Appearing as a guest on Tuesday's Conan show on TBS, HBO comedian Bill Maher absurdly suggested that recent allegations that Mitt Romney engaged in "bullying" in high school are worse than being molested by Michael Jackson, and asserted that he would be willing to trade being beat up in grade school for being "gently masturbated by a pop star."
Maher also again attacked Mormonism and religion generally, using uncensored vulgarity, and seemed to hold Romney responsible for the polygamy of his grandfather.
The Real Time host brought up Michael Jackson to suggest that Romney had behaved worse than a child molester:
After a pattern of attacking Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, on a nightly basis, one of the strategies is becoming apparent - MSNBC is in need of a boogeyman to give a face to the opposition of these radical steps being undertaken to fundamentally change health care in the United States.
So rather than attack where the opposition is wrong on a policy level, MSNBC "Countdown" fill-in host Lawrence O'Donnell is going to apply one of the tactics from Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals" to promote a dramatic shift in the U.S. health care system - "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it."
"In our number five story on the countdown tonight, the Congressional Budget Office finds that it would leave 18 million people uninsured and the government-run health insurance plan will probably charge consumers premiums that are quote, ‘Somewhat higher, higher than average premiums for the private plans,' end quote," O'Donnell said on the Oct. 30 broadcast of "Countdown." "This is a devastating conclusion for a plan being sold not just as a low-cost option for consumers, especially poor consumers, but as somehow driving private insurance premiums lower."
Michael Jackson’s tragic, untimely death was certainly newsworthy. The network news organizations covered it from every angle in the following days. A previous Culture and Media Institute study found that 13 days after Jackson’s death the networks devoted over one third of their evening shows to Jackson.
But every news story fades, right? Not Michael Jackson and not on the network morning shows.
The networks have made it a part of their morning programs for more than five weeks. In what have come to seem like regularly scheduled daily segments, “Good Morning America,” “The Early Show” and “Today” have continued to obsess over every detail of Jackson’s life and death, and even tie him into segments that are irrelevant to him. All this comes at the cost of information of actual value to viewers.
"Michael Jackson IS America. We love him so much because he reflects our nation perfectly: fragile, over-indulgent, childish, in debt, on drugs, and over the hill."
So said HBO's Bill Maher on "Real Time" Friday night during his "New Rules" segment.
As he elaborated on how America fit each of these negative attributes, he concluded by claiming, "Monday is the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong first setting foot on the moon, and I can't think of any ambitious goal we've reached since then" (video embedded below he fold, relevant section begins at 1:45):
CBS’s “Sunday Morning” yesterday aired a remarkable segment that broadsided the national media for refusing to give our nation’s fallen soldiers the attention they deserve. Martha Gillis offered an uninterrupted, 3-minute monologue sharing the pain of losing her nephew, 1st Lt. Brian Bradshaw, who was killed on June 25 by an IED in Afghanistan. Gillis faulted the media for its virtual non-coverage, which, as NewsBusters reported last week, amounted to just 1/20th the broadcast network evening newscast airtime given to Michael Jackson's death.
In a statement released today, Media Research Center President Brent Bozell applauded CBS for the tribute (click here to view it online):
Congratulations to CBS News. This is nothing short of remarkably candid journalism. The raw emotion of 1st Lt. Bradshaw’s aunt Martha Gillis is heartbreaking. It moves the audience to see undue suffering – caused by the media – for a family that has already been crushed by the death of one of their young.
The CBS Evening News may have only devoted 13 seconds last Monday night to the deaths of seven soldiers in Afghanistan -- as Katie Couric anchored from the Staples Center the night before the Michael Jackson memorial -- and just 15 seconds Wednesday night to their caskets arriving back in the U.S., but the producers of CBS's Sunday Morning should be commended for giving Martha Gillis, the aunt of an Army Lieutenant killed in Afghanistan the same day Jackson died, an “opinion” segment in which she conveyed the frustration of military families over the media's misplaced priorities.
“My 24-year-old nephew, Brian Bradshaw, was killed by an IED in Afghanistan on June 25th, but you'd never have known it from the national media. I cannot tell you how that silence added to the pain of losing this bright, funny, thoughtful young man,” Gillis began as she expressed the “pain shared by many of the 4,000-plus grieving families whose loved ones have sacrificed their lives in two wars that have largely disappeared from the news.” Enhancing the impact of her words, CBS interweaved still shots from the procession and funeral for 1st Lt. Brian N. Bradshaw.
After recounting the respect and support from those she encountered as she attended her nephew's funeral, Gillis powerfully concluded:
Once I left town, though, soldier's deaths once again became invisible. Because of the incredible kindness of the people of Steilacoom, Washington, I wonder how many other people, in Maine or Texas or New York City, would also have honored Brian and the other soldiers who have died in the last two weeks if the media had simply let them know: Somebody's little boy, all grown up, died today. Someone's little girl found out today that Daddy is never coming home.
That news is hard to bear. When the nation they died for barely notices, it's crushing.
The passing of pop music star Michael Jackson has been the hot topic and may have even seemed like the only topic covered in recent days by the national media. And for the most part, having that impression was accurate.
From Jackson's death on June 25 through the day of his highly publicized memorial service at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on July 7, the broadcast primetime news programs - ABC's "World News with Charles Gibson," "CBS Evening News" and "NBC Nightly News" allocated one third of their broadcast time excluding commercials (34 percent). (See results here) That's 270 minutes or the equivalent of nine whole news broadcasts without commercials.
The Washington Post called it an "orgy of praise" and an "exercise in excess." They were referring to the star-studded, mega-televised Michael Jackson memorial service in Los Angeles. It just as accurately described the supposedly serious national media’s weeks of outsized hyperbole concerning the life and death of a man who was a pop sensation, to be sure, but also highly controversial, even scandalous.
There certainly was the exercise in excess on the "news" programs. On the night of July 6, ABC, CBS, and NBC, paid twenty times more attention to Jackson (more than a week after his death) than to the deaths of seven brave soldiers in Afghanistan.
They were only tip of the excess iceberg. Jackson dominated every "Access Hollywood" and "Entertainment Tonight" show for two weeks. The memorial service aired on 19 different networks, drawing 31 million viewers. At least that exposed one piece of hype from the Jackson camp: that "a billion" global villagers would tune in.
When last we left CNN co-founder, Reese Schonfeld, he was in a deep funk over the horrible ratings of the network he helped create. He had hoped that the election of Barack Obama as president would help that ailing network's ratings but, as reported by Schonfeld, a harsh reality quickly set in:
Now, seven months after Barack Obama's victory, CNN's ratings have gone down the drain. From May of last year to May of this year, CNN lost 22% of its total primetime audience. MSNBC was down 2%, while FoxNews was up 24%. In the key advertising demographic (25-54), Fox was up 31%, CNN was down 37% and MSNBC was down 26%. In hard numbers, Fox had 109,000 more viewers than last year while CNN lost 113,000. CNN averaged fewer than 200,000 25-54 viewers in primetime. Even MSNBC averaged more viewers than that.
There's no doubt about it. Celebrity is the media's top priority.
Michael Jackson's June 25 death overshadowed all other news for almost two weeks.
Nightly news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC featured at least one story each night about Jackson since his death. More than half of those broadcasts aired since June 25 lead with a story about Jackson. A Pew poll found cable news devoted 93 percent of its coverage to Jackson on June 25 and 26. The broadcast networks joined CNN, MSNBC and Fox News in airing Jackson's July 7 memorial from Los Angeles' Staples Center.
Despite a separate Pew poll that found 64 percent of people believe there was too much coverage of Jackson, the media continue to hit the story hard. CNN's Don Lemon even labeled critics of the coverage "elitist," and said, "Michael Jackson is an accidental civil rights leader, an accidental pioneer. He broke ground and barriers in so many different realms in artistry, in pictures, in movies, in music, you name it. So, no, I don't think it's overkill."
Gov. Sarah Palin had something to do with the death of pop star Michael Jackson. That's an interesting theory proclaims radio host and Jackson eulogizer opportunist Rev. Al Sharpton.
Our friend Brian Maloney at Radio Equalizer has the story. Embedded at right is the audio of the program in question. I've pasted Maloney's transcript below:
FEMALE CALLER (31:50): He (Michael Jackson) is truly the soundtrack of my life. I also have a theory about Sarah Palin as well and I'm going to put it out there on radio, hopefully someone can investigate.
Reacting to Media Research Center (MRC) analysis showing the deaths of seven U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan recently has received just 1/20th of the network coverage devoted to Michael Jackson, NewsBusters Publisher and MRC President Bozell Bozell released the following statement earlier today:
This is a prime example of why network television news audiences are disappearing before our eyes. There is no justification for determining that the death of a celebrity over a week ago merits 20 times more news coverage than the tragic deaths of American soldiers in Afghanistan.
For anyone to say - with a straight face - that such a disparity was an ‘editorial judgment' only further insults the collective intelligence of the audience these newscasts claim to serve. In fact, it's just more evidence that network ‘news,' for all practical purposes, no longer exists.
In a day dedicated to overcoverage of the Michael Jackson memorial service in Los Angeles (complete with Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson on the morning shows today dismissing any notion that the pop star ever had an unhealthy relationship with children), some on the left are championing the freakish side of Michael and bashing the rest of America as sick.
At The Nation magazine, Laura Flanders dug up a 1985 tribute by gay black author James Baldwin:
"The Michael Jackson cacophony is fascinating in that it is not about Jackson at all," Baldwin wrote. "All that noise is about America, as the dishonest custodian of black life and wealth....the burning, buried American guilt; and sex and sexual roles and sexual panic; money, success and despair…"
Baldwin put his finger on it: we're provoked -- and call "unstable" those who actually destabilize us. While Jackson may have been struggling with his own demons, he powerfully stirred up ours.
"Freaks are called freaks and are treated as they are treated -- in the main, abominably" continued Baldwin, "Because they are human beings who cause to echo, deep within us, our most profound terrors and desires."
Two days after Sunday's Washington Post carried a letter from a woman who asked “where was the coverage of my nephew or the other soldiers” who were killed in the days after Michael Jackson died, attacks in Afghanistan took the lives of seven U.S. soldiers, but their deaths earned a total of less than one minute combined on the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts on Monday night -- 1/20th the time devoted to Jackson a week-and-a-half after he passed away.
Emblematic of the disparity in priorities, CBS anchor Katie Couric read her 13-second item on the deaths in Afghanistan as she sat in Los Angeles with the Staples Center, the venue for Jackson's memorial, in the background. Those 13 seconds were squeezed in around just over 13 minutes, more than half the newscast's 22 minutes, dedicated to Jackson -- a disparity of 60-to-1 (790 v 13 seconds). ABC and NBC allocated about eight times more time to Jackson than Afghanistan (2:50 v 20 seconds on ABC; 3:00 v 23 seconds on NBC).
On CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, news reader Erica Hill and Cooper spent nearly 40 seconds discussing the “Wife-Carrying World Championship” in Sonkajarvi, Finland and how the winner got his wife's weight in beer, but allocated just 15 seconds to Afghanistan. (The Situation Room aired a full story on the challenges in Afghanistan.)
Army 1st Lt. Brian N. Bradshaw was killed in Afghanistan, fighting in a war to protect all Americans, the same day that Michael Jackson died, prompting a letter to the Washington Post, which the paper published on Sunday, from Bradshaw's aunt, Martha Gillis, who scolded media priorities:
My nephew, Brian Bradshaw, was killed by an explosive device in Afghanistan on June 25, the same day that Michael Jackson died. Mr. Jackson received days of wall-to-wall coverage in the media. Where was the coverage of my nephew or the other soldiers who died that week? There were several of them, and our family crossed paths with the family of another fallen soldier at Dover Air Force Base, where the bodies come “home.” Only the media in Brian's hometown [in Washington State] and where he was stationed before his deployment [Alaska] covered his death.
In the letter the Post headlined, “A Life of Worth, Overlooked,” Gillis, a resident of the Washington, DC suburb of Springfield, Virginia, fondly recalled: “He had old-fashioned values and believed that military service was patriotic and that actions counted more than talk. He wasn't much for talking, although he could communicate volumes with a raised eyebrow.”
CNN daytime anchor Don Lemon appeared on CNN’s Reliable Sources on Sunday to come strongly to the defense of Michael Jackson, whom he saluted twice as an "accidental civil rights leader." Lemon charged that anyone who thinks the Jackson story is overdone is "elitist," and when Kurtz suggested the "civil rights leader" might have been a child molester, Lemon quickly asserted that it was never proven in court and "if you talk to people who were involved in those cases, they don't believe that he did it."
Kurtz invited in Lemon, former Washington Post and New York Times entertainment reporter Sharon Waxman, and Baltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawik. All three thought the Jackson story was not overcovered. (Kurtz claimed on Twitter it was "hard to find a critic" of the overkill on the holiday weekend.)
Lemon suggested there wasn’t much criticism of the overcoverage of Princess Diana’s death (what country was he living in back then?), implying maybe because she was white:
HOWARD KURTZ: Don't you feel deep down that this is overdoing it?
A new low for ABC News? ABC decided Saturday to bump its daytime soap operas (and, in the MDT/PDT, a re-run of The View -- so that's an upside) to provide live coverage at 1 PM EDT/12 PM CDT/11 AM MDT/10 AM PDT (9 AM for Sarah Palin and, so everyone in the U.S. is covered, that's 7 AM in Hawaii, thus bumping GMA) of Tuesday's memorial service for Michael Jackson at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
It won't be an ABC entertainment division production, but an ABC News broadcast. As reported by TV Newser and announced by David Muir on Saturday's World News, which already had a graphic for “Remembering Michael Jackson” with an image of Jackson standing in for the “I” in Michael, Charles Gibson will anchor.
[UPDATE, Sunday at 4:50 PM EDT: NBC has announced it too will provide live coverage as will Fox, so my doubt about Fox, which only carries one hour of news a week, was misplaced.]
John Stossel on Monday blogged about the fact that ABC bumped a planned segment of his that is skeptical towards universal health care, saying, "Yes, I am sick of the coverage of Michael Jackson. I hate it that ABC didn’t run my piece." According to TV Newser, the report, which would have aired on the June 26 edition of 20/20, has now been rescheduled for the July 17 edition of the show.
The five minute segment will look at the problems that countries such as Canada and Britain have faced with government-run health care. In an online version of the story, Stossel (see file photo above), Andrew Sullivan and Andrew Kirell wrote, "In England, shortages of dentists have caused hundreds of people to wait in line just for an appointment. The queues can be so long that some people have resorted to pulling out their own rotting teeth, using vodka and pliers as tools."
Michael Jackson’s death offers a reminder that some old TV news encomiums were too gooey, even in their own time. On April 7, 1993 on PBS, MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour essayist Anne Taylor Fleming offered a tribute to Jackson as "The new-age Fred Astaire…an urban urchin with wings on his feet." Fleming was fixated more on the dancing: "I must confess that his singing has always seemed secondary to me, the leftover choirboy trying to rhapsodize about romance. It doesn’t ring right. It’s like Madonna trying to be soft and Monroe-like."
What followed became a Notable Quotable, where the liberal babble began:
If either of the two [Madonna or Michael Jackson] is the logical heir to Marilyn Monroe, it is clearly Michael Jackson, who is the more bruised and authentically vulnerable of the two....He doesn’t leave a single metaphor untouched. Not only is he black and white, male and female, but also young and old, hip and square, the crotch-grabbing self-appointed guardian angel of the world's children.
Months later, when allegations of child sexual abuse surfaced, Jackson was then compared to Ronald Reagan:
In a passionate Wall Street Journal op-ed this morning ("Silence Has Consequences for Iran"), former Spanish Prime Minister José Aznar who, in case anyone cares, serves on the board of WSJ parent News Corp., says that "It would be a shame .... if our passivity gave carte blanche to a tyrannical regime to finish off the dissidents and persist with its revolutionary plans."
Shaking off passivity requires visibility. America's media establishment almost across the board is providing very little. The Associated Press and the New York Times reports exist, but their distribution is dwarfed by the death of a pop star and a governor's infidelity.
Here are useful comparisons (all searches were done at Google News at about 8:45 a.m. for June 23-27, limited to USA sources):
Admit it. Didn't your eyes start to glaze over last night after the first couple of hours of continuous coverage of Michael Jackson's death on the cable news channels? Gone were stories about today's vote on the Global Warming bill or the upcoming vote on a health care plan, whatever that may be. Even the Mark Sanford affair, much to the dismay of many in the leftwing blogosphere, was knocked off the airwaves.
After several hours of this non-stop coverage, even your intrepid reporter started to doze off...aided by copious quantities of wine. However, in the midst of this media buzz, there was one item that would make even the most jaded among you sit up and take notice. The oddly disturbing, yet strangely hilarious, confession by Anderson Cooper that he went to Studio 54 with Michael Jackson when he was only ten years old. Here is the transcript from Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees of the conversation between Cooper and CNN anchor, Erica Hill: