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Rev. Barbara Kaufmann

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Michael Jackson On Trial Again -- Part I

Posted: 11/17/11 12:54 PM ET

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 HIPAA 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 "Jacko" -- 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!

Continue to Part II.

Man Behind the Myth from Walking Moon Studios on Vimeo.