In 2003, I wrote an editorial entitled, “Will Humanity Ever Visit The Media: A journalist speaks out on the attempts to castrate Michael Jackson.” As most editorials go, it was borne out of frustration, anger, and the decision to take a stand on something I believed in.
Additionally, the Martin Bashir interview had just aired.
I knew that as a journalist it was a risky move to make; reprimanding the media itself – which I am a member of; and coming off as defending someone – hell, not just anyone, Michael Jackson of all people, when it was not popular to do so.
I didn’t give a shit, and did it anyway.
I remember being nervous as I pushed “send” – forwarding the article to a handful of colleagues to see what they thought, and a few publications, including the Los Angeles Times. And a few days later, as I followed up with them, the woman on the other end of the phone at the L.A. Times said, in a most nasty tone, “We wouldn’t print anything like this.”
Fortunately, Lee Bailey’s EURweb felt differently, and without even responding to my email, published it in short order.
Although I had been working as a journalist since the 70′s, and had written a multitude of articles, I had never really done anything like this before. Well, there was that time in 1993 when I had my own radio show and did an ‘Open Letter’ on the subject of Michael. But at this time, my real paycheck came from my work at a special needs school – which is where I had (foolishly) sent the email proposing the story. If you know anything about sending “personal” emails out (with an attachment, i.e. the story) from work you realize how risky a move that was. By the time I realized what I had done, it was too late.
At best, still reeling from the L.A. Times nasty response, you can imagine my shock when I came into work the next day and turned on my computer. There were literally HUNDREDS of emails with the title of my article in the subject line! And emails were still coming in. My eyeballs got as big as saucers, and, although I had my own office – the way I was looking around the room you would’ve thought people were watching me.
I was scared shit-less that the tech people would report me to my boss, or even worse, the president of the agency. They usually quickly usurped this kind of thing for fear of viruses. So how the hell did all these emails get through undetected?
I started to recognize some of the email addresses and hesitantly started clicking on them. I got emails from colleagues, professors, fans, teachers, parents – from all over the world. All supporting the article and my decision to write it.
I remember one student in Australia said his teacher had dedicated an entire class to talking about the article.
Feeling compelled to at least thank these strangers for taking the time to, not only read the editorial, but respond to me, I stole further time from my workday and started to answer some of the emails. But as you can imagine, it became overwhelming, so I actually had to write a Thank You article in the same publication that had so graciously put it out there: EURweb.
I, along with millions of others, miss Michael more than words can ever express. And although I never met Michael personally, or even spoke with him on the phone, I do consider myself among the luckiest people. Because of my family’s connection to him, he personally invited us to celebrate two birthdays at his homes in Encino (where I played scrabble with Mrs. Jackson) and at Neverland; where we watched movies, ate popcorn and all the candy one could want.
I even remember a staff member at Neverland drove my little Volkswagen
Cabriolet, at the time, “across the pond” to an actual 76 Station WHICH WAS ON THE PROPERTY, and filled up my tank FOR FREE.
On this day, June 25, 2014, I publicly show my love, respect, and gratitude to one Michael Joseph Jackson, for giving his all to his craft, in spite of the sacrifices.
“Will Humanity Ever Visit the Media:A journalist speaks out on the attempts to castrate Michael Jackson”
by DeBorah B. Pryor – March 7, 2003
If the documentary Living With Michael Jackson is any indication of what journalism has become, we’re in trouble. I have to wonder what the bottom line is on the media’s obsession to defile the character of Michael Jackson. For Martin Bashir, it was clearly money and fame. But, for the record, the public should also know that not every journalist shares this view; and if for nothing but balance alone, our stories should be told as well. As journalists, there is something we seem to have forgotten: our “title” should not replace our “species.” We are still human beings, but in our work, do we always act as such?
While we may certainly recognize the eccentricities and even the naiveté of someone like Michael Jackson, these traits in themselves are not crimes. We should be careful not to use them as a summation of his character, or as a means to detract from his long-standing career as an entertainer and humanitarian. If journalism were truly unbiased, this would not be the case. Martin Bashir’s documentary Living With Michael Jackson lacked integrity. In the opinion of this writer, it should be remembered as nothing more than an exercise in how to gain someone’s trust, then manipulate it to tell the story you had written before ever meeting the man or setting foot on his property. Apparently, the need for journalistic excellence has left the building; leaving behind in its place only two prerequisites for getting your story picked up: how low can you go and how much are they willing to pay. Clearly, Bashir fulfilled the first requirement; and with several airings of his documentary to their credit, ABC and VH1, the second.
By all accounts, I’d say the attempts to castrate Michael Jackson are keeping a lot of people in business. The sad part is that this tabloid-style documentary has become more prevalent over the years. Where in the past they seemed to find safe shelter on programs like Hard Copy, it’s difficult to conceive that 20/20, a news-oriented program once considered “serious,” would put out such a welcome mat. Jackson has arguably been the only celebrity continuously raked over the proverbial coals. It seems such a shame that all the media chooses to grasp from such an illustrious, long-standing career, is material on plastic surgery and unfounded allegations of child abuse. It is the blatant obsession with and subsequent regurgitation of this type of biased material that encourages dehumanization.
It is a behavioral style that is becoming increasingly more acceptable, and celebrities, Jackson in particular, are seen not as people, but as objects. Even so-called “serious” journalists have stooped to new levels; asking shameless questions like Diane Sawyer did a few years back in her interview with Jackson and former wife Lisa Marie Presley: “I’ve spent most of my life being a ‘serious’ journalist, but, … do the two of you have sex?” Excuse me? This line of questioning is more than intrusive, it lacks any association with civility! Yet, these ridiculous questions keep resurfacing for Jackson. No other celebrity has had his or her dignity tested in this way. The type of programming reiterated by Bashir’s documentary has contributed to the more discerning public’s perception of the media as a growing joke.
If ever there was a sense of trust, it’s flying out of the window fast. There was a time you could turn on the television or pick up a newspaper and clearly distinguish serious news from tabloid. There were network warnings; or they were in different sections of the newspaper. Such distinctions have now become much more difficult. While the private life of Michael Jackson is in no way comparable to our nation’s pending war with Iraq, if we had to spend two hours Living With him, why rehash the same thing? As a journalist with a unique opportunity, couldn’t Bashir have used it better…more intelligently?
Perhaps, considering the power of the media, and the country’s current crisis, focus on Jackson’s travels around the world over the past eight months; the meetings he may have had with dignitaries in an effort to initiate peace. Celebrities are doing such important things today in addition to their craft. Just look at U2’s Bono, actor Chris Tucker, and Jermaine Jackson. Couldn’t Bashir have explored how this icon uses the power of his celebrity and wealth as a vehicle to change the state of the world? Now is the time the public needs to hear such things.
With the dawning of a new century, and our society’s undeniable state of spiritual awakening, more than ever before, we are learning not to judge. It’s insulting that judgment is the exact tool continually used by the media to perpetuate prejudice; and in this case, via Jackson. Because there is such a lack of balance where he is concerned, it’s that much more noticeable to discerning eyes. Bashir used the word “disturbing” several times with regard to Jackson’s relationship with children. I’d like to flip the script and offer some disturbing perceptions of my own.
With regard to his misuse of Jackson’s young friend, Gavin, did he put any forethought into the fact that he had to return to school the next day and face his classmates and friends following his portrayal of the teenagers’ friendship with Jackson in the documentary. As a mother and grandmother, I know that life is hard enough for young boys entering into manhood without having their faces plastered on television and adding insult to injury – as Bashir did – with innuendoes of reference to sexual impropriety. As a friend Gavin’s family, I am very aware of the effect that Jackson’s unrelenting support and compassion has had on them through their lengthy battle with Gavin’s illness.
Bashir’s decision to exploit the relationship as anything more than genuine sickens me. I am not on Michael Jackson’s payroll; and as a journalist, I have no fear in choosing not to be a part of the popular vote. My interest, quite frankly, lies solely in the fact that I have seen the drama played over and over again. In media, as in society, we work to create these larger-than-life figures and then seem to revel in the dismantling of our own creation. It’s a very sick cycle.
If humanity ever decides to pay a visit to the media, I hope it will consider staying a while. I hope it will pull up a chair and have a sit-down conversation on how we can implement it in our work without the threat of our stories having any less substance. I hope it will show us how to bring respect back to the media; so that we can respect the public enough to trust they will come to their own conclusions, based on the presentation of unbiased material. If humanity ever decides to pay a visit to the media, I hope it has the opportunity to get a two-hour interview … on television …in primetime.