The King of Pop dies at 50.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 26 2009 6:35 AM

HIStory

The New York Timesleads with a look at how Iraq's government is celebrating the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from its cities by June 30, which, contrary to what many expected, appears to be moving along right on schedule. The Wall Street Journalleads its world-wide newsbox with Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi vowing to keep on contesting the official results from the presidential election, despite facing strong pressure to keep quiet. The Washington Postleads with the Supreme Court's ruling that a strip-search of a 13-year-old girl by school officials who thought she was hiding ibuprofen was unconstitutional. In an 8-1 decision, the justices said the school officials went too far, particularly considering that the evidence against the student was weak and the medication posed no real danger to students. While they may have been justified to search her outer clothes and backpack, the school officials had no reason to carry out an "embarrassing, frightening and humiliating search," as Justice David Souter wrote in what may be his final opinion for the court.

The real big news of the day, though, is, of course, the death of Michael Jackson. The Los Angeles Timesbanners the news and devotes three-quarters of its front page to the King of Pop. USA Todayhands over practically all of its Page One real estate to a huge picture of the icon. Jackson was 50 and had been in the public limelight for at least 40 of those years, when the Jackson 5 released its first hit, I Want You Back. Jackson died yesterday afternoon, shortly after going into cardiac arrest at his rented home in Los Angeles, where he was preparing for 50 sold-out concerts at London's O2 Arena. When paramedics arrived at his home, Jackson's personal physician was performing CPR. They treated him for almost 45 minutes at his house, but he was in a coma when he arrived at the UCLA Medical Center. He was pronounced dead at 2:26 p.m. The Los Angeles Police Department said it would launch an investigation into the death but cautioned that this is simply standard procedure for someone who was so famous, and they have no reason to believe foul play was involved. An autopsy is expected to be performed today.

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To the surprise of many, American commanders have closed outposts even in cities such as Baghdad and Mosul, where they had tried to maintain some presence but were rejected by Iraqi officials. Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki calls it a "great victory," and Tuesday has been declared a national holiday. American officials have largely fulfilled Maliki's demands, and Iraqis are starting to realize they're not seeing as many U.S. troops as they once did patrolling the streets. Far from celebrating though, many Iraqis are worried about the potential of increasing violence, which could end up deteriorating Maliki's power base. Yesterday, at least seven bombs exploded around the country, a day after at least 76 people were killed by a bomb that exploded in Baghdad's Sadr City. "When the Americans get out of city centers, a big war will start," one woman said. (Early-morning wire stories report that a bomb exploded in Baghdad today, killing at least 13 people.)

In Iran, Mousavi accused supreme leader Ayatolla Ali Khamenei of not acting in the country's interests. His "forceful remarks appeared to show that the former prime minister is willing to risk his standing as a pillar of the Islamic Republic to take on Iran's powerful leadership," notes the LAT. For his part, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has been unusually quiet lately, picked up his normal defiance against the West  and sharply criticized President Obama for interfering in Iranian affairs. Meanwhile, some divisions in the country's religious leadership came out into the open, as some members of the Shiite clergy came out against the supreme leader. One revered cleric called for "national reconciliation," while one leading dissident cleric said an "impartial" committee should be set up and warned that Iran's structure of government could be undermined if the supreme leader chooses to ignore the issues being raised by demonstrators.

While the LAT notes that "Mousavi's latest remarks suggested that he was far from relenting," the NYT says that his angry statements illustrated "his impotence in the face of an increasingly emboldened and repressive government." Although there are still clear signs that people are upset about the results, many aren't sure of what they can do, and the brutal repression has kept most off the streets. "Many businesses and shops stayed shut as life appeared frozen in the grip of wait and see,"  reports the NYT.

The shows that Jackson was set to perform in London's O2 arena were heavily billed as the comeback for the financially strapped star, who reportedly would have earned $1 million a night. The concert promoters said it was going to be the most expensive and technologically advanced arena show ever produced, and more than $20 million had already been invested. Tommy Mottola, who oversaw Jackson's career for 16 years, suggested to the LATthat perhaps the demands of preparing for such an intense show were too much for the superstar, who had not toured since 1997 or released an album since 2001.

The fact that Jackson was able to sell out so many shows after not releasing new material for so long is a testament to how much of an attachment many people still felt for him. "Probably no celebrity has been as revered and reviled over the past 40 years as Jackson," notes USAT. The WP says that, ultimately, there were two types of Jackson fans. There were those who stayed loyal, no matter what. "Then there was the other kind of fan, who preferred to keep memories of the singer locked firmly in his 1980s prime."

And what a prime it was. Jackson, the second youngest of six brothers, began performing at the age of 5. The Jackson 5 were undoubtedly a hit but really small-time compared with the sensation that Jackson unleashed when he went solo, particularly after 1982, when Thriller was released, which went on to become the best-selling album of all time. Seven of the album's nine songs became Top 10 hits, including, Billie Jean and Beat It. The video for the album's title track became an icon of the '80s generation, as did his shiny white glove and the moonwalk.

After the release of his 1987 album, Bad, "Jackson's bizarre private life began to overshadow his music," notes the NYT. This is why he left such a "complicated legacy," as the LAT puts it. Revered at an early age, "as a middle-aged man, he was viewed something akin to a visiting alien who, like Tinkerbell, would cease to exist if the applause ever stopped." The public became fascinated with his seeming obsession with plastic surgery and his apparent desire to recover the childhood he never had. He bought a ranch, dubbed it Neverland, and filled it with amusement park rides and a zoo. But he was constantly dogged by rumors that he abused children, and in 1993 he was accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy. That case was settled, but his reputation never fully recovered. More than a decade later, the accusations played out in public during a 14-week trial. He was ultimately acquitted of all charges.

The WSJ points out that Jackson "made several savvy business moves that kept him financially afloat far longer than his lavish and bizarre lifestyle might otherwise have allowed." But they still weren't enough to keep him out of his well-known financial troubles. He died with around $500 million in debt, according to the WSJ. (The LAT puts the figure at $300 million.)

Despite his troubles throughout the years, the worldwide reactions to Jackson's death yesterday were a testament to his enduring fame. Apparently, so many people turned to the Internet to confirm rumors of his death that Google's computers interpreted all the simultaneous searches for "Michael Jackson" as an automated attack. In a story inside, the LAT notes that the first to report the star's death was the gossip site TMZ, which announced it at 2:44 p.m. But it became clear that many outlets around the world weren't comfortable taking the site's word for such an important piece of news and, instead, credited the LAT, which bannered the death at 2:51 p.m. Interestingly enough, even though TMZ and CNN are both owned by Time Warner, the news channel didn't confirm the death until almost two hours later.

Jackson's death overshadows the passing of another icon, Farrah Fawcett. The LAT is alone in fronting the news that the Charlie's Angels star died yesterday of anal cancer, which she had been fighting since 2006. She was 62. Her battle with cancer played out publicly as tabloids got word of her cancer recurrence in 2007, and, in May, NBC aired a prime-time documentary made by the actress titled Farrah's Story. She first became famous for her looks, thanks to a famous poster of her in a bathing suit. "No poster like it has achieved anywhere near its popularity since, and, arriving before the Internet era … it may have been the last of its kind," notes the NYT. She later established herself as an actress, but many still remembered her mostly for that famous poster, which, as one professor tells the LAT, "became one of the defining images of the 1970s."

Going back to Iran, the WSJ states that the problems there since the election have opened up divisions between Shiite Muslims in the region. Iran's supreme leader, isn't just powerful in his country but also "serves as the marjaa, or spiritual guide, for many Shiites outside Iran," explains the paper. But since the brutal crackdown of opposition protesters began, many have began to question his moral authority, and even the whole concept that an Islamic state must be led by a "divinely anointed scholar." By publicly and forcefully supporting Ahmadinejad, Khamenei has stepped away from the traditional role of being an impartial overseer of his country's affairs. "The infallible leader is all of a sudden making a lot of mistakes, and this creates a lot of doubt," a Shiite member of parliament in Lebanon said.

The WP's Monica Hesse deftly captures how many felt yesterday after hearing about the King of Pop's fate: "In the weeks before his death, we might have said we didn't know how we felt about Michael Jackson. He'd become so bizarre, so pale, so foreign and different from the musical genius some of us once worshipped. We thought that we hardly thought about him, except perhaps as a punch line. We felt that we felt nothing. But when news of Jackson's death broke yesterday, it turned out that we were wrong."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.