White Glove Journalism

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 26, 2009; 10:13 AM

First, a few thoughts on the story that has blown everything else off the radar screen.

I had figured, when TMZ confirmed Michael Jackson's death before everyone else, that the media would focus mainly on the wildly successful singer he once was. There tends to be a subconscious airbrushing when someone famous passes.

But that didn't happen. Even in the first, frantic hours, cable commentators talked about the plastic surgery, sharing a bed with young kids, the child abuse allegations, the trial, the Neverland seclusion, the dangling baby, the essential weirdness. It has, after all, been many years since Jackson was known mainly for his performing.

There is a generational split in the reaction to MJ's untimely death. Those who came of age during the era of the Jackson Five, Thriller, the moonwalk, are devastated because they have lost a piece of their childhood. Somewhat older folks were less enthralled by those early years and more likely to dwell on how he frittered away his success and his fortune.

NBC, ABC and CBS put together prime-time hours last night. All well and good, but can you imagine any of them doing that when Iran blew up?

The morning shows are on a war footing this morning, with Meredith Vieira having flown out to L.A. and Charlie Gibson coming in to "GMA." The nonstop coverage somehow seems fitting for a worldwide celebrity who touched so many people and appalled so many others. But I wonder if I'll still feel that way tomorrow or the next day, if all mention of Iran or health care or Mark Sanford is obliterated by Jackson's death.

Something tells me the media are about to endow him with permanent Elvis status, and not just because he once married the King's daughter. There are also questions, raised by his own lawyer, about whether he was overmedicated, and these will not go away.

L.A. Times: "Michael Jackson was not of this world. He always seemed to defy gravity, as a dancer whose signature move was so incomprehensibly graceful that it earned the extraterrestrial title 'the Moonwalk,' a singer whose tenor was high but strong, a rhythmic instrument that went as sweet and tender as a clarinet on the long notes -- and as a man whose physical presence was first androgynous and then seemingly cyborgian, forcing his astounded public to puzzle over their assumptions about race, gender and age."

NYT: "Which Michael Jackson will be remembered? The unsurpassed entertainer, the gifted and driven song-and-dance man who wielded rhythm, melody, texture and image to create and promote the best-selling album of all time, 'Thriller'? Or the bizarre figure he became after he failed in his stated ambition to outsell "Thriller," and after the gleaming fantasy gave way to tabloid revelations, bitter rejoinders and the long public silence he was scheduled to break next month?

"In the end, the superstar and the recluse were not so far apart."

Boston Globe: "No matter how bizarre and disturbing Michael Jackson's personal life got -- and, man, it certainly did -- one thing was always constant: His music was like Teflon, completely unscathed by all the allegations and grave missteps that played out in courtrooms and in the glare of spotlights."

New York Post: "The King of Pop wowed audiences with decades of chart-topping hits and bizarre fashion choices -- and made headlines with antics that ranged from accidentally setting his hair on fire to dangling his youngest child from a hotel window.

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