Because I’ve been fighting this head cold, I keep thinking that maybe it’s me who has been missing something about this whole CBS-pays-Michael-Jackson-for-a-“60 Minutes”-interview flap --the one that resulted in defiant CBS denials and much media hyperventilating.
Are we somehow still deluding ourselves into believing that news and entertainment are genuinely distinct entities at the broadcast networks? Puh-leeze!
If CBS agrees to pay Jackson an additional million bucks to participate in a special that a month ago was considered dead in the water due to the star’s arrest on child molestation charges, and it’s really only a smoke screen for his being paid the $1 million to sit down with Ed Bradley on “60 Minutes” --as the New York Times claims -- I humbly ask: What’s the difference?
Think about this for just a second. We have the mega-respected newsmagazine “60 Minutes” clamoring to yak with a longtime music industry icon who has been reduced to a tabloid sensation, an object of curiosity and ridicule. No matter whether CBS News pays the guy or not, Jackson’s mere presence on this program that claims to exist so above the fray is itself disturbing.
Now we have CBS giving over an hour of primetime last week to run a long-delayed Jackson special. Does anyone make hay over the fact that the onetime Tiffany network had seen fit to bequeath an hour of precious nighttime real estate to what was in essence a Jackson infomercial hyping his new album?
If there was grumbling about the latter, I somehow missed it. Why should a news division show be expected to carry all of these supposed high ethical values while an entertainment division entity can operate in whatever vacuum it pleases?
Here’s a news flash for everyone: The line separating news from entertainment is no longer merely blurred; it has officially disappeared. Gone. So it doesn’t matter who negotiated what deal with whom or for what show Jackson was paid. It’s all the same ball o’ wax. And if you get into business with Michael Jackson, you shouldn’t expect to emerge with every ounce of dignity intact.
It actually would have been more surprising were it learned that there was no quid pro quo involved and that Jackson -- who is nothing if not a businessman -- had given away his “60 Minutes” chat for free. If this fact suddenly thrusts the Sunday night CBS mainstay into the realm of the tabs, well, maybe that’s as it should be.
This surely isn’t a case of Edward R. Murrow turning over in his grave. The poor guy has turned enough. At this point, Ed’s no longer paying attention. His former stomping ground has morphed into a single colossal newsertainment shop that exists simply to attract viewers.
Yes, Jackson is a newsmaker, but he’s wrapped up in the kind of tabloid celebrity sensationalism that taints all who dwell in it. We shouldn’t pretend that newsmagazines, “60 Minutes” included, are anything but the profit-making, ratings-generating ventures that they are.
I mean, heck, they pay guests to be on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and “The Late Show With David Letterman.” Why not “60 Minutes?”
For some reason, we’re still applying the journalistic standards of 30 years ago to a markedly different reality. To label much of what we see on TV as news -- whether it be at the local or national level -- requires a great leap of faith. And when we see Michael Jackson astride the famed “60 Minutes” stopwatch, the leap grows greater still.
But again, a million dollars distributed from this budget or that budget doesn’t necessarily taint CBS or the, uh, venerable CBS News any more than they have already tainted themselves by simply serving as Jackson’s de facto marketing arm.