Do I Have to Look At Michael Jackson's Corpse Over Breakfast?

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Oct. 12 2011 1:40 PM

Why Is Newser Forcing Readers To View Michael Jackson's Dead Body?

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Fans pose with Michael Jackson's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images.

Who wants to see Michael Jackson’s dead body? News aggregator Newser assumes its readers just can’t get enough of it.

Mainstream news organizations have traditionally tread very carefully when it’s come to showing images of dead bodies to readers and viewers. Corpse images are often considered gratuitous unless they have overwhelming news value; newspapers will explain their conservatism in this area by invoking the “breakfast test.” There’s also something to be said for the basic dignity that the dead deserve, and needlessly disseminating images of the dead erodes that dignity while wounding those who loved them and desensitizing us all.

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After jurors in the involuntary manslaughter trial against Jackson’s doctor Conrad Murray were shown a corpse photo of the pop star yesterday, even the more salacious news and entertainment outlets showed at least a hint of restraint. The Daily News described the image in rather prurient detail (bruised chest, needle marks on the arms) but declined to show it. HLN fielded some criticism for showing the photo at all, but from what I saw yesterday the cable channel was using the image sparingly and giving viewers warning beforehand. Perezhilton.com gave viewers warning, too, and posted the “distrubing [sic]” image after a jump. (Give credit where it’s due; it’s not often you can accuse Perez Hilton of restraint.) Eonline.com did the same, under the ecstatic headline, “Jackson’s Corpse Makes Shocking Cameo!”

Michael Wolff’s Newser apparently considers such measures overly squeamish. Instead, the aggregator, which generally repackages juicy stories reported by other outlets, has today been sending out emails to its subscribers with the photo of Jackson’s dead body inside, without offering any hint of what’s coming. In other words, you click on a Newser email about celebrity gossip and, just below a story about Tobey Maguire being a vegan, you see Jackson’s naked body, with a black bar over his privates. So far they’ve sent it out twice, once at breakfast (thanks!) and once at lunch (double thanks!), which means I saw it two more times than I wanted to (and now, several more times, since I was annoyed enough to write this entry). Thanks, Newser, for making all your subscribers feel a little crummier today.

Libby Copeland is a writer in New York and a Slate contributor. She was previously a Washington Post reporter and editor for 11 years. She can be reached at libbycopeland@gmail.com.

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