It’s that time of year again, when the days leading up to June 25 – the date of Michael Jackson’s anniversary – provide an excellent opportunity to drag up sordid stories about the King of Pop. What better way to recycle Jackson’s life than to reprint old tabloid fodder? With no anti-defamation law to protect the deceased, it’s easy to target the gullible.
In their DNA
No surprise though: it’s in their DNA. Tabloids such as Radar Online and the New York Post feed off sensational fiction like Dracula feeds on blood. They simply cannot help themselves. Thus, with Jackson’s anniversary around the corner, they are eagerly looking for click-bait and have dropped their latest cluster bomb: Jackson was a porn-collecting pervert.
Wait a minute, a pervert? The same pervert he was said to be in 1993 and 2003, when he was accused of child abuse? Yes sir. It’s the same old story, but packed in a shiny new wrapper to make readers believe that Jackson eagerly collected books and materials about child pornography and feasted his eyes on pictures of animal cruelty. Notice how neatly and conveniently these two horrors are tucked into a single sentence.
Yesterday, Radar Online posted an article called ‘Paedo Proof? Never-before-seen cop reports expose Michael Jackson’s sick secrets!’ Read it aloud and try not to laugh. Unfortunately, the only journalistic skill displayed in the article is the alliteration used to spice up the story: in his ‘sinister house of horrors’ Jackson was stockpiling ‘disgusting and downright shocking images’. That about sums up the content as well.
The article then proceeds with a list of materials found at Jackson’s Neverland Ranch in 2003, when the house was raided by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department. Seventy police officers searched the ranch for two days, looking for incriminating evidence. All they were able to come up with was a self-composed list of a few dozen ‘explicit’ books and materials taken from Jackson’s offices and massive library.
Grasping at straws
Out of the 10,000 books on the ranch, the ‘evidence’ gathered by the police consisted of books on art photography, a handful of vintage nudist magazines, and legal heterosexual adult material. No child pornography was found, nor any other material proving that Jackson was a predator. Grasping at straws, the prosecution introduced the list in the 2005 trial as evidence of Jackson’s distorted sexual preferences. It should come as no surprise that Jackson walked out of the courtroom a free man.
So what’s new about the tabloid article? Absolutely nothing. Obviously, with Jackson gone, any news that’s suitable for creating click-bait has to come out of the dusty catacombs of mummified Jackson fiction. Whether it’s rehashed or regurgitated is beside the point; it all comes down to a creative reworking of Jackson’s tragic life and inevitable downfall.
Old gossip treadmill
Apparently it doesn’t take much to revive the old gossip treadmill hinging on Jackson’s life. Without a blink of the eye, even news websites such as the Huffington Post copied and embellished the story. Why spend time doing independent research or checking your sources when you want to stay ahead in the media rat race? After all, Wacko Jacko sells, so you better get with the crowd.
Little do they know. Jackson’s ‘secret stash of filth’ has been researched by journalists and bloggers in the past ten years. Although Radar Online presented the list as a brand new discovery, it has been available to the public for over a decade. In fact, many books on the list can still be found on Amazon, a company that makes sure its online catalogue contains legal materials only.
The rehashing of Jackson tales is a type of journalism – if that word should be used at all – that’s beyond sad. Having zero quality, zero truth, and zero value, it doesn’t add anything to the public’s knowledge, except perhaps exposing the sorry state of affairs in news reporting. Here, one sound typifies it all: wah wah wah fail.
Defaming the deceased
Still, tabloid stories such as the ones created by Radar Online have a potential to damage Jackson’s slowly recovering posthumous image. Especially new generations – although often media savvy – run the risk of confusing Jackson’s facts with tabloid fiction. Jackson’s long and troublesome history with the media may not show up as clearly on their radar as it does for generations who grew up with those legendary tales of happiness and woe.
Much to Jackson’s disadvantage, libel and slander laws do not yet apply to the deceased. Individuals and media eager to publicly nullify the jury’s ‘not guilty’ verdict – a verdict reached after listening to evidence for months of end – can still do so without any personal consequences and regardless of the devastation caused to the deceased’s name, legacy, and relatives.
All the more reason to publicly address such issues when they occur. For no matter how persistent tabloids may be, those casting a critical eye on slanderous stories are starting to speak up, and do so with increasing force and impact. Tabloid junkies may have a field day, but Jackson proved his innocence a long time ago.
© Annemarie Latour