I’m really missing David Halberstam right now

You probably already know what I think about this. So I’ll try to be brief here, knowing I’ll surely fail: I’ll be heading offline, and probably totally unplugged, for those interminable hours this afternoon.

You know which interminable hours I’m talking about.

The interminable hours that follow the interminable days of “coverage” from the nation’s news media about the final farewell to a celebrity.

And how the media is covering the memorial service, and to what extent.

Yes, there is coverage about the coverage. As it careens “toward bizarre excess.” Newsflash: We passed “toward” before the coroner arrived.

This is an all-out invasion force blitz, my friends. Operation Media Moonwalk.

L.A. is in “lockdown” mode. It’s going to be live-blogged! Follow this cash-strapped newspaper’s special Twitter stream! Oh Lord, can the Web handle it? And for God’s sake, what about the children?

I know, I know. It’s all about great ratings and page views and whatever. Gotta give the people what they want. But what if it’s not? Seriously?

And when it’s as self-justifying as this, comparing the Present Palooza to the Princess Diana Death Jam, it’s enough to want to seek refuge in Dick Cheney’s bunker:

“Michael Jackson has sparked the same response – not because the media wants to rummage through the shadowy parts of his life, though that’s been done, but because tens of millions of people loved his singing, dancing and music”

Of course the media wants to “rummage through the shadowy parts of his life!” If he were just a wildly popular entertainer who seems to be a regular chap — we’ll call him Tom Hanks — there would have been little rummaging.

But with the recently departed, there’s so much to rummage, forever. Michael Jackson may be gone — let the man rest in peace! — but the tawdriness and strangeness will never go away. Especially with a fresh batch of it on the horizon. And with unceasing loudmouth mouthpieces like this one who are like moths to camera lights.

At the risk of sounding like an elitist (and how’s this talking head for chutzpah?) I’m distraught that many mainstream news outlets could scarcely be bothered to devote much time to the passing of a man who has been blamed for the deaths of millions, including hundreds of thousands of American soldiers, during the most wrenching cultural and political upheaval of our time.

Maybe I’m just missing David Halberstam, who wrote the definitive book on Robert McNamara and the other architects of the Vietnam disaster. Then again, appreciating that he excoriated the celebrity media swamp infestation as eloquently as he did the quagmire in Indochina, I’m glad Halberstam isn’t here to witness this.

Shortly after Halberstam’s tragic death two years ago, veteran television news producer and Web video impresario Michael Rosenblum wrote a fabulous post contrasting the starkly different media cultures that produced Halberstam and a famous present-day television journalist:

“I am forced to wonder why the world of print journalism is capable of generating such excellence from just one man, while television ‘journalism’, with its thousands and thousands of employees, and hundreds of millions of dollars and endless hours of air time is not capable of delivering anything remotely similar.”

Except that it’s not just television journalism anymore. The subject of Rosenblum’s blistering ire was Katie Couric, the same Katie Couric who is anchoring the CBS Evening News from — wait for it now — the Staples Center. Even Jeff Greenfield, a fairly serious journalist and perceptive student of politics and history, is chiming in on the current spectacle.

Et tu, Obama? NPR?

OK, that’s enough. At least I’m not upset like this guy is.

But I do have this final question, and I don’t mean it to be merely rhetorical: How is a crazy rant by a Congressman any more surreal than what’s unfolding across the pages and airwaves of our legacy media?

In this video with the Newseum, Halberstam unfortunately sounds rather quaint when he says:

“One of the best things about being a journalist is that it allows you to be player in great events without needing to be popular.”


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