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:
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.
The dinosaur media, the Times included, would have led the way bashing TMZ and new media’s lack of professionalism. We would see column after column of self-righteous mainstream media members explaining how we’d never see their kind making such foul-ups. (Note this example of that attitude emanating from the Times.)
The criticism would eventually be picked up by the Left, and perhaps Congress, where members have been trying to enact the Fairness Doctrine for the purpose of ensuring their own political survival. (A blogger ethics panel anyone?) Possibly, a congressman would offer some legislation to limit online media. The whole thing would become yet another weapon with which to criticize online media like TMZ, and yes, PJM.
If the roles were reversed? Had the Times managed to foul up the Jackson story, we would hear excuses and explanations. Bad communication, bad information, too hasty in the effort to be first. “Fake but accurate” comes to mind.
Of course, we’d not have heard a peep from outlets like TMZ if the Times had messed up. Then again, TMZ isn’t on the defensive about their credibility, and the Times clearly is.
With Jackson’s death, and other recent stories, the mainstream media has proved itself irrelevant in breaking news and in follow-up. And that irrelevancy is not only demonstrated by its phony devotion to accountability, either. With so many mainstream media outlets in the tank for Obama and the Democratic Party, describing the mainstream media as accountable and unbiased should get you laughed out of the room — assuming Democratic Party members and the dinosaur media are not the only ones in the room, as the mainstream appears to be the last to know about its own irrelevancy.