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Monday, Apr 22, 2024

No “Thriller” of a Media Event in Encino

Elvis has left the building, Michael Jackson has left the Staples Center, and we’re left with sensory and media overload. Those basing an opinion on the sheer volume of the media coverage afforded Michael Jackson’s death would be safe to conclude that his demise spells the end of life on Earth as we know it. Now we can look forward to near-endless and breathless coverage by Entertainment Tonight, TMZ, and all the similar mind-numbing television programs covering Jackson-related lawsuits, drug use, his burial site, and a whole host of post-mortem issues. There is, of course, a strong Valley connection to all of this. Since the early ’70s, the Jackson family home has been on Hayvenhurst Ave. in Encino, barely a white glove’s throw up the street from Gelson’s. The media call it the “Jackson Compound,” as if it encompassed a palatial mansion with numerous outbuildings scattered over several acres nothing could be further from the truth. But it sounds good. In fact, from now on, friends are expected to speak of the “Cooper Compound” when referring to my modest domicile, located a few blocks south of the Jacksons. From the moment of Jackson’s death on June 25, fans began trekking to the “Jackson Compound” with the fervor of Muslims making their once-in-a-lifetime religious hajj to Mecca. Out of pure journalistic imperative I spent some time watching our Encino version of Ringling Bros. Circus. On the west side of the street, fans quickly erected a make-shift shrine, complete with scrawled messages, balloons, floral bouquets, and even a teddy bear or two. Most of them, quite orderly within iron barriers, tacked items up on the fences of the Jackson home’s next-door neighbors (long-suffering folk they must be!) until the walls were a mass of color more than 30 feet wide. An equally fascinating show unfolded on the east side of the street a show starring the world’s media. Yours truly was in charge of media at the annual Academy Awards for ten years, but I’ve never seen so many huge satellite dishes in one place at one time (11, at one count). Somehow they reminded me of the aliens in H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, striding relentlessly across the landscape. Hundreds no exaggeration of reporters, videographers, sound people, technicians, all were there to record, and report, the slightest bit of information. Overhead, beginning at daybreak the day of the Staples Center memorial service, three or four helicopters swirled and hovered over Encino, making sure we had an unfettered aerial view of the goings-on on television, but oblivious to the infuriated residents below awakened by their noise. On my weekend walk (I delude myself into thinking it’s part of my exercise regimen) from the Cooper Compound to the Starbucks at Ventura Blvd. and Hayvenhurst Ave. and back, still unshaven and unshowered, KABC-TV’s Luanne Suter gave me my 15 seconds (not minutes, in my case) of fame. She asked me about the inconveniences of the continuing closure of Hayvenhurst, automobiles parked bumper-to-bumper on every side street, and strangers wandering through the neighborhood every hour of the night and day. Being the consummate public relations professional, I lied through clenched teeth, muttering something about it being a minor inconvenience. At an Encino Neighborhood Council meeting convened on July 8 in the musty but venerable Encino Woman’s Club, more than one local excoriated the media overkill. Interestingly, the media’s intrusion into the life of local residents engendered much more heat than the visiting fans (a word derived from the word “fanatic”) who visited the family home (uh, sorry, compound). Finally, at about 11 p.m. on Wednesday, July 8, the LAPD opened Hayvenhurst Ave. to through traffic. The highly regarded Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, an independent opinion research group that studies attitudes toward the press, politics and public policy issues, looked at the Jackson media coverage (dare we say overkill?) in its most recent survey. Their survey revealed that “nearly two-in-three Americans say news organizations gave too much coverage to the story.” A separate analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism showed that from the announcement of Jackson’s death on Thursday to the end of the day Friday, “60 percent of the news coverage studied was devoted to his death, his life story and his legacy.” And this while protests continued in Iran, healthcare reform legislation was being considered, the California budget impasse continued unabated, Congress was debating a federal greenhouse gas bill, and a train crash in Washington, D.C., left nine people dead. The cult of celebrity lives even when its objects do not. When Jackson’s death was reported, Google, Yahoo, and the social networks, were near-overloaded with traffic. CNN got a 900 percent viewership increase. Radio and TV news was all Michael Jackson all the time. A veritable orgy of Jackson. Anytime we want to question the media’s, and our own values, all we have to do is note that the combined reportage of the deaths of Anna Nicole Smith, Heath Ledger and Michael Jackson no doubt eclipsed the amount of coverage given to all the Americans who have died fighting for our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sad, isn’t it? Question: Do the media cover the news or make the news? Answer: both. The one function that TV news performs very well is that when there is no news we give it to you with the same emphasis as if there were. —David Brinkley _____________________________ Martin Cooper is President of Cooper Communications Inc. He is President of the Los Angeles Quality and Productivity Commission, Founding President of The Executives, Vice Chairman-Marketing of the Boys & Girls Club of the West Valley, and a member of the Boards of the Valley Economic Alliance and of the LAPD’s West Valley Jeopardy Program. He is a Past Chairman of VICA and chairman of its Board of Governors, Past President of the Public Relations Society of America-Los Angeles Chapter, and Past President of the Encino Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at mcooper@cooper comm.net.

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