Leaving God at Jackson's funeral

latimes.kingofpop.750Living in Los Angeles, it has been easy to think that for the past two weeks there has been no news but Michael Jackson news. The King of Pop has reigned supreme over nightly newscasts and Internet rumors and A1 centerpieces. So I was more than a bit surprised to survey other major West Coast newspapers last night and find that most didn't even bother sending a reporter to the Staples Center to cover Jackson's larger-than-life memorial service. The Salt Lake Tribune, for example, simply ran a centerpiece photo of Jackson's kids and family huddling, with a caption that referred readers to a funeral story on A6.

At the other end of the spectrum was the Los Angeles Times, which published 10 stories on Jackson's funeral -- from the best and worst dressed to Michael Jackson's global appeal. Missing, of course, was a single story focusing on all the religious language bandied about so freely during the funeral.

Indeed, the family had said the memorial service would be religion-free. But that didn't stop those honoring Jackson from praising God and entrusting the King of Pop's spirit to Him. But you also wouldn't have really known that from much of the news coverage.

The closest the Times came was with this headline: "Memorial 'bordered on a miracle.'" But that "miracle" was simply the hyperbolic rhetoric of the assistant chief of police, and that story concerned the fact that no one got killed and no SUVs set afire during the Lakers-championshipesque rioting that LAPD had anticipated.

Far as I could tell, none of the Times' stories even mentioned Stevie Wonder saying:

"This is a moment that I wished that I didn't live to see come. But as much that I can say that and mean it, I do know that God is good. And I do know that as much as we may feel -- and we do -- that we need Michael here with us, God must have needed him far more."

As for Lionel Richie singing "Jesus is Love" and Jennifer Hudson belting out gospel, that was reserved for an entertainment section story assessing whether the service was concert, political venue or memorial -- or all the above.

How is this possible? Erin Aubry Kaplan, blogging for the public TV station KCET, got just how outwardly religious the service was:

It dawns on me watching Jennifer Hudson singing Michael's gospel-tinged "Hold Me" that this is a black funeral. It's on a bigger scale than usual, but still - the invocations of God and good works, the music, the speakers themselves, the homey testimonies, the acknowledgement by Kobe and Magic of MJ's importance in black history, the blue-carpted dais...it's Staples as megachurch today. Can we get a witness? We got millions.

While Jackson was given a beautiful memorial -- and what else would you expect when more than three dozen Grammy Awards take the stage -- Times columnist Steve Lopez, in one of the only critical articles I saw tied to the funeral, notes that Jackson really didn't deserve the immediate beatification he's received. Seriously, I don't think Pope John Paul II received saintly status so soon upon his death. Lopez wrote:

I was hoping to bump into the Rev. Al Sharpton to see if he's made any progress in getting Michael Jackson on a stamp. Sharpton, who was on the scene roughly 10 minutes after Jackson was rushed to the hospital June 25, has also criticized the "disgraceful" media for trying to "destroy the legacy" of Jackson, so I was hoping for a chance to ask him what in God's name he was talking about.

I can't remember the last time I saw so much media fluff, hype and hoopla. News organizations that have pulled out of Iraq arrived by the convoy to pay homage to the King of Pop.

Jackson had some great years as a groundbreaking and barrier-crashing, once-in-a-lifetime talent with a message of peace and harmony. But that was followed by a decade or two of extremely disturbing weirdness -- not that you'd know that from the recent news coverage.

You had to wade through acres of shallow water to find media references to Jackson's reported $20-million settlement of a case involving a boy he was accused of molesting. And then there were his comments about seeing nothing wrong with sharing his bed with children, which tells me that if the scheduled comeback hadn't panned out, Jackson could have had a second career as an Irish priest.

Did you catch that? Lopez made one of the only references to religion I saw in the Times' coverage. And it was really just a punchline.

As for the stories stating "Michael Jackson's final resting place a mystery" -- those are concerned with whether he'll be interred at Forest Lawn or put on display at Neverland or something else entirely. Nothing more.

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