Anyone from New Orleans has the sins of CNN's coverage of Hurricane Katrina indelibly seared in their brains, but last night's coverage of Michael Jackson's death on cable news once again underscored what a mediocre idea a 24-hour news channel is (or perhaps what a mediocre thing the 24-hour news channel has become). For over an hour, I watched Keith Olbermann try to fill as a helicopter airlifted Jackson's body to a coroner's van, and as hour rolled into the next hour, he had to stretch a decent observation - the irony of someone who once needed bodyguards now accompanied by three paramedics - until it was as stale as Michael Jackson jokes. He reached for resonances and echoes, but they didn't illuminate Jackson or the process we were watching. The reporter covering the moving of Jackson's body (Really? We needed a reporter on the body transportation beat?) tried to delicately refer to the last decade of Jackson's life, but the awkward combination of his efforts at solemnity and his discomfort with the accusations made toward Jackson made all the guarded language sound even more judgmental and sordid than if he'd have come out and talked about the charges, the documentary, the dangling of the baby, and so on.
I'm surprised that they didn't go for critics to help fill time; after all, they were easily found on facebook shedding more light on Jackson's significance than shots of a helicopter (shot from a helicopter!) buzzing over Los Angeles. But really, the story quickly hit a point where no more live coverage was needed, and critics wouldn't have helped. Sometimes, it's actually valuable to let the story be and return to it when events dictate.
... but my post's title is technically wrong. First we kill E! News. I didn't have the stomach last night to watch it to hear Juliana Rancic talk about "The King of Pop" in faux-somber tones, or Debbie Matenopoulos talk only semi-breezily about "MJ". If anyone saw E!'s coverage and it was less than loathesome, let me know, but the generally chummy, faux-hip, nickname-oriented, tabloid tone of the channel's - ahem - news department has rarely let me down.