MJ: The Way He Made Us Feel
With fans gathering in Los Angeles today to memorialize Michael Jackson, coverage of the event honoring the late "King of Pop" will be near impossible to avoid, though many are saying "enough already!"
The Pew Research Center's News Interest Index last week found nearly six in 10 (58 percent) were following news of Jackson's passing very or fairly closely, but 64 percent said there was just too much coverage - on par with the percentage who felt news organizations overplayed a photo of Michael Phelps smoking marijuana (67 percent) and the "Octomom" (62 percent).
Over the course of Jackson's life, polling tells the story of a public increasingly weary of his personal ups and downs.
As Thriller topped the charts, Jackson was one of the best known figures in the United States. In a 1984 Roper poll, 93 percent of Americans correctly identified Jackson as an entertainer, more than could identify several other big names of the day: Chris Evert (83 percent), Margaret Thatcher (72 percent), Luciano Pavarotti (57 percent), or Lee Iacocca (61 percent).
Ten years later, as news broke that Jackson had reached an out-of-court settlement with the family of a boy who had accused him of sexual abuse, just 23 percent in a January 1994 Gallup poll said they were fans and nearly half (47 percent) said they believed the allegations made against Jackson to be true. Nearly eight in 10 (77 percent) told Newsweek pollsters in October 1995 that they were tired of hearing about Michael Jackson.
When charges of sexual abuse returned a decade later, pollsters again found little sympathy for Jackson. About a third (32 percent) said that in the wake of his arrest he should not continue his musical career, up from 18 percent who felt that way after the 1994 out of court settlement. And this time, far fewer believed he was innocent: seven in 10 told Gallup pollsters they believed that he definitely or probably had sexually abused the boy. As the second trial came to a close, 72 percent in an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll said they had negative feelings toward Jackson, including 56 percent who said they viewed him very negatively.
But in death, Jackson's popularity appears revived. More than half (51 percent) said they were fans of his in a CNN poll conducted in the days following his passing. And a 2002 ABC News poll on Elvis Presley's legacy (PDF) finds the public separates that King's musical legacy from his personal one. Nearly nine in 10 said Presley had a positive impact on American culture, though just four in 10 viewed him as an excellent or good role model.
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