Here are some selections from a very sharp post by Los Angeles Times television critic Mary McNamara on the medium’s difficulty grappling with yesterday’s death of Michael Jackson, a man who inspired fascination, admiration, love, and unease, sometimes all at once:
How does one eulogize a superstar who, even without the various accusations of pedophilia, was something of a freak? Or was, as several talking heads put it, “a troubled individual.” In recent years, Jackson has been more infamous than famous, known for his increasingly alarming appearance, the charges of child molestation and his subsequent business-arrangement marriage that led to his single fatherhood. …
But what’s a poor newscaster to do? Michael Jackson is perhaps the most fatally flawed historical icon since Napoleon. Al Sharpton was right to remind crowds that Jackson and his family broke a color barrier — the Jackson 5 were beloved by teenyboppers of every race and, at his height, Jackson’s fan base was international. But there is also no denying that he was a troubling figure, with his self-professed devotion to children, his queasy Neverland bubble, his strange and lavish shopping habits (Did he really buy the body of the Elephant Man? Sleep in a decompression chamber? ) and the whole mask thing. In later years he became a professional eccentric, glimpses of him in public a bit like alien sightings.
It all made the standard news loop eulogy a little … complicated. “Who are all these people and why are they here for this man?” MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann asked at one point, and for once he wasn’t waxing rhetorical.