Staying on Michael Jackson's court case


May 09, 2004|By Eric R. Danton | Eric R. Danton,HARTFORD COURANT

One of MTV's early slogans assured viewers that "too much is never enough."

We know better now, of course - sometimes too much is quite enough, thank you. But when?

It's a recurring question in celebrity journalism, where gossipy tidbits are a way of life. "Too much" is a judgment call, it seems, particularly in such situations as Michael Jackson's, where the usual vignettes about Hollywood foibles pale in comparison to the serious nature of the charges against him.

The singer pleaded not guilty last month in a California courtroom to 10 counts related to the alleged molestation of an underage boy.

It was Jackson's first court appearance since January, and developments in the case have been few between then and now. Yet the media attention has been constant since Jackson was arrested last November, with constant updates in the press.

"High-profile [cases] garner interest," says Marlene Dann, senior vice president of daytime programming at Court TV, which keeps close tabs on the saga.

Covering legal matters is Court TV's raison d'etre, but the sordid affair has become a bit much for some news outlets.

"It's being played out so much in the rest of the press, there's really no real reason or hunger for us to do it," says Marc Malkin, news director of Us Weekly magazine. "[People] get it enough on TV and in the daily papers, and every day, it's just one piece of minutiae that's changing. And it's a downer of a story. We're talking about a superstar who is allegedly fiddling with children. That's not really an Us Weekly story - we're a happy magazine."

Malkin says Us Weekly will monitor the story and write about it as events merit.

"Every once in a while, if there's some huge shattering news, we might blow it out a little more, but you're not going to see it in depth," Malkin says.

That approach contrasts with the National Enquirer's, where there is a hunger to blanket the story. The Florida-based weekly tabloid has broken stories on the Jackson case for months, and editor in chief David Perel says he has no intention of letting up.

"As we go forward, we're going to continue to investigate the case and try to get behind the scenes, and we'll go wherever the news takes us," Perel says. "This is really an area that we excel at, and we're going to keep the pressure on."

That pressure so far has resulted in scoops that the brother of Jackson's alleged victim is said to have witnessed misconduct, and that Jackson allegedly served wine in soda cans to children. Perel says the Enquirer has about 10 reporters at any given time investigating both sides of the case. Even so, he says, the paper must be careful not to wear out readers.

"If you're just running stories for the sake of running a story every week, that's not going to work. We've been fortunate in that we've been able to gather news every week to advance the story," Perel says.

Each media outlet caters to a different audience, and coverage of the Jackson case reflects that. Readers of Us Weekly "don't expect to see a lot about Michael Jackson," Malkin says.

Enquirer readers, meanwhile, "are going to get something new and ahead of the pack" every week, Perel says.

An earlier celebrity court trial - that of O.J. Simpson - launched Court TV to prominence 10 years ago, and the cable channel essentially intends to chart a middle course with the Jackson case.

"We'll provide coverage as long as there's interest," Dann says.

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