Monday, June 13, 2005

Michael Jackson

I was going through some video for an upcoming column when my wife saw an online notice that a verdict was coming in the Michael Jackson case. And so, even though I'm not a big fan of circuses, we switched over to TV and watched some of the spectacle leading up to the verdict announcement.
CNN was on it, and MSNBC and Fox News and E! and Court TV. Channel 3 here had NBC coverage, Channel 5 had ABC, Channel 8 had Fox and Channel 19 offered a locally based report including its anchors, its own legal expert and cut-ins from the court announcement.
All that added up to Jackson being declared not guilty. Channel 3 cut away as soon as the verdicts were read, to get Dr. Phil on the air; Channels 5, 8 and 19, which all have news blocks at 5 p.m. anyway, stuck with verdict coverage longer. And well before 6 p.m., I had received a press release announcing that ''48 Hours'' will do a half-hour report on the Jackson case tonight, and an e-mail making a New York public-relations man available to comment on the Jackson verdict. (''The Michael Jackson brand is effectively dead,'' he said in the e-mail.)
Both the verdict and the deadpan reading of it made an interesting contrast to much of the coverage leading up to this afternoon's announcement. (You might want to take a look at Tim Rutten's media column in the Los Angeles Times, available at:
http://www.latimes.com/news/custom/showcase/cl-et-rutten11jun11.column?ctrack=1&cset=true .)
I still think Jackson is guilty of something, although accounts of the trial did not say to me that a strong case had been made. And that's not surprising. When I last did jury duty, I sat through the trial thinking that the accused was guilty -- but that the prosecution wasn't making the charge stick. And when we jurors gathered, we agreed very quickly that there wasn't enough for a guilty verdict.
Now, should we all be appalled that the Jackson case took up so much coverage time, and the verdict itself went out live over cable and broadcast? Well, I stopped what I was doing to hear the verdict, so I know that there was curiosity about it. And the history of America is loaded with ''trials of the century,'' with guilty and not-guilty verdicts, in which the actual case meant little but the sensation was enormous.
The problem, though, with sensationalism is that yesterday's sensation is just business as usual today, and the seekers of sensation have to find something even more shocking in order to get the audience to tune in another time.
As disturbing as I find the accusations in the Jackson trial, they come not long after we were dealing with the nasty details of the Scott Peterson trial.
And then there's O.J. Simpson. How could you look at the video of an auto caravan taking Michael Jackson home after the trial and NOT think of Simpson's famous Bronco chase? That PR man I mentioned earlier, Ronn Torossian, alluded to Jackson having ''O.J. Simpson syndrome: being found innocent, but popularly believed to be guilty.''
When I joined the Beacon Journal in 1994, one of the first things I wrote about was the Simpson case. When something like Jackson happens, it feels as if I'm still writing about it. And I don't believe for a second that I'm done.

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