–The American Public Must Demand Honest Journalism.
– by Forbes Everett Landis
What does our silence about the attacks on one of the most visible achievers of the American Dream say? Are we not forfeiting our children’s future into the hands of bullies? Is it not time for us to speak up about the damage opportunistic journalism is doing to our culture? Last year, the news of pop-superstar Michael Jackson’s premature death shocked the world. As I am a classical music fan, not a connoisseur of pop music or any of its stars, Jackson’s death did not immediately evoke any particular emotion in me. I just let it go. But as the days went by, and as I passively soaked in more and more news reports on Jackson’s death, I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable.
A man had passed away: What need was there for the media to so eagerly show humiliating images of how Jackson would have looked on his death-bed? I was prompted to look into the case more thoroughly.
After more than a year, although I am not now nor ever will be a Michael Jackson fan, and despite my sometimes skeptical view of the frenzied remarks often made by Jackson’s hard-core followers, I feel the need to say this:
To keep the American dream alive for our children, we should stop abusing our talented and creative spirits out of jealousy and misunderstanding.
Jackson had to deal with the media condemning him as strange, weird, and even labeling him a freak, both figuratively and literally. My opinion about this is clear: Though at times, to subjective eyes, Jackson might have looked ‘different,’ half of this eccentricity was due to the fact that he was born to be an artist inevitably different from others because of his imaginative and creative nature, and half because he was forced into being so unconventional by a degree of media pressure few, if any, have ever experienced. Being different from others does not equate being harmful to others. As long as one does not violate others’ human rights, one has the right to be him or herself. In a society that prioritizes human rights and freedom, I find no justification for attacks on people who are perceived to be ‘different.’ These kinds of attacks are especially sordid when they involve the spreading of knowingly false rumors for financial gain. After Jackson’s acquittal on alleged child related charges in 2005, several journalists, such as Aphrodite Jones, came forward to confess that most of the media in attendance intentionally put objectivity aside in covering the Michael Jackson case by fragmenting the facts divulged in court, reporting only anti-Jackson information.
*The human race has quite often owed its scientific or artistic progress to the “weird” and the “eccentric.” Let us consider, for example, Galileo Galilei, who was charged for openly discussing Copernican theory, a concept seen as sinful and roundly condemned at that time; later, of course, this theory went on to become the accepted standard of scientific understanding of the universe. We might also stop to consider how treasonable the very idea of democracy once was, how dangerous the aristocracy felt it to be; later, democracy became the world’s prevailing political philosophy. We can also remember that the concept of equality between : women and men, different ethnicities, or diverse religions, was derided when it emerged. Also, had she not thought differently from others, might Mother Teresa not have been a stay-at-home mom instead of traveling to India and risking her life for humanity?
Keeping the history of these exceptional ideas and people in mind, I can almost guarantee that if one had killed all the “weirdoes” among our Australopithecine ancestors 3.5 million years ago, our species might not have made it to the 21st Century. We might very well have just remained a much more primitive species, one without the use of fire and the wheel, let alone an orchestra, democracy, or computers. Is it not, after all, diversity that allows for evolution?
In other words, “weirdness” is sometimes the inevitable result of an exceptional imaginative ability that sees no boundaries in search of all the creative possibilities. As long as such individuals do us no harm, we should let them be. It is our duty to be respectful of those who are different not only because every human being is entitled to freedom, but also because diversity is at the root of human survival.
To those who regard Jackson’s soft voice altered skin tone or facial appearance as weird, I would simply say this: You are revealing your own nature, at best : narrow-minded or obtuse ; at worst – unkind and bigoted. Nobody’s holy scripture deems it acceptable to criticize the physical appearance of people who have contributed so generously to the voiceless.
To those who think that the Jackson’s spoken voice was peculiar, I would say that I see no significance in it. The spoken voice cannot be uncoupled from the singing voice that so many lauded. It might also be helpful for you to consider this information in order to broaden your understanding of the global context: there are countries where people respect those who speak softly, in a calm, non-aggressive manner. The American standard, where a loud voice seems necessary to assertiveness, is not the only standard in the world.
To those who criticize the ‘King of Pop’ for purchasing Neverland, I pose this question: Would you have survived without buying a Neverland-sized residential property if you were in reality never able to explore any place alone without being horded by an ensuing media and public frenzy whenever you stepped out of your front door? A huge residence with a vast garden might have been the only possible way for this worldwide megastar to relax and enjoy some fresh air without constant intrusion from the public. After all, Jackson earned his money though incredible hard work and a perfectionist work-ethic. In light of his Guinness record-making support of no less than 39 charities, it may very well be hypocritical to criticize his spending habits.
Having demonstrated that there is nothing inherently wrong with living unconventionally, the question now turns to whether or not Jackson ever harmed anyone with his behaviors. Here I will discuss the child related allegations leveled against him. —
In discussing the two instances of allegations Jackson was faced with, I would like to focus my attention primarily on the 1993 case due to the fact that the more recent (2003-2005) accusations ended with Jackson receiving a full legal acquittal on all counts, the extremely low credibility of the accuser’s mother playing a significant factor in this exoneration. In other words, Jackson was found not-guilty so I believe we must discount this case.
Considering that the laws of most U.S. states set down one’s right to sue anyone without being counter-sued solely in retribution for one’s lawsuit, this means that one can safely sue anyone they wants to sue. Thus, the extortion of popular and wealthy persons is an increasingly attractive ploy for those seeking a quick buck. Fast and easy money may once have come at a personal price, that being distrust from one’s community. But, with cities growing ever larger and more impersonal, an individual’s local reputation is of gradually thinning importance, resulting in more room for thievery. To some mischief minded, the risk of exposure as an extortionist might thus seem lower when compared to the potentially enormous financial benefits of a scam. As a result, a millionaire, especially one whose professional value is greatly magnified by popularity, is more vulnerable than ever. According to the National Center for Child Abuse and Neglect, in 1998, 71% of the abuse reports were revealed to be false or unfounded. The false accusation rate even rises to over 90% when a custody battle and money is involved (as was the case between the plaintiff’s parents in the 1993 allegations against Jackson, who was a friend of the child’s mother). In the 1993 case, the charges never went to trial but were settled out of court.
The record illustrates that the financially troubled accuser’s father had previously approached Jackson’s representatives with a monetary request well before he sued for the alleged molestation, demonstrating that he would have refrained from filing suit in exchange for money. Would any parent with real care for the well-being of his or her children make such a deal?
As evidence for my position, I present the recorded phone conversation in which the accuser’s father is heard to say that everything [is] going “according to a certain plan,” that he would win “big time” and that Jackson would be ruined forever. These words sounds far more like the words of a mercenary than those of a father concerned with justice for his son.
It should also be emphasized that Jackson was never indicted on the 1993 allegations, even after an intensive 13-month investigation including interviews with over 400 witnesses in and out of the country, extensive searches of his residential properties, and even a 25 minute full-body examination in which Jackson had every part of his body photographed, videotaped and examined. And in the six years before the statute of limitation had expired, no criminal charges were ever filed. After the District Attorney’s office spent millions of tax payer dollars in hot pursuit of the singer, had they found any evidence of molestation, they would have been certain to indict Jackson. Civil settlement does not prevent criminal indictment. The 13-year-old boy at the center of the allegations refused to testify criminally and his father, the main individual behind the allegations, committed suicide within months of Jackson’s death.
Having discussed the mischaracterization of what people might dismiss as “weird,” and having made plain the falsity of the allegations made against Jackson, accusations that in my view look suspiciously extortionate, I would now like to consider the moral impact that Jackson might have had on our society.
Regarding integrity, Jackson’s deeds and lifestyle, apart from the media’s fabricated stories, remained consistently appropriate. In fact, his decency made him look almost old-fashioned, even when he was young, when compared with many entertainers’ indulgences in sex, alcohol, and drugs. Interviews with Jackson indicated that he felt it highly inappropriate to remark publicly on his sexual life. This, as far as I am concerned, is an example of his dignity and modesty. However, this very reserve may ironically have fueled baseless speculation about Jackson’s sexual orientation. I wish to ask : is publicly questioning a person’s sexual life not way more inappropriate than that person’s choice of silence out of a desire for privacy regarding the same? The fact that Jackson was not involved in a multitude of sex scandals with women, a fact which should normally invite respect, seems unfairly to have been justification for the media to pathologize Jackson. It is beyond ridiculous to construct the lack of lasciviousness and scandal as itself scandalous and suspect.
Many people have also remarked that Jackson did not curse at all, especially when he was younger. Only after suffering numerous hate campaigns founded on falsehoods did he insert a very small amount of profanity into his songs, in response to a world which had betrayed him so deeply. Even then, his use of profanity stayed away from vitriolic attacks , but came across more as an artistic expression of deep anguish.
Jackson also faced many accusations regarding his appearance. But, turning this around, what might this suggest about those themselves who so scrutinized the way he looked? What does it say about their own biases ? And about the people who claimed to know details about every surgical procedure Jackson allegedly had, calling him a freak without even having seen him actually ?
After the 2003 allegations, the media repeatedly and mockingly displayed pictures of Jackson in an emaciated state, not out of concern for his well-being, but seemingly simply in order to label him a freak. It may very well be argued that Jackson was indeed beginning to look fairly thin, but doesn’t taking somebody’s tired physical appearance as direct evidence of inner abnormality only reveal our own superficiality ? Maybe , just maybe anyone else would have looked equally fatigued had they suffered the anguish of having to relentlessly fight vicious and false allegations. On the topic of morality : Which is more admirable, giving people hope by regularly visiting and donating to hospitals and orphanages, or telling scandalous stories based on speculation or lies? Which is more despicable, pursuing an exceptionally rigorous dedication to artistic perfection, or giving in to jealousy and greed to bring down an artist? The tabloid press, of course, uses this strategy on most celebrities and public figures. One might argue that Michael Jackson had learned to use the press as cynically as it used him, that he , especially in the early days, once believed that “all publicity is good, even bad publicity,” because it keeps their names in people’s minds. One might even go so far as to say that Jackson purposely flaunted his eccentricities to generate press. He did, after all, have a fine artistic sense of the dramatic, with drama selling newspapers. And Jackson always managed to keep his fame burning bright, even when he was not producing any new songs. As elaborated below, my issue, however, is not with Jackson’s handling of the media. Rather it is about what the media’s handling of Jackson says about societal norms and ethics.
Critics have accused Jackson of not opposing false information adamantly enough. Pondering that charge, I suspect that having been abused by the media intrusiveness from his early days in the spotlight, Jackson might have come to feel vulnerable and victimized. Having been taught by his parent always to be nice to the media and to his fans, he might have felt he should not defend himself too vigorously for fear of losing his popularity. Furthermore, had Jackson taken the time to fight every rumor thrown his way, he would not have had time to be Michael Jackson, the artist as he did explain to a close friend. In the end ,we must ask ourselves, who is more faithful and true, a person who calls someone a freak without knowing him personally and without possessing any evidence of wrongdoing, or a person who shows patience and courage in the face of hostility and simply expresses who he really is by letting his work speak for itself? Some might argue that the attacks Jackson had to suffer from the media and from consumers can be justified as a natural price to pay for the fame and fortune. No, I say. That is too high a price being charged from a human being. Those attacks had exceeded all justifiable limits, And I wish to note that he was not paid to endure pain, but for his relentless efforts and dedication to his craft. We first explored “weirdness” as necessary and beneficial diversity, specifically addressing the fact that Jackson’s physical appearance and spoken pitch seem irrelevant to his achievements. We then found that allegations of unethical behavior on Jackson’s part were in truth baseless. Then we analyzed Jackson’s non-aggressive stance during TV interviews, not as demonstration of guilt but as a sign of decorum. Lastly, we found that the cost of fame seems an insufficient justification for the extraordinary personal attacks Jackson went through. We will now consider the implications of the behavior of the media and the public during the course of Michael Jackson’s career.
The American media have disgraced themselves by displaying to the world the schoolyard bullying of a talented and creative soul with great philanthropic achievements . Now consider how this public bullying of a legendary figure might present itself to a new generation of youth, how it might play out in their minds and affect their morale … Might this type of public bullying not discourage the youngsters of today from pursuing their own creativity, their own inner diversity, for fear that they themselves might incur such abuse ? The coverage of Michael Jackson’s life poses among others, these questions to America: Does fulfilling the American Dream require that one subject oneself to unending media intrusion, to lies about oneself for the sake of selling newspapers, and where one unproven accusation is enough to be convicted in the court of national opinion ? Do you want your children to live in a world where pursuing the American Dream involves the risks of a nightmare of mistrust and abuse?
I refer again to the journalists who later admitted their purposely distorted biased reporting on the Michael Jackson child molestation cases. If we recall for a moment the enormous number of journalists who surrounded the Santa Barbara County courthouse, one can surmise that the handful of journalists who came clean about their deception make up only the tip of the iceberg.I suspect that there were hundreds more who remained silent and who knowingly bent the truth to sell papers. I also suppose that there are thousands of people who, having received one-sided information, once believed Jackson to be a freakish criminal, but who, after his death and the revelation of new information, have come to see him just as one of us, a burdened human being and a caring parent, as well as a uniquely talented artist and a devoted philanthropist. Perhaps these now better-informed members of the public have come to doubt the veracity of the media itself, not just when it comes to Michael Jackson, but in general. I speculate that there is a pervasive notion that it is safer to say nothing when it comes to Michael Jackson for fear of being promptly stigmatized. However, we need to address the implications of such silent behavior. What does our silence about the attacks on one of the most visible achievers of the American Dream say? If we play it safe, we are our children’s future into the hands of bullies. It is time for us to speak up about the damage opportunistic journalism is doing to our culture. As Edmund Burke once penned, “all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
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