Michael Jackson in 1972 (AP Photo/Entertainment Weekly)
You might have seen the brief Associated Press report that, according to Pew Research, 64% of the American people think there has been too much coverage of Michael Jackson's untimely death last week. About 30% of the respondents said they had been following the story very closely, and another 28% said fairly closely. That doesn't seem to gibe with the 64% figure, but then again, it's pretty hard not follow it if you watch television, read newspapers or surf the Internet. And whoever accused the American people of being consistent, anyway?
But what I found more interesting was the historical comparison of Jackson's coverage with that of other celebrities who have died over the past few decades, stretching all the way back to President John F. Kennedy's assassination in November, 1963. Who do you suppose commanded the most attention of all the celebrities listed in the Pew Research report? I guessed JFK.
It turns out that Princess Diana and JFK are tied for first, at 54% in the very-closely-followed class, but Di edges JFK out on total points, garnering another 31% to JFK's 29% in the fairly-closely-followed category. Michael Jackson ranks fourth on the all-time list, behind, improbably, Steve Irwin, the crocodile guy, at No. 3, on the basis of total points, which makes me a bit suspicious about the results. Then I noticed that former Beatle George Harrison ranked No. 11, while John Lennon, who was brutally shot to death in December, 1980, didn't make the list at all.
And then there is the reported fact that only 54% of the American people followed the JFK story very closely. I don't find that credible. It was one of the most important news events of the century, and I don't know anyone who wasn't riveted to his television as the story unfolded, as Jack Ruby shot the assassin Lee Harvey Oswald two days later, in front of a shocked, live audience of hundreds of millions of grieving people around the world. But the JFK survey was conducted decades after the assassination, so maybe that is the explanation.
Anyway, there were a couple of other noteworthy results in the poll. A surprising 29% followed the health care issue very closely, and an amazing 16% the House passage of the energy bill. This despite an almost total media blackout of the latter. So much for the conventional wisdom that the American people have no interest in serious issues. Perhaps they should get a little more attention from the cable news networks.
But what was starkly missing from the Pew report was acknowledgement of the biggest, most sensational celebrity news story of all time, and the longest lasting. Nothing has come close to this extravaganza in our history. I'm talking, of course, about the arrest of O.J. Simpson after the double murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in June, 1994, and the televised, marathon trial in which Simpson was acquitted in October of 1995. And the story didn't end there. It continued to dominate the radio and television talk show circuit through the second, civil trial in which Simpson was found culpable for the murders in February, 1997.
I feel rather sheepish now that I was drawn into the drama, but I was. I confess. I never watched the actual trial proceedings, but was glued to the tube in the evenings at cable talk show time. It was all O.J., all the time, and I mean all the time.
As I said in a previous post, this is a slow news week.