Michael Jackson has been acquitted on the ten charges of child molestation and related wrongs that were brought against the self-proclaimed "King of Pop."
That's right, "So what!"
Jackson's trial was certainly of consequence to the 46-year-old poster boy for arrested development. And it undoubtedly mattered to his accuser and the boy's family. It was also a big deal for the legal team that got Jackson off, and for the man who brought the prosecution, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon, whose bizarre career of headline-grabbing has taken a definite turn for the worse.
But nothing about the Michael Jackson trial mattered to the rest of America. It was merely a soap opera that served -- for 18 long months -- to distract the citizenry from the serious business of electing a president, protecting their retirement security from Wall Street raiders and following the degeneration of the war in Iraq into the quagmire it was destined to be.
Make no mistake: Big media corporations loved the Jackson trial because it was cheap to cover -- set up a camera in front of a California courthouse and the hard work is done -- and because it had a lowest-common-denominator appeal that could always be relied on to titillate audiences trained to believe that celebrity gossip is "news."
The problem with big media's cynical game of feeding the American people a junk-food diet of movie-star romances and showbiz scandals is that, eventually, perspective starts to get lost. On Monday, a breathless CBS radio news announcer described the Jackson verdict as "the lead story of the day, perhaps the month, perhaps the year."
If that announcer was even remotely right, then America is in serious trouble because, while much of the media may choose to make the Jackson story the lead item in its reports, this tired little tabloid report is not the story that matters. It is, however, the story that keeps on giving to the powerful players in Washington who would prefer to avoid the sort of scrutiny that is directed at the Michael Jackson of the moment.
Notably, on the day that the story of Jackson's acquittal dominated the national news, Vice President Dick Cheney was cheerfully handing out journalism awards at the National Press Club in Washington. While the reporters who received the "Gerald Ford Journalism Awards" from the vice president were officially the ones being honored, it was Cheney who had the most to be thankful for.
So long as the so-called "news" media continues to use most of its might -- and most of the public's airwaves -- to distract the American people from the real lead stories about the misdeeds of a government that has sent almost 1,700 of this country's sons and daughters to needless death in Iraq and about war profiteering by corporations such as Cheney's former employer, Halliburton, the vice president and his cronies have even more to celebrate than Michael Jackson.
John Nichols is The Nation's Washington correspondent.
By John Nichols
Reprinted with permission from The Nation