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Obama on Michael Jackson - why no official statement?

By Jimmy Orr / June 26, 2009

Although President Obama didn't release a formal statement on Michael Jackson's death, the "King of Pop" wasn't a stranger to the White House. Back in 1984, President Ronald Reagan welcomed Jackson to the South Lawn for a formal event.

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No official statement from President Obama on Michael Jackson's death. Surprised?

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Whether you were a fan of the "King of Pop" or not, his passing is big, big news. Look at the news networks today. Aside from the occasional update on the Mark Sanford train wreck, it's been nearly non-stop coverage of Jackson's death.

And for those who pay attention to presidential politics, you'd know that issuing official statements when a high profile individual passes on is commonplace (although the Obama White House has only issued four thus far). And despite Jackson's seclusion from the public over the past many years, his star power is/was unmatched.

So why no statement from President Obama?

From the podium

Well if you listen to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, you get a non-answer. When asked why, he flatly replied, "Because I just said it."

Moments before he had just delivered a rather blase' accounting of a conversation he had with the president on the issue.

“I talked to him about it this morning,” Gibbs said. “He said to me that obviously Michael Jackson was a spectacular performer and a music icon and I think everybody remembers hearing his songs and watching him moonwalk on television during Motown’s 25th anniversary.”

"But the president also said aspects of his life were sad and tragic,” Gibbs continued. “His condolences went out to the Jackson family and to fans that mourned his loss."

All planned

Despite his lukewarm approach, the decision to handle it this way was discussed. It was planned. Rarely does something just happen at the White House.

This is not to say White House aides were up all night hotly debating the issue and agonizing over making the decision. That surely didn't happen. Regardless, the decision not to issue a piece of paper (electronic or not) that said "Statement by the President" was deliberate.

What was the thinking behind it? Hard to say exactly. But appropriateness plays a big role as does perception.

By putting out an official White House statement on a celebrity, what message does it send? This celebrity had unmatched star power. His impact on society is/was immeasurable. His contributions to music, culture, and entertainment could be unsurpassed.

But then there's the dark side. And that dark side is loud. And unforgettable. As longtime CBS White House correspondent Mark Knoller blogged today, "He was a world-renowned superstar, but there are parts of his life that hardly merit words of tribute from an American President."

These are the two competing values that the White House communications office had to balance in making the decision.

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