On the Today programme this morning the death of Michael Jackson wasn’t merely a story but the story. Events in the rest of the world were dismissed to the “and in other news” category, and treated as distractions from the main and traumatic business of the day. The serious press was no different. The Times compared him to Elvis but then toned down its tribute and described him more ambiguously as “perhaps the most famous pop star of modern times”.
Quite. I hope I am not being curmudgeonly when I make the following points.
1. Sad though his death doubtless was to his friends and fans, there was not that much to say about him, as the desperate attempts of both newspapers and broadcasters to fill space proved. (The Today programme was reduced to interviewing the huckster and ethnic machine politician Al Sharpton, whom it cutely described as a “civil rights” leader).
2. The blanket coverage is a sign of how the new elite of populist media managers of the Greg Dyke generation is losing what little sense of proportion it had as it enters late middle age. The newspapers of 17 August 1977, had Elvis Presley’s death, on the front page – you can see the front page of the Times by putting in 17-8-1977 to its “one day at a time” search engine here – but it was one story among many, and not the lead item.
3. Jackson was never an important musician. Tamla Motown will be remembered for as long as people care about 20th century popular music. He was one of their better artists, that’s all. The change of wording in the Times’s splash today was telling. Jackson was not a second Presley, merely a “famous pop star”.