The news cycle around Michael Jackson’s death has essentially petered out, allowing us to now examine what we’ve seen. Perhaps most interesting regarding the coverage was that most of the information — in terms of being first and being correct — came not from mainstream media but from blogs, gossip pages, and fan sites.

What does this mean for the mainstream media?

On the day Jackson died, I went looking in the mainstream media for confirmation about what everybody else already knew — and I found none. Fox, CNN, and MSNBC were all running the TMZ footage of the ambulance backing out of the Jackson property, and repeating information from other gossip sites. On newspaper sites, including the New York Times, it was as if the event hadn’t happened yet. For at least the first two days, the original sources for the hottest story on the planet were not mainstream.

After the story had slowed somewhat, the Los Angeles Times posted a strikingly revealing question on the topic:

“How would we have reacted if TMZ had been wrong about Michael Jackson’s death?”

The question, and the whole article, indirectly suggested that TMZ did not take enough care getting the facts right before releasing their information. Trouble was, TMZ did in fact get the story right — hours before the Times ran with anything at all. So the Times offered a subtly leading “what if” game, bearing the charge of lack of due diligence.

To answer their question? In the event TMZ screwed up, the criticism would likely be much harsher than if the Times had.