No real news, but big news nonetheless


When a famous person dies, their life flashes before our eyes.

As with any world figure, Michael Jackson's death was a television event. Though they were slow to pick up and then confirm the news of his passing, once the newshounds had arrived, they stayed put.

"We're going to stay on top of this story," Wolf Blitzer said Friday on CNN, which, like its fellow cable news outlets, declared it Michael Jackson Day. "We're not going to go very far away."

And yet there was no way around the fact that it was a day absent of news, in which camera crews were sometimes reduced to shooting pictures of each other as they waited for something to happen. Friday's big event, the coroner's report, was as inconclusive as everyone expected it would be.

And so reporters looked to uncover Jackson's particular Rosebud in the testimony of people who knew or claimed to know him. This formed no consistent picture: He was surprisingly normal or a psychological mess; he looked great lately or he looked terrible. His upcoming London shows would either put him back on top or kill him, if he weren't dead already. A single statement could contain contradictions: "Other than the dangling of the baby over the balcony, I thought he was an excellent father," Jackson friend Bryan Michael Stoller told the "Today" show's Meredith Vieira, who had set up camp in the forecourt of Hollywood's Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

There were music figures to measure his art. Medical experts to parse his health. Spiritual advisors to measure his pain. And there were celebrity friends, such as Liza Minnelli, on the phone to Harry Smith on CBS' "The Early Show" to praise the man or stir the pot. Or both: "I'm sure when the autopsy comes, all hell's going to break loose," Minnelli said, "so thank God we're celebrating him now."

It was sort of a celebration, if muted, and if you watched for any length of time, a bit numbing. August news personalities, if they did not exactly let their hair down, showed their inner teens.

"I prefer to remember him as a huge talent whose music still makes me smile and think and remember," said Katie Couric, "not the man in the mirror who could never completely change his ways."

On CNN, Donna Brazile displayed her personal collection of Michael Jackson vinyl and Blitzer declared, "If you're listening to 'Thriller' . . . you gotta move, right?"

Eventually Jackson's ghost will retire to that clime where Elvis and Marilyn and James Dean all live on, a place of memories, cheap souvenirs and actual enduring art. We are not there yet. This is not only still fresh news, but it is also an evolving story, with questions yet to be answered about money and family and whatever killed the King of Pop -- a title he has been given reflexively over the last days, never in inverted commas, and never prefaced by the accurate words "self-declared." No one thought to dispute that, or ever has or, it seems, ever will.


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