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Jackson, Sanford Coverage: Enough Already?

By Andy Alexander

Like most news organizations, The Post seems to be operating on the theory that readers can’t get too much coverage of the death of Michael Jackson and the romantic escapades of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. But beginning yesterday, a few readers contacted me to say: enough already!

A Chevy Chase resident, who would identify himself only as a “lifelong reader of the Post,” e-mailed this morning to complain about what he views as excessive Sanford coverage.

“I count 11 Post reporters and columnists who have worked on this subject,” he said. “This exceeds your coverage of the House passage of the ‘Climate Change’ bill. Don’t you think you have your priorities wrong?”

By my count, over roughly the past week, The Post ran five news stories on the climate change bill, a half dozen on the health care debate and seven (all on the front page) on the turmoil in Iran.

In contrast, there have been 13 stories on Jackson since his death, including three on Page 1 and eight on the Style section front. Sanford has been featured in eight pieces, including several on the front page or the cover of Style, since admitting last Wednesday to an extramarital affair.

Excessive? I don’t think so.

Jackson’s impact on pop culture rivals that of Elvis Presley, who died in 1977. And beyond prurient interest, Sanford’s troubles engender special attention in a politics-obsessed town like Washington, where he once was touted as a potential Republican presidential contender.

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, which tracks weekly media coverage, found that the Iran story was tops between June 22-28. But Jackson’s death late in the week generated such huge coverage that it was a close second.

“By week’s end, every other event struggled for attention amid the cascade of Jackson video clips and remembrances, panel discussions and interview segments,” according to Pew’s “News Media Index,” released today. “It was a reminder of how the media at times can be captivated by the hold of celebrity on some people’s lives and at the same time will eagerly exploit it."

As a sign of how media focus has shifted over time, Pew noted that CBS News had been criticized in 1977 for deciding not to lead its newscast with Presley’s death.

The Post was correct to consistently play the Iran crisis on its front page, even as the drama of the story diminished with smaller protests and restrictions on press coverage. It remains an important foreign policy with broad implications for the United States and the world.

Online sites, including The Post’s, saw huge interest in the Jackson story. Google experienced such heavy volume that it initially mistook searches for Jackson as a malicious malware attack intended to infiltrate and damage its system. (PC magazine reports that an actual Michael Jackson malware campaign has since emerged.)

“The popular communication site Twitter crashed, and Wikipedia experienced more than 500 edits to Jackson’s profile in less than 24 hours,” Pew reported. “AOL’s popular instant messenger service went down for approximately 40 minutes and the company released a statement that read, ‘Today was a seminal moment in Internet history. We've never seen anything like it in terms of scope or depth.'"

By Andy Alexander  | June 30, 2009; 4:19 PM ET
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Thanks for insightful comments on this. Many of us have struggled w/ the balance issue -- and for some more of us, on the many stories in print, on line and elsewhere about Michael Jackson. Your putting it in perspective was much appreciated. Thanks.

Posted by: JLEisenstodt | June 30, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

In the newspaper as the internet at least people have a choice of whether to read or skip and there is other news available. Now on cable news or this past weekend on major news, you could not get away from "Jacko" and I'll bet Sanford and the GOP were happy for a few days of peace -- the hysteria is caused by the media and the people just seem to follow along for lack of something better to follow.

Posted by: paulet | June 30, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Dan Froomkin was one of a kind. The Post is damaged goods and everybody outside the beltway knows it.

Posted by: koolaid1 | June 30, 2009 5:17 PM | Report abuse

The nice thing about the Internet is that I can avoid the Michael Jackson stories by doing nothing at all: I just don't click on the stories. With TV, however, its still a constant barrage. I personally have grown weary since there is nothing new to know. However, the Sanford story is different. It's about an elected government official who has conducted a love life as unbelievably complex as one on a daytime soap. He abdicated his post by disappearing without putting someone else in charge. He behaved hypocritically, trashing gay couples rights to be married while he was doing his best to personally destroy the institution. His behavior has implications for the GOP at large and it's "pro-marriage, pro-family, anti-gay" agenda. AND... the more he talks, the more bizarre it gets. The Sanford story is not close to being done.

Posted by: jaynashvil | June 30, 2009 5:28 PM | Report abuse

And the attempt to just bury the Froomkin thing under the rug and move on continues.

Seriously, Mr Alexander, do you even feel like an Ombudsman or journalist at this point, or just part of the WaPo PR team?

Posted by: janowicki | June 30, 2009 5:47 PM | Report abuse

I just wish everybody would leave poor Gov. Sanford alone!

None of this was his fault. There is just some unknown primal essence in the bi-pedal nature of women that makes them irresistible to powerful, accomplished, thoughtful men.

Is the camera off ? Can I smirk now ? OK, tell me when I'm good.

Posted by: gannon_dick | June 30, 2009 5:59 PM | Report abuse

"Dan Froomkin was one of a kind. The Post is damaged goods and everybody outside the beltway knows it."

Amen. But it's not just outside-the-beltway folks who get it. More and more I'm hearing people around DC comment with sadness that the Post is toast. It used to be very widely respected. Now it's just become a neocon-ridden Pravda wannabe.

Posted by: B2O2 | June 30, 2009 6:09 PM | Report abuse

Tomorrow's lead headline: "Michael Jackson Still Dead!"

Posted by: thrh | June 30, 2009 6:39 PM | Report abuse

With so little space and so much competition for readers, why would the Post forget how they became the Post? The Post is not and has never been "Vanity Fair" or the tabloids. Frankly, those media outlets are better at the Jackson/Sanford kind of stories. Why compete on that level? Cable televison will always beat the Post by time, the others by their smirky style. Know who you are, and be a prize-winning, power-town newspaper. Play your own game.

Posted by: jbc11 | June 30, 2009 6:50 PM | Report abuse

WaPo needs more coverage of the new comedian-turned-Senator from Minnesota.

A REAL comedy performer ready to perform under the Capitol Dome Bigtop !! The real deal.

Now that's great news.

Celebrities become politicians and politicians become celebrities......welcome to the "new normal" in America. Hooray.. the abnormal has finally become normal.

Posted by: bandcyuk | June 30, 2009 6:53 PM | Report abuse

It's all a bunch of tabloid krap to feed the insatiable infatuation that millions of losers have because they don't have a life, otherwise. Keep spoon-feeding them the krap!

Posted by: maphound | June 30, 2009 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Your insider "ombudsman" support of the Post coverage on Michael Jackson demonstrates once again why the Post is losing money because it's irrelevant to the suburban readers whose interests are different from the "DC residents" the Post has long bragged about serving. We simply don't care what you say, and find it annoying that we need to dig to look for real news on the Post website. Sanford is different because he is a political figure in a political city. But we can get PLENTY of Jackson coverage elsewhere..

The Washington Post cannot compete with Entertainment Nightly on celebrity coverage. Why do you keep trying?

You are supposed to be the independent Post ombudsman. Not a kow-towing sycophant of the editors who pay you. Do ya have the courage to do that?

Posted by: jbc3 | June 30, 2009 7:09 PM | Report abuse

Racist, Godman white man garbage!!!!

Michael jackson IS a MILLION times BIGGER in TALENT and POPULARITY than your stupid Elvis. jackson is KNOWN everywhere in the WORLD!!!

Elvis was NOT so well known.

Posted by: Somali | June 30, 2009 7:21 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I've had enough fluff. Sanford should follow his heart and resign already. He should apologize to the rest of us for all the pompous sanctimony of his party on his way out.

If your paper hadn't buried and then sacked Froomkin, maybe there would be something with a little more teeth in it worth reading.

Posted by: SarahBB | June 30, 2009 7:48 PM | Report abuse

someone mentioned the comedian turned senator...
what about the governor turned comedian, e.g. Sanford?

Sanford is the one who has shot off his mouth - I don't blame papers from picking it up and exposing his adolescent angst.

Sanford would be laughable if he were not allegedly governing a state. He's just another right wing, "family values" hypocrite hoisted on his own petard.

Posted by: jgwlaw | June 30, 2009 7:58 PM | Report abuse

someone mentioned the comedian turned senator...
what about the governor turned comedian, e.g. Sanford?

Sanford is the one who has shot off his mouth - I don't blame papers from picking it up and exposing his adolescent angst.

Sanford would be laughable if he were not allegedly governing a state. He's just another right wing, "family values" hypocrite hoisted on his own petard.

Posted by: jgwlaw | June 30, 2009 7:58 PM | Report abuse

By the way, I echo others on Froomkin.
Bad bad decision by WaPo. Stupid, really.

Posted by: jgwlaw | June 30, 2009 7:59 PM | Report abuse

Celebrities behaving badly !

The only remotely interesting element of either story is Sanford's wife's response -- a rare sane reaction to a power-monger who can't keep it zipped.

Both tales are long since told - the world awaits your coverage.

Posted by: fr3dmars | June 30, 2009 8:19 PM | Report abuse

ditto ditto ditto on Froomkin! WP has castrated itself.

Be that as it may, Michael Jackson is both bigger than Jesus and, like him, still dead.

Posted by: Davidd1 | June 30, 2009 8:25 PM | Report abuse

I was sick of the Jackson 5 the first time I heard I Want You Back.

It's true that Michael Jackson was know all over the world but what was he known for? I'd say a lot of the adult world knew him as a pervert and a child molester.

As for Sanford, he should do the honorable thing and resign. That of course being the advise he gave to Bill Clinton.

Posted by: rcubedkc | June 30, 2009 9:22 PM | Report abuse

I think the obvious solution is for Sanford to sue for custody of Jackson's children.

Posted by: steveboyington | June 30, 2009 9:37 PM | Report abuse

It was important that the Post axe Dan Froomkin so that he would not take away from the outstanding coverage of ...... exactly what?

The paper has become a rag. Very, very sad.

Posted by: JoelB8 | June 30, 2009 9:50 PM | Report abuse

It's not that the Jackson/Sanford coverage is excessive, it's that there is so little journalism is being done by the rest of the Washington Post staff. Where, for example, is the coverage of how the health insurance coverage desired by the strong majority of Americans can't even get a hearing on Capitol Hill. Where is the coverage of the welfare handouts to big banks?Occasional passing mentions, but no in depth examination and analysis.

And I agree about Dan Froomkin. A real loss, and one the Post cannot afford now.

Posted by: lowercaselarry | June 30, 2009 10:25 PM | Report abuse

jackson simply died, sanford the living hypocrite keeps on talking about his sexual exploits.i hope he and ensign stick around so the whole world can see repug family values up close and personal.
the two pols were elected by the people, when they breach the trust,the media should keep the public informed,since they failed so miserably during the bush diabolic reign.

Posted by: ninnafaye | June 30, 2009 11:08 PM | Report abuse

Along with it's now incessant copycatting of that bastion of white-trash whining, Faux News, it appears the WaPo no longer cares about integrity, let alone 'journalism'.

Recent suggestions and complaints to Mr Alexander have returned the email:

"Sorry, I have nothing to do with that department."

Prompting we who used to care about this newspaper to wonder *which* ombudsman we should should contact regarding *which* issue...

...further prompting us to wonder if anyone there remembers what the title 'ombudsman' really means, and to ask:

Q: "How many WaPo ombudsmen does it take to screw in a lightbulb?"

A: "Three -- One to hold the lightbulb, one to turn the ladder, and another, whom is yet to be identified, to check with Hiatt that it's OK."


Posted by: Frank57 | June 30, 2009 11:23 PM | Report abuse

What I really had enough of is Ombudsman!

This paper ain't nothing! That's right a double negative!

Your home page have more advertisements then stories. advertisments be cutting all into the stories.

Dan Froomkin was a great columnist and I still takes offense to that stupid petty thing over the title of his column - When the person on your staff said "Dan is not an jounalist and we don't want to confuse the readers"

To heck with what you talking about!

Posted by: danders5000 | June 30, 2009 11:49 PM | Report abuse

i dont think 11 storys about standford is that bad but the sad thing is that they all where writeing about the love or sex life what every u want to call it the big story is that this guy did not want to rebuild a school that is more the 100 years and u still have children going there why bec it is pork he said but to use money off the state on him going out of town it is not pork and i have yet to read some where how much money he have take off the state for his love life, so i think it is big story when gov with the poor state can spend money on him but not on the ppl.... still waiting to know how much, but i guess need to wait for nyt or politico or huffingtonpost to tell the story since the last weeks see that this is the new fox news....

Posted by: sam30eassoy | July 1, 2009 12:00 AM | Report abuse

That's not a convicing answer to that reader's seriouds question, Mr. Alexander. Of course, the post should cover Michael Jackson's death. But with 11 journalists weighing in? And the emailer explicitly mentioned the climate change bill, not Iran, so why are you diverting from this topic? Now, really, how many WaPo writers are covering that issue, which certainly is even more important than the "King of Pop"? Pls answer this, and stop fooling around!

Posted by: Gray62 | July 1, 2009 4:23 AM | Report abuse

Oops, of course the 11 jorunalists refers to the Saford issue. But that's even less important than Michael Jackson, not to speak of the climate change bill! Really, you totally evaded an honest answer to that reader, Mr. Alexander!

Posted by: Gray62 | July 1, 2009 4:26 AM | Report abuse

I can only support what other commenters have written here. The Post can't be everything to everyone. Leave the excessive covergae of Sanford and Jackson to the tabloids. You're in great danger of losing the focus on what's really important! And there's no competitive advantage in simply following the flow and publishing the same content that can be found at countless other media sites. That's a sure path towards insignificance!

Posted by: Gray62 | July 1, 2009 4:31 AM | Report abuse

And one other point, somewhat OT, but mylast one in this thread, I promise:

You explicitly mentioned new, liberal WaPo blogger Ezra Klein in your last posting on Dan Froomkin. I just checked and found that Klein's blog still isn't linked ANYWHERE under "opinions" and "political blogs". What's behind this? How shall the poor guy improve his traffic numbers if there's no promotion at all for his stuff? Really, it's like he doesn't exist for WaPo! Is he the next one to be "froomkined" by the Post?

Would you pls follow up on this and ask Marisa Katz, Fred Hiatt, or whoever is responsible for this, what is behind this strange strategy of hiring a blogger and then all but ignoring him? If you could manage to get some answers this time, or even achieve a change of this policy, this sure would be received in a positive way by the pro-Froomkin crowd here!

Posted by: Gray62 | July 1, 2009 4:43 AM | Report abuse

Nothing against him, but Ezra Klein is barely readable. If he's the token liberal, it's the equivalent of Fox News' bow-tied weakling who is deliberately placed there to be laughed at and talked over by the big-mouthed blow hard.

Posted by: SarahBB | July 1, 2009 8:55 AM | Report abuse

What everyone else said about Froomkin. Bring him back!

Posted by: wp11234 | July 2, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

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