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Michael Jackson: TMZ vs. CNN vs. Perez

TIMELINE: 5:20PM ET — TMZ reports that Michael Jackson has died. 7:15PM ET — CNN reports that Ed McMahon has passed.

Both clever and condeming. I wish I could take credit for the above. It was a friend’s Facebook status update last Thursday. The observation gets right to the heart of the matter. Why did it take CNN almost two hours to confirm what TMZ had reported, definitively (and what had spread ferociously across social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook)? And, why did so many people refuse to believe the story until a ‘legit’ news organization confirmed it?

“Michael Jackson Dies” was the TMZ headline. That doesn’t leave much room for interpretation. Yet, there was papable doubt for many people. My suspicion is that many lump TMZ with the likes of Perez Hilton and other celebrity bloggers. Yes, TMZ’s content, their fascination with Britney, Lindsay, “Speidi,” and whatever famous person dined at The Ivy today, is in line with the “Perezinistas.” But their organization has more in common with CNN. TMZ is owned by AOL, who in turned is a subsidiary of Time-Warner, the country’s third largest media conglomerate. If TMZ blew the Michael Jackson story, they would’ve literally destroyed their franchise. The moment I realized what was at stake for them was the moment I realized the sad news of Michael’s passing was true.

There’s a reason every episode of TMZ ends with that silly graphic of Harvey Levin saying, “I’m a lawyer!” It’s a message that what’s being reported will stand up if tested in court.

Up against the likes of Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood, TMZ does like playing the “litte guy card.” That’s great branding on their part. But as I’ve pointed out, they’re just as much part of a media conglomerate as anyone. Time-Warner also happens to own CNN. Interesting that CNN never acknowledged its cousin during those two hours as it stubbornly attempted to report the Michael Jackson story on it’s own terms. Even FOX News noted the TMZ report, as they attempted to confirm with their own sources.

What CNN did give us was a disservice. Updates like, “Michael Jackson Hospitalized.” And the later, erroneous update, “Michael Jackson In A Coma.” The fact is Michael Jackson sadly arrived at hospital deceased. EMT’s who arrived at his house say Micheal was dead when they arrived. So CNN, the “sources” you chose to report and felt were more reliable then TMZ clearly had it wrong.

Now about Perez Hilton. In the immediate minutes after the general news broke that Michael Jackson was taken to the hospital, the controversial celebrity blogger through up on his website what in retospect  appears to be a  particulary insensitive post (below). Working as I have in a medium where immediacy is crucial, I can sympathize with anyone who’s trying to get information “out there” fast. You’re a hero when you get it right. But it can backfire if you fumble. At the very least, Perez should have read the actual words he wrote and thought about what they meant before posting this one:


It’s easy to take shots at at Perez. Especially if you’re among the people that think he’s an ass. But in his defense, Perez is a commentator, not a reporter. If you don’t like his views, don’t read. But with the above post, there was fiery highspeed crash at the intersection of “comment” and “legitimate news.” A statement like Perez’s that Michael Jackson “supposedly went into cardiac arrest” and then to create a theoretical motivation for why Michael would fake such a hospitalization suggests Perez  might want to get out of his mother’s basement more often. He appears to have limitations when it comes to understanding the real world. For starters, Perez might want to bone up on the seriousness of cardiac arrests.

TMZ: Win
CNN: Fail
Perez Hilton: Bigger fail

Greg Valentine
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