Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Michael Jackson Is Dead (Or Is He?)
It didn't take the tweeters and facebook paparazzi long to throw Michael Jackson under the bus. Here CNN, FoxNews, NBC, ABC, Yahoo, the New York Times, even the LA Times were reporting Michael Jackson had just been taken to the hospital for cardiac arrest, and already the news was spreading like wildfire online that Michael Jackson had died.
Who reported it first? TMZ, your celebrity scoundrel news organization. One can hardly blame the major news outlets for holding back for further confirmation. What's another twenty minutes to get it right? That used to be called responsible journalism.
And maybe TMZ had already verified it through several sources. I don't know. What I do know is that all the people who took that one source and immediately blogged or tweeted or texted it, did so without a thought. They irresponsibly fed the rumor mill without questioning whether the news could be wrong, or what effect that might have on society, not to mention Michael Jackson's family.
Mark Twain once observed that "a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes." And it wasn't but hours later that other celebrity deaths were falsely reported (Jeff Goldblum, not Farrah Fawcett) and it became difficult to sort out fact from fiction. What we had in essence was communication ruled by mob. The difference is that today's technology allows the lie to travel all the way around the world, multiplying information about the lie, while the truth gets buried under all the clutter with its shoelaces half-tied.
If information is power, misinformation is misuse of power. And that got me thinking. What if next time its more than a celebrity death? What if next time its about a flu pandemic? Or a terrorist attack or a nuclear bomb? And what if next time the tweets and texts are wrong?
Heck, what if they're wrong this time? What if Michael Jackson isn't dead? What if he's about to launch the greatest career comeback ever? Don't laugh. After all, Michael Jackson has a team of handlers and publicists who know who to manipulate the press. And email, texting, twitter, and facebook have only made it easier. Besides, haven't you heard that Elvis is still alive?
By dying, Michael Jackson has rehabilitated his image. He's no longer referred to as the skin-bleaching pedophile. He's no longer Wacko Jacko, the baby dangler. He's a once-in-a-millennium talent, the innovative dancer and MTV pioneer, the King of Pop. Artists are paying tribute to him everywhere. Even Congress honored him with a moment of silence. Meanwhile, plans for his funeral have been described as secretive and elaborate, while his body has been sent off to a "private lab."
So picture this: Michael Jackson, the greatest showman on earth, launches his new world tour with millions of fans watching this weekend. The show, er, memorial service begins with a white glove sliding off the top of the casket. A group of the living dead struts through the mourners and starts to dance. The music kicks in. Michael Jackson rises from the grave, grabs himself, and moonwalks.
"It's just a thriller, thriller night!"
The crowd, at first stunned, goes wild. They have been played by technology, bamboozled by their faith in the new media. It won't be the last time. Michael Jackson's second act is born, back from the dead. His world tour sells out in minutes. Even PT Barnum would be impressed.
I'm just saying. You can't believe everything you read. Especially online.