Media coverage of Michael Jackson’s death began receding following an extraordinary worldwide outpouring, with the shock wearing off and the pace of new developments slowing.
The Bernie Madoff sentencing, a presidential speech on energy, U.S. combat troops withdrawing from Iraqi cities and a cable news staple in Dallas — a high-speed car chase — took time away from the drumbeat of speculation Monday on the cause of Jackson’s death and the future of his children.
Still, producers at CBS News were hurriedly putting together another prime-time special for Tuesday night on Jackson. NBC News bought the rights to journalist Martin Bashir’s lengthy 2003 interview with Jackson for a Monday-night show, after MSNBC showed it several times over the weekend. And it continued to be the lead story on NBC’s “Today” show and ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Tuesday. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture between NBC and Microsoft.)
It was still a huge story internationally, where Jackson’s death kept many Australians home on a Saturday night.
“We had a lot of viewers over the last three or four days and that suggests to us there’s a tremendous amount of interest,” said Bart Feder, senior vice president of current programming at CNN. “Journalistically, it’s a fascinating story. He was one of the most famous people on the planet, and there are a lot of tentacles to the story.”
Fader said he expected interest to remain high at least until there’s a funeral for Jackson, which was still unscheduled.
CNN was one of the biggest beneficiaries of interest in the story, both right after it broke and throughout the weekend, when its audience remained at twice its normal level, he said. More than 2,200 viewers had also sent in their own video reports to the network, most offering personal recollections about the pop star.
More than 20 million people appeared to watch television in the United States specifically to find out about Jackson’s death in the hours after the story broke last Thursday, according to Nielsen Media Research.
NBC had 5.8 million viewers for its two-hour prime-time special on the deaths of Jackson and actress Farrah Fawcett, according to Nielsen Media Research. A CBS News special at 10 p.m. on Jackson had 7.5 million viewers and an ABC Jackson recap had 5.7 million viewers at 9 p.m. (ABC’s 10 p.m. hour on Fawcett, which had more advance notice, had 8.2 million viewers Thursday.)
The three biggest cable news networks — CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC — averaged 8.2 million viewers in prime-time Thursday. That compares with almost 4.7 million on a typical weeknight, Nielsen said. The vast majority of those new viewers turned to CNN, which had 3.9 million viewers compared with its 1.1 million average.
CBS News producer Susan Zirinsky said she initially expected to be done with the story after last Thursday’s prime-time special.
“Every place I turned to (over the weekend), it was all anybody was talking about,” she said. The network’s upcoming special will deal with several aspects of the story, she said.
The news was equally big overseas, where the BBC saw a record 2.5 million users for its service providing headlines to mobile phone users Friday, a network spokesman said. The network’s Web site had a volume of visitors second only to the night Barack Obama was elected president of the United States.
In Australia, a 90-minute TV special on Jackson drew 1.24 million viewers Saturday night, considered an extraordinary percentage of the country’s 22 million people on what is usually the least-watched night of television in the week. Glenn Dyer, media correspondent for the Australian news Web site Crikey, said the media reaction to the death was the largest he’s seen since Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in 1997.
“I just wonder when the funeral happens, who is going to be the first idiot announcer to say they’re together in heaven,” Dyer said.
Jackson’s death was front-page news in China. But it was not the top story on state-run television and the coverage was muted compared with other countries. The People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, headlined its story: “Michael Jackson — a Generation’s King of Song, Passes Away.”
In Indonesia, Jackson’s death took over front pages that had been dominated for weeks by presidential election news. The popular current affairs radio network Elshinta, which usually doesn’t air music, interrupted its regular programming to play Jackson’s music and take calls from fans.
It was a big story in India, too, where Bollywood stars talked about his influence.
“Many movies incorporated some movements,” said Prabhu Deva, a choreographer and director known as India’s Michael Jackson. “Dance styles have been changed. Inside, without knowing it, there is some Michael Jackson there.”
News channels and major newspapers in Germany continued to devote much of their attention to the Jackson story Monday, with TV showing clips of Janet Jackson’s tribute to her brother on Sunday night’s BET Awards in the U.S.
In South America, Sunday’s coup in Honduras took the story off newspaper front pages in much of South America. Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper found the space for a photo of a Jackson likeness being painted on a topless model in Cali, Colombia.
Mexican TV and newspaper reports tracked angry reactions to Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s claim that Jackson had died because of an “excessive use of drugs.”
“With all due respect for our beloved president, I think he should limit himself to governing the country,” said Marcos Renteria, bassist for the Mexican rock group Jaguares.