by Rev. Barbara Kaufmann
Executive Writer, Contributing Editor: Voices Education Project, Global Humanitarian Institute.
In the „trial of the century,” the prosecution rested, the defense rested, the jury can rest now that they’re dismissed. When does Michael Jackson get to rest? To the media this wasn’t the manslaughter trial of Conrad Murray; it was „the Michael Jackson Death Trial.” And much of the time, Michael Jackson, though dead, was on trial.
Michael Jackson was not treated as a human being, but as a cash cow. His death hasn’t changed that. The exploitation of Jackson was legion – by acquaintances, hired help, colleagues, the music industry, the justice system, by families looking for deep pockets, by hangers-on, sycophants and especially by the media. Millions were made off the Jackson brand. What the public doesn’t know, is how cynical and deliberate the exploitation was. Author Joe Vogel wrote about the widespread cultural abuse of Jackson in a recent article titled „Am I the Beast you Visualized?”
The latest betrayal is a documentary by Conrad Murray – the very doctor who is convicted of killing Jackson. Murray, charged with manslaughter, struck a deal two years ago with October Films for a documentary about his relationship with Jackson and his final days. Family and fans are asking how could NBC, in good conscience, produce and air a film that exploits Jackson yet again after death and by the very person responsible for that death? Murray inked a contract as Jackson was being laid to rest.
The documentary included scenes depicting „private rooms” in Jackson’s home with clips recognized as photos of Neverland Ranch taken in 2003 after sheriff’s deputies raided and rifled through it. The same photos, originally used to slant opinion about Jackson’s private habits, made their way into Murray’s „documentary” along with a few contrived comments designed to denigrate Jackson while elevating Murray. How honest is a film and its intentions when cleverly edited for impact and ratings? Reminiscent of MSNBC Martin Bashir’s Living With Michael Jackson, another cleverly edited film called a „hit piece mocumentary” that was cynically produced for ratings and profit was refuted later by Jackson’s own film crew who taped the same footage simultaneously with Bashir’s crew. Murray’s documentary circumvented the justice system allowing in the testimony he refused to give in court despite a family’s frantic search for answers to what happened to their dead loved one, Michael.
Conrad Murray’s manslaughter trial became „the Michael Jackson Death Trial” because media long ago learned that connecting Jackson’s name to anything increased revenues. People promoting their own brand still cynically link to Jackson knowing that negative stories about him increases attention. Reporters invented stories and not to be left out of the profit making game, mainstream media soon followed suit. A large segment of the population still believes the tabloid caricature of Jackson and the accusations from which he was exonerated. And they mistakenly believe self proclaimed „Michael Jackson experts” – who never even met the man and have an agenda and a reason to perpetuate the caricature myth – to avoid being exposed for their past treachery – using a human being for profit and to future careers. The propaganda about Jackson says more about the writer than it does about their subject. Nick Davies in his Flat Earth News exposé claims the public would be sickened by cynical media tactics and how they manipulate á la tabloid journalism gone mainstream.
Jackson fans, who have been trying to warn consumers for years about the racist agenda and media exploitation of Jackson, issued a statement this week: „Michael Jackson fans have had enough. Ridicule us if you must, call us names, tell us we only think of Michael as an ‘idol’ – but we are not the ones selling his memory, objectifying him and making money off him.” They have called for a boycott of NBC and its sponsors.
Murray may have administered the fatal dose of poison, but the media poisoning of public opinion regarding Jackson was relentless and protracted. Did the media torture a man to death for nothing more than ratings and profit? The most famous man in the world was also the most bullied. The tabloid campaign exploiting and lynching Jackson was unparalleled and lasted decades. Jackson’s exploiters hail from every possible position – from cleaning ladies to doctors and a Rabbi spiritual director who published recordings of Jackson’s private sessions – all to make a buck off his brand.
Physicians are outraged by Murray’s reckless treatment and his violation of HIPPA laws and patient confidentiality. They find it incredulous that a doctor, now convicted felon, skirted both the law and testifying in court and pimped his documentary that profits the very man he killed.
The fans, aware that public opinion about them has also been manipulated, are concerned that the public continues to allow salacious media exploitation of public figures and are duped into its consumption unawares. One fan writes:
„Our living rooms should not be dumping grounds for salacious materials that strip humans not only of their dignity, but their very humanity – and ours in the process. Where is the public outcry that says ‘enough is enough’? People were outraged when the Rupert Murdoch scandal broke about phone hacking for headlines for front page fodder with ill gotten sensationalized information; where are they now? Airing this documentary is shameful.”
British Huffington Post journalist Charles Thomson chronicled
the shaming irresponsibility of the media while covering the Jackson trial in 2005 in a piece called „The Most Shameful Episode in Journalistic History.”
It might be worth pondering why a man who appeared to have it all needed such extreme measures to sleep. Why did he require medication that did not just help him sleep but rendered him unconscious nightly in order to rest? How did a vegetarian and purist who hated drugs come to rely on them? Remember, Jackson was found not guilty of exploiting children but the accusation would forever taint his legacy. Yet the Murray trial showcased, in Jackson’s own words, his dream to build a children’s hospital. His attorney, Thomas Mesereau voices concern about the recklessness of a slanted media that capitalizes and exaggerates drama for profit and ratings; he is joined by other attorneys like Matt Semino and Mark Geragos who worry that celebrity cultism and media manipulated public opinion preempt justice.
Authors Aphrodite Jones in Conspiracy: The Michael Jackson Story, Jermaine Jackson in You Are Not Alone: Michael Through a Brother’s Eyes, and Joe Vogel with Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson, as well as Armond White and others, try to set the record straight by telling the true Jackson story with new books that counter the tabloid trash and chronicle history.
Even today few people are aware that in both cases accusing Jackson of harming children the same players appear – the district attorney nicknamed „Mad Dog,” the same attorney who recruited and represented both accusing families and the same psychiatrist reporting the accusations. Few people realize this gang still socializes together. Both the FBI and social services investigated Jackson and found no wrongdoing .
Few understand what really happened to Jackson because his dehumanization in tabloids was so deliberate and the caricature painted so thorough. His ruination by public opinion and the media was so disheartening, the violation of his civil rights by law enforcement so encompassing that it rendered Jackson so dispirited and disillusioned that he left his homeland, the place where a little black kid from the inner city made it to Hollywood.
The last insult came from Rupert Murdoch’s Sun tabloid publishing a photo of the dead Jackson front page in Britain with the racist moniker „Jackson” – whose origin describes monkeys and can be a slur used for those of African descent.
Within hours after the release of that photo on HLN, extremely sadistic and cruel bullies send a copy to Jackson’s children with the message „From Daddy with love.”
The second generation of Jacksons, including Michael Jackson’s children, have themselves been victims of bullying – their lives, relationships and paternity made fodder for gossip because tabloid reporters apparently eschew the legitimacy of adoption or fertilization techniques for childless families, and find alternative paternity and parenting somehow aberrant. Masks in public prevented them from being recognized at playgrounds later when accompanied by bodyguards who substituted for a father unable to accompany them in recreational outings without causing a media circus and security problems for police. Yet public opinion ridiculed Jackson for protecting his children from harm.
There are those who seem to insist that public figures and their lives belong to the public instead of to themselves, who expect to be privy to any and all private information, who feel that celebrities are not entitled to the same civil rights everyone else enjoys. And there are those who pander to those compulsions and serve up the dirt whether true or not, for ratings and profits – doing it with illegal phone hacking, checkbook journalism and paying large sums for stories – the more salacious the story, the more zeroes on the check for stories that lynch and carve up real people on front pages – for profit.
Adults wonder out loud where children get the ideas that seem so cruel and heartless. Enamored by celebrity, kids imitate the most popular, and are keenly aware of the values displayed by the adults around them. The new generation has just rediscovered Michael Jackson since his passing. Do you think they naively miss the tabloid battering of Michael Jackson? Where do they learn bullying?
They are watching the media and watching us!
Conrad Murray’s trial for manslaughter predictably became about Michael Jackson instead of his doctor because the use of Propofol was unusual and the patient was famous. In court, the displaying of medication bottles was high drama and the media pounced and rushed to publish „Michael Jackson’s addiction.”
A close look at the dates, the number of pills prescribed measured against the number taken, number left and span of time the pills sat in that bedroom proves not that Jackson was an addict, but that he was actually non-compliant with medications he was prescribed. But that isn’t sexy; and it’s all about sexy and getting viewers for a trial that was predicted to be „bigger than the Casey Anthony trial.” Except it wasn’t. Hysteria fatigue, perhaps? Have we had enough?
Pundits on HLN seemed to push the „addict” label because it suited their agenda to promote books and careers. „Michael Jackson” has promoted many books and careers involuntarily as people conscripted his name for their own purposes. HLN was no exception. An addiction specialist physician jumped on the same „addict” meme despite the conflicting information between addiction, bottle labeling and usage, and despite medical records entered in evidence that were unsigned and confusing. The physician’s questionable records were allowed in court but the physician was not and he wasn’t made able to explain his treatment of Jackson for facial procedures to reconstruct his face. Jackson had Vitiligo and Discoid Lupus – the same disease which has left the entertainer Seal, facially scarred. It is entirely reasonable that Michael Jackson’s face be treated and re-sculpted; he made his living on stage.
That same physician also hypothesized that the nightly use of Propofol accounted for the poor condition of Jackson’s lungs while it was well known to insiders that Michael Jackson had a Tryptophan Synthetase Deficiency which is a lung disease characterized by a lack of protein for lubrication. Jackson’s fans could have enlightened any one of these talking heads but they didn’t fact check nor ask fans. If you want to know something about a sports or pop culture figure, ask fans who know everything about them.
In fairness to the pundits, the coverage could have been much worse and the fans could have been depicted in a much poorer or darker light. Unfortunately the fringe elements of fandom were highlighted and that included conspiracy theorists who believe that Jackson is alive and in hiding. And for the most part, fans behaved well except for an occasional scuffle.
Mainstream Jackson fans who get less attention than the vocal fringe, are articulate, thoughtful, bright, and interested in justice and vindication. Many are professionals who contribute to society, pay their taxes and raise children in the suburbs and cities. They have an interesting story to tell society should anyone ever want to listen. What they have to say is shocking.
The trial, it seems was all about Michael Jackson despite Murray’s dalliances are well known – seven children with six women, his methodology even in his clinic appeared reckless to other physicians and one who ventured: „The only thing Murray could have done that was more dangerous was to push Jackson out of an airplane without a parachute.” And what doctor ships a stockpile of medication to a private residence? What doctor using a dangerous drug does not have the proper emergency equipment required for safety and for resuscitation when he is the only one there in case something happens to the patient? The drug labeling requires it as do protocols. A simple regulator pump that would have saved Jackson’s life by regulating the flow of Propofol according to body weight and dosage guidelines would have cost $1,500 of a salary one hundred times that per month. Murray owned a clinic; if he could order Propofol in bulk, he could order medical equipment that would have saved Jackson’s life.
Yes, it was the Michael Jackson trial because once again, Jackson was put on trial even in the afterlife. And it’s ironic that the most compelling piece of evidence came not from the prosecutor or from the defense, but from Michael Jackson himself. Jackson, whom a nurse anesthetist says sounded like he was under the influence of Propofol – with no cameras filming, no media in attendance, was clear about his motivation, his intention and his future plans even in that sedated state. He said:
„Elvis didn’t do it. The Beatles didn’t do it. When people leave my show I want them to say ‘I’ve never seen nothing like it in my life. Go. Go. I’ve never seen nothing like this. Go. It’s amazing. He’s the greatest entertainer in the world.’ I’m taking that money, a million children, a children’s hospital, the biggest in the world. Michael Jackson’s Children’s Hospital.
Gonna have a movie theater, game room. Children are depressed – in those hospitals, no game room no movie theater, They’re sick because they’re depressed, Their mind is depressing them I want to give them that, I care about them angels. God wants me to do it. God wants me to do it. I’m gonna do it, Conrad.
Don’t have enough hope; no more hope. That’s the next generation that’s going to save our planet starting with – well talk about it. United States, Europe, Prague, my babies.
They walk around with no mother. They drop them off, they leave – a psychological degradation – that. They reach out to me – please take me with you.
I want to do that for them. I’m gonna do that for them. That will be remembered more than my performances. My performances will be up there helping my children and always be my dream. I love them. I love them because I didn’t have a childhood. I had no childhood. I feel their pain. I feel their hurt, I can deal with it.
‘Heal the World,’ ‘We are the World,’ ‘Will You Be There?’, ‘The Lost Children.’ These are the songs I’ve written because I hurt, you know, I hurt.”
A children’s hospital or healing center was Michael Jackson’s dream. And this is not the first time the subject of medical treatment and healing of children has come up in Michael Jackson’s legacy. When Jackson’s slurred declaration was first reported Jane Velez Mitchell of HLN declared on air that this recording of Jackson proves what Michael Jackson fans have been saying all along – that Michael was misunderstood and mischaracterized and Neverland Ranch was misrepresented to the public. She called the conversation vindication for Michael Jackson. She only said it once as that very same day people who made money with „hit piece” biographies chastised her on Twitter and she went silent.
Conrad Murray is not the first nor the last person to be privy to Michael Jackson’s dream for children . In an article by Italian journalist Silvia Bizio, Angelica Houston who played opposite Jackson in the Captain EO film for Disney, accidentally ran into Michael Jackson about a month before he died. They hugged, hunkered down in a room together and caught up on each others’ lives.
Huston remembered Michael as being tender and fragile, having trouble mustering up enough anger to carry out his role as Captain EO with a spaceship crew who sings ‘We are here to change the world.’ She said it was as if anger didn’t live in his DNA. He needed her there, in costume and sneering her lines to play off her villainous character. Huston said he seemed even more fragile especially emotionally, during their brief encounter. She put her arms around him; she says:
„We talked about how he had felt humiliated by the accusation of sexual harassment and about the sorrow for the loss of Neverland, where he had lived many years. I remember his words: ‘They ruined my dream. I had this dream, perhaps childish and foolish, a place designed to celebrate the innocence of that childhood that I never had, and they took it from me. I love children, I could never do them harm. I spent all my life loving them and trying to do good things for them. The libel of harming a child–that breaks my heart. It is an unbearable pain, those accusations are unjust and terrible…’ As he said these things, he began to cry. I held him in my arms…He was so skinny and frail.”
Jackson told her he was preparing for the London concerts. She remembers:
„He was training hard because he would have ‘no more hope to be loved back again.’ He wanted to be let back in to the hearts of the public after his public lynching for something he said he didn’t do and a jury of his peers agreed with. Huston goes on: „he was thin and pale; I could feel so much pain in him for the past and a lot of anxiety and uncertainty for the future.”
When asked by Bizio, „What do you think really killed Michael Jackson?’ Anjelica Huston didn’t hesitate: „Michael had a broken heart. For this he died. The truth is that they broke his heart.”