’s take on the proceedings. As Lopez noted, amid the crush of memorials, “You had to wade through acres of shallow water to find media references
to Jackson’s reported $20-million settlement of a case involving a boy
he was accused of molesting,” adding, “News organizations that have pulled out of Iraq arrived by the convoy to pay homage to the King of Pop.”

The Wrap’s Sharon Waxman came to a similar conclusion. In a column headlined “Jackson’s Final Act: Sainthood,” she wrote, “While still alive, Michael Jackson was widely considered a weirdo. A
presumed child molester. A pills-and-plastic surgery addict. For more
than a decade, he’d been relentlessly mocked by the tabloids. He was
Wacko Jacko. … Now that he’s gone, he’s become someone who was ‘persecuted,’ as Bernice King said.”

Obviously, there’s a strong impulse not to speak ill of the dead. Yet the blanket coverage of the Jackson event does cry out for perspective about the totality of his life, beyond just celebrating his talent. Perhaps inevitably, that lens narrowed on Tuesday, other than fleeting mentions of Jackson’s later years as being “complicated.”

The “complicated” side of Jackson needn’t eradicate the good that he did, or the bond he shared with fans. Nor, however, should those elements of his biography be swept under the rug.

As Lopez’s Times colleague Tim Rutten put it, “Look, the fact of the matter is that whatever the attractions of this guy’s
music or the generosity of his philanthropy … no responsible parent would
have left their child alone with him.”

Still, there was “Nightline” on Tuesday, breathlessly covering the memorial and devoting a full segment to the art of moonwalking. Then again, that’s unintentionally appropriate, since if anything has characterized the last few days, it’s been a lack of gravity.

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