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By Jeremy Schiffres, Daily and Sunday Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The way it makes me feel

I’ve tried to be sad about Michael Jackson’s death. Really I have. But it just isn’t happening.

Perhaps it’s because I never much cared for his music. Perhaps it’s because his passing at age 50 came as no surprise, given all his self-destructive behavior over the last 15 years. Or perhaps it’s because we, as a society, have become so desensitized to tragedies like this one as TV news outlets increasingly treat them like run-of-the-mill tabloid scandals rather than the moments of profound sadness that they are. (I mean, seriously, Jackson’s body wasn’t even cold yet when all the self-important squawkers on the tube started guessing who might get custody of the singer’s three children.)

In a media environment where all the celebrity trash aired by “The Insider,” “Entertainment Tonight” and HLN is treated as real news, regardless of its significance, it’s become hard to differentiate between who-gives-a-crap hokum like the divorce of Jon and Kate Gosselin and a truly shocking event like a heart attack cutting down one of pop music’s most influential figures.

It’s all just a blur and a lot of white noise.

Previous untimely deaths among giants in the music industry — Elvis Presley and John Lennon are the best examples — felt more like body blows because the news media of the time (read: three responsible TV networks, newspapers and no Internet gossip sites) properly conveyed the gravity of the losses. They reported the news, and the reaction to the news; they focused on the influence of the fallen stars; and they steered clear of silly speculations, rumors, third-hand accounts and paparazzi photos.

Perhaps today’s TV reporters and bloggers could learn from that history. And then perhaps we, the people affected by the news, could properly grasp the enormity of a story like Michael Jackson dying.

Perhaps. But I doubt it.



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