This is happening in a nation that has been, both in government and among the populace, one of the strongest allies America has ever known. There are a couple of wars happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, neither of which are going very well. A great many soldiers and civilians have died in the last year. Osama bin Laden is still on the loose, and after nearly 750 days, the American people have still been given no explanation for why September 11 happened.
It is 3:16 p.m. on Thursday afternoon as I write this. CNN has been covering, with total exclusivity, a parking lot outside a police station for the last hour. They covered an airplane landing. They covered the same airplane sitting still on the tarmac. They covered the airplane slowly moving into a hangar. All the while, talking head after talking head explored every conceivable facet of the parking lot, the plane, the tarmac, and the hangar, as well as a variety of parallel issues. No stone of data was left unturned.
Why? Michael Jackson is about to surrender to police.
In the last two years, CNN has not devoted this much energy and coverage to any story in the manner that is unfolding right now. Enron, the stock market, the reasons for September 11, the nomination of Henry Kissinger to chair the investigation into that event, the disinformation that was pushed by the Bush administration before the attack on Iraq, the civilian casualties during the attack on Iraq, the American troop casualties during and after the attack on Iraq, the missing weapons of mass destruction, the missing Osama bin Laden, the war in Afghanistan that is far from over, the outing of a CIA agent by the Bush administration in an act of political revenge, and about two hundred other explosive stories did not get the attention that Michael Jackson is getting now.
One talking head just said, "I'm waiting for a white Bronco to pull up."
The other talking heads laughed and kept on going. A detailed discussion progressed about the tail numbers on Michael Jackson's plane, along with questions about how all this will affect Jackson's fans. We're approaching the two-hour mark in the coverage.
For a while we had the Petersons to obsess the mainstream television media. Then we had Kobe Bryant, and for a bit both stories ran concurrently with 'Breaking News' announcements throughout daily coverage. Neither managed to seize national attention, and so periodically CNN and the other networks were forced to mention that the fighting in Iraq is getting a lot of Americans killed, the promised weapons of mass destruction have not been found, and no one but Dick Cheney can say that Iraq was involved in September 11 without looking like a total blithering idiot.
And then, like a surgically enhanced cavalry charge, Michael Jackson blasts to the forefront to rescue the mainstream media from perhaps being required to cover matters of substance. The ability for these talking heads to natter on for weeks and weeks about Jackson, previous charges against him, his musical history, his personal oddities, his baby-dangling antics, and "Oh my goodness, what do we tell the children?" is pretty much bottomless, but we will spend the next several weeks, again, racing to that bottom as quickly as television signals can travel through a coaxial cable.
A black Bronco just left the airplane hangar, and is driving slowly, slowly to the police station. CNN is on it. CNN is all over it.
One of the shots on my television an hour ago showed a gaggle of reporters and cameras gathered outside the police station, waiting for Jackson to arrive. The talking head working the microphone at that moment mistakenly called those people "journalists." This is not journalism, and those people are not journalists. This is entertainment television passed off as news of import. This is more poison poured into our national discussion. This is the grand bull moose gold medal winning distraction of all time.
George W. Bush should send Michael Jackson flowers and a thank-you note, and send more flowers to CNN. The Republican Party effected an historic takeover of Congress in 1994, during a time when the only television coverage one could find focused on OJ Simpson. The timing was exquisite.
We're right back, today, to that marvelous chapter in American journalism history.
TV news viewers who think they are getting the hard truth from the mainstream media just forgot Bush exists, forgot the hundreds of thousands of protesters who have dogged his state visit to Britain, forgot the attacks in Iraq, forgot the dead soldiers, forgot September 11, forgot everything except a mutant in a Bronco who lives in a place called Neverland.
They just showed Jackson in handcuffs. The talking heads almost fainted. God bless America.
William Rivers Pitt is the Managing Editor of Truthout.org, where this article first appeared (www.truthout.org). He is a New York Times and international best-selling author of three books: War On Iraq, available from Context Books, The Greatest Sedition is Silence, available from Pluto Press, and Our Flag, Too: The Paradox of Patriotism, available from Context Books. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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