Death of a sideshow attraction

A sad, pathetic 50-year-old boy who never grew up died in Los Angeles Friday and the media covered it like the death of someone who really mattered.

The death of Michael Jackson, a talented entertainer who squandered his gift, will be the focus of too much media attention over the next few days, a sideshow to a performer whose life became a tabloid circus.

The grey lady of journalism, the mighty New York Times, devoted more than a quarter of Page One to the story. The Washington Post gave it major play and USA Today turned over all of Page One. Even The Huffington Post filled most of its home page today with story after ad naseum story about Jackson and extolled readers to visit its Michael Jackson big news page, saying "some news is so big it needs its own page."

Meanwhile, back in the real world, a car bomb killed 13 people in Iraq, swine flu infections reached 1 million cases in the United States, the Supreme Court ruled that strip-searching a 13-year-old girl violated her rights and actress Farah Fawcett died after a long battle of cancer that showed more style and grace than the self-proclaimed "king of pop" could ever muster.

An autopsy will try to determine what killed Michael Jackson but the body that arrived at the Los Angeles Medical Examiner’s office Thursday was, no doubt, a testament to excess: scarred by countless plastic surgery, lightened by multiple hormone injections and ravaged by drug abuse that family members say was part of Jackson’s bizarre lifestyle.

He called himself "the king of pop" and the media went along with the gag. He was born black but tried every medical procedure possible to become white. By his death, his skin looked like stretched parchment and his surgically-enhanced nose and other facial features looked like something out of a graphic novel or comic book.

The media called him "an icon," but he was an icon they created because glitz and glitter is more important than substance. With the media’s constant attention, Jackson became a best-selling sideshow attraction to a nation fascinated by the bizarre.

Now, in his death, the same media will continue the carnival of excess with network specials and coverage that gives him far more attention that he deserved because sideshows sell papers, drive up ratings and boost visits to web sites.

Michael Jackson is dead. Some day, with luck, the media culture that thrives on the bizarre will die too.

(Changed on June 27, 2009 to eliminate a word that became the singular focus of readers — so much so that the point of the article was lost in the debate.)


  1. woody188

    Well shucks. I had not blogged for some time but was just working on an article concerning unemployment and other social benefits. Ohio’s unemployment, along with apparently 17 other states is entirely bankrupt and wouldn’t be sending out checks if the US Treasury had not bailed it out. It’s a huge story that isn’t getting any ink or air time. Guess I’ll have to post it elsewhere.

    It’s too bad, I really like CHB’s readers and really valued most of their comments. I’ll miss that the most.

    As an aside, I’d still be happy to help with your proofing. I wouldn’t actually modify the articles, just send you the changes to work on. I think that would be a safer way to go considering what just happened.

  2. Doug Thompson

    Note to Readers:

    On Saturday, long-time poster Carl Nemo and I got into a heated argument over previous columns I had written about the deaths of Tony Snow and Tim Russert and the relevancy of their deaths to the death of Michael Jackson.

    I was upset because I felt Carl had misquoted me in what I said about Tony Snow. When he pulled the quote from the article in our on-line database, I found it did not read the same as the one I originally wrote and that was in the server at my office. I deleted the debate until I could look into the situation.

    Overnight, one of our techs discovered that some articles had been altered from their original form by a longtime reader/blogger that had been given access to the database after offering to help with proofreading current and past articles. We were able to track the changes and restore the original articles from our backup database.

    We have suspended that person from any access to our site and I have asked my attorney to take legal action. I sent Carl an email asking for a chance to discuss it offline while we discovered what had happened but either the email he used to register has changed or he has chosen not to respond.

    Either way, I apologize to him and our readership for deleting his comments. I was upset at the time because of the changes that had been made to the original article. It was not, as he suggested, an attempt to censor him or to avoid having comments critical of me posted to this web site. Longtime readers know that I give readers far more latitude when it comes to criticizing me than we allow in comments by readers about other posters. Many of the comments in this thread are critical of me and have not been edited or deleted.

    This was a special situation because it involved the alteration of material on this web site. We will continue to investigate and will report our findings to readers.

    The situation did force me to make a decision that I have been considering for a while: The suspension of reader blogs. It was a grand experiment but I’m afraid it did not work.


  3. Carl Nemo

    Hi SEAL76,

    I salute your deceased friend’s dedication to his country and the defending of the Constitution for which it stands, but to compare your comrade’s life work with Michael Jackson is like comparing oranges to apples.

    Your friend chose the path of a warrior and Michael Jackson had his entertainment career rather forced upon him as a child through his family enterprise. He was good at what he did in his prime and no doubt brought happiness to many folks worldwide with his style of music.

    So one is not good where the other is bad or of lesser import, they are just different.

    My entire family is either active or retired military representing all branches of the service, so my comments aren’t pitched your way to trivialize Special Warfare Operator Chief Eric F. Shellenberger’s passage. His premature death represents a loss to his family, friends and our nation. May his soul RIP… : |

    Carl Nemo **==

  4. SEAL76

    Doug, Thank you for putting MJs death in perspective. I have a person you might like to write about because he will never be front page news. Eric F. Shellenberger. Eric was in the Marine Corps for 8 years and served a combat tour in Somalia. He joined the Navy 10 years ago and became a SEAL. He was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq 7 times.He was a member of SEAL Delivery Team 1 when he died on a diving exercise off Bremerton Washington. He was a brave and dedicated American. Special Warfare Operator Chief Eric F. Shellenberger gave more to this country in one day of his 36 years on this earth than Michael Jackson did in all 50 years. Chief Eric Shellenberger will be missed. He was from Milford PA.

  5. Doug Thompson

    Folks, if you take the time to go back and read the column that started this thread, you will see that I changed the headline and the lead paragraph and eliminated the word that seemed to become the central focus of so many comments. I did so to try and return the focus to my original intent of the column: The media’s overplaying of the death of a celebrity.

    In retrospect, using the word "freak" was over-the-top and I apologize for using it. My intent was to focus on the media circus that I predicted would surround Jackson’s death and which, unfortunately, become reality.

    By choosing the wrong word to describe Michael Jackson, that word became the focus of the debate rather than the intent of my column. That’s why I changed it. Maybe now we can get back to the focus I thought was clear.

    At least I hope so.


    (Edited to expand the explanation)

  6. woody188

    The site isn’t allowing me to remove it so you should do so. I applaud you pointing out the media’s attention to Michael Jackson versus real news like the House passing the cap and trade carbon tax.

  7. Phil Hoskins

    I am very lucky, there are no "freaks" in my world. 

    I pity those who feel the need to marginalize anyone as a "freak" simply because you don’t approve of them.  It is a reflection of some defect of character in my opinion.

    And those who object to amount of media attention being given to Michale Jackson’s death might just view this as an opportunity to take a break from the news for a while. then again, maybe it makes you feel better about yourself to debase another person.

    Phil Hoskins

  8. Carl Nemo

    Wow…Woody 188 I thought you much better than commentary such as this.

    What if Mike simply liked kids, having them bounce on his knee, spoiling them etc. Quite harmless, but evidently too dangerous for our times with an overly obsessional fixation on pedofilia and other such activities.

    I’m not a fan or supporter of Jackson and his late life antics by any means, but there’s certain individuals that make commentary to CHB that I hold in high esteem and you are one of them along with Griff, Bryan, AustinRanter, ecoton, LadyWolf, Sherry and a few others over time.

    We’re not their Christian god and don’t sit in judgment over their perceived wrongs against humanity, so we best cease and desist in our judgment of any man or woman…no?!

    Carl Nemo **==

  9. Doug Thompson


    Thank you for the information. I’m seeking more infor on Chief Shellenberger. My condolences to his family.

  10. Doug Thompson


    In my opinion, way too soon. A year from now would be too soon. I never cared much for cruelty jokes and this just defeats my efforts to get this thread back on topic.

  11. Doug Thompson


    As you requested, I edited out the joke but let the reply stand so people understood why.

    Thank you for understanding.


  12. woody188

    [Cruelty joke removed at poster’s request. After posting it he asked: "Too soon?" Reply appears below]

  13. woody188

    Well Carl I’m only human and sorry to disappoint. The Jack and Cokes I’ve been drinking since five bring out the worst in me. Call it a “momentary lapse of reason” to quote old Pink Floyd. I think you can still count on me to call them as I see them when it comes to politics. If the worst thing I do is poke fun at some deceased folks, well let’s just say there are many more walking around free that have done much worse. Maybe even some war criminals, eh?

    I also didn’t think it up. It was actually txt’ed to my wife’s phone from one of her friends. So this stuff is already out there and viral whether it’s PC or not.

    See how Michael Jackson has us distracted. Can’t even mount a phone campaign to stop cap and trade taxes that Obama claims will cost us around a postage stamp a day. I note the stamp has increased in price from 19 cents in the Eighties to 44 cents today. If this is what we can expect from Obama’s cap and trade, well you get the idea.

  14. Hoggy

    There is nothing wrong with speaking ill of the dead. If you did it when they were alive, and stop when they die, you are a hypocrite.
    MJ was a freak. One of the bigger ones on the planet because of his massive media exposure.It hasn’t been about his music in 20 years. Its been about his obvious demons. He adored the exposure, he never said please leave me alone. His actions always said “Hey look at me”, never was it “help”.
    RIP Freak… move along folks, the next freakshow is right around the corner… and if you’re lucky, it’s you

  15. Hal Brown

     On television the important news is on the text scroll on the bottom of the screen. Above the scroll the rest of the sound and video is being devoted to what the majority of viewers want covered.

    Consider in no particular order from Google News:

    With US troops about to withdraw from Iraqi towns and cities, there has been an upsurge in bomb attacks – but is this a sign of worse to come, asks Jim Muir, or a last throw of the dice from the militants?

    TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) — Two weeks into turmoil, Iran’s leaders turned up the heat Friday as a high-ranking cleric warned protesters that they would be punished "firmly" and shown no mercy. "I ask the Judiciary to firmly deal with these people and set an example for everyone," Khatami said.

    Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeated his call to US President Barack Obama to not interfere in Iran’s affairs.

    The Brazilian military said late Friday it is calling off the search for bodies of passengers and crew from the Air France plane that crashed into the Atlantic earlier this month.

     The House passed legislation Friday intended to address global warming and transform the way the nation produces and uses energy.

    For the second straight week, stocks lost ground, as the Dow Jones industrial average closed down 1.2 percent after several days of rocky trading.

    US health officials estimate that at least one million Americans have been infected with swine flu since the H1N1 virus emerged nearly three months ago.

     – The Obama administration is considering forgoing legislation and issuing an executive order that would authorize the president to incarcerate some terrorism suspects indefinitely, White House officials 

    Common sense and constitutional law don’t always come to the same conclusion, but the US Supreme Court has done justice to both in ruling that an Arizona middle school violated the 4th Amendment by subjecting a 13-year-old girl to a strip search.

    Almost 50 percent of HIV-positive American teens and young adults don’t know they are infected, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    General Motors said on Friday that it would reverse plans to close two plants near Detroit after Michigan won a three-state battle to be the site where G.M. will build a new small car.

    TRIESTE, Italy (AP) – Foreign ministers from Group of Eight countries on Friday condemned North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests and urged the country to return to the negotiating table.


  16. Nogood

    Doug, you have made some people a little angry over expressing your opinion, but there are still those who agree with you. It is beyone me how anyone could hold this “freak” in admiration. I was listening to CNN on XM coming up from Florida yesterday and I actually found myself becoming upset with the coverage that a major news network devoted to this “person”.

    Maybe I am a dumb ass, but can anyone enlighten me. what contribution did this “freak” make to the world? His music??? Only for the other “freaks” of the world. When the country music star, Eddy Arnold passed away earler this year, did CNN devote any coverage to his death?? Boy! We are in a hell of shape when people can stay glued to the news coverage of a “freak”.

  17. griff

    He was a freak and a pedophile, and I can care less that he’s gone. Actually, I think the world just became an incrementally better place.

  18. Doug Thompson

    Hey, I screw up all the time and have to apologize a lot. I guess it goes with the territory.

    Thanks again.


  19. woody188

    Hey buddy I’m not trying to make you any trouble. I think you will find we are more a like than different. If you are wrong you have to own up to it and make amends.

  20. wayne333

    A freak? “Michael Jackson is dead,” you write. “ Some day, with luck, the media culture that thrives on freaks like him will die too.” We live in a freakish culture. One that is not going to die anytime soon without carrying us all down the drain with it.

    A freak? Was he any more of a freak than Marylyn Monroe, or Anna Nicole Smith, or Tori Spelling or Sylvester Stallone, or Jimmy Dean or Johnny Depp? Look at those Washington Repugs with their botox faces and hair plugged scalps. Look at the torsos PEOPLE MAGAZINE’s paparazzos caught in their lenses, Apollo wannabes who have been sweated, worked and run by trainers to have just the right rippling abs and perky pecs so they can rake in the millions in movies and TV cameos.

    A freak? Was he any more of a freak than the trans sexuals who modern medicine has identified with severe identity disorders, enabled with lengthy surgery to clip off delicate flesh and pump up with exotic fluids in order to remake the flesh to mesh with their brains’ gender? Was he any more of a freak than the people who are being healed with face transplants, or whose noses are being reshaped, or whose buttox are being liposuctioned or whose tummys are being tucked?

    A freak? Is he any more of a freak than those of us who now live to be 100, outlasting our children and all our relatives by the thousands in modern medical America? Is he any more of a freak than all those teenagers who are dying of bulimia or anorexia as they starve themselves into the form Barbie demands? Is he any more of a freak than those who walk around with other peoples hearts in their chests or livers working in their guts?

    A freak? Yes so he had virtiligo whether acquired or accidentally infected. I saw him one day in a bookstore here in Memphis quite by accident. He and Lisa were buying children’s books for the kids at St. Judes. His skin was as white as a sheet of paper. Lots of people suffer from virtiligo and Jackson made it ok for them to admit it.

    A freak? Commentators say he was surrounded by enablers. And so he was. Any of us who bought his albums or went to his concerts might be called enablers too. That Media culture does not flourish unless we want it to, I suspect. Perhaps he suffered from Munchausen’s syndrome, a disabling neurosis where one seeks surgery after surgery for the highs it brings them. Perhaps he suffered from an acute identity disorder. Does that make him a freak?

    I suspect sir, that it is guys like you and I who are rapidly becoming the rigid and aged, tatooless, balding and plump freaks who will not avail themselves of the trainers, the surgeons, the injections or the drugs to mold our flesh into more approved sveltness. Given the plastic nature of our flesh these days as we continue to map the human genome, who can say what our great grandchildren will look like? Perhaps they will have gills and scales and live in the sea. Perhaps they will look back at those of us who did not suck in the technology to become what we could be and wonder how we could be so unimaginative.

    Yes, Jackson was a freak, as perhaps we all are freaks. But what he showed us was that in the neighborhood of celebrity there is such a thing as too much, and for that we might thank him. There is always room for the lesson of a bad example, perhaps.

  21. JerryG

    Huh? Wow! As a regular visitor to CHB I have come to value the objective expertise of the content of the editors and the “professionals” who write about the political issues of the day. However, I had absolutely no idea that any of them were expert in commentary on “freaks” and their proclivities, whatever they may be, even if found not guilty by a jury of their peers!

    Quite frankly I’m truly surprised that the self-proclaimed oldest political commentary website had an editorial that was so beneath itself and quite frankly, out of character. Trust me, there are plenty of “freaks” along the I-85 Shenandoah corridor, from the Massanuttens to the NC border. I’ve driven it. I’ve vacationed along it. They just don’t have the spotlight of Hollywood and the media upon them!

  22. Thumper

    What a low class and debasing article. You and the poster Griff must love sinking into mud to reflect on someone who is known around the world for his music. Was he flawed, sure but then aren’t we all.

    Shame on you,