Hard Copy: Forget the facts - we want the story (Aug 30 1993)


Staff member
Hard Copy: Forget the facts - we want the story
Toronto Star. Toronto, Ontario
Aug 30, 1993. Sec. C. pg. B.5

HOLLYWOOD - The facts we are about to bring you may be unfounded rumors. But . . . what the heck.

If there ever was much of a line separating many so-called legitimate news organizations from the yellowest of tabloids in the 1990s, the Michael Jackson Media Caper is the howitzer that's blasting it into oblivion. All across the globe, Inquiring Minds are having a field day.

The defining volley arguably came Wednesday when CBS News This Morning anchor Paula Zahn was called upon to seek the real scoop about the alleged scandal from Diane Dimond, star reporter of dubious distinction for the syndicated Hard Copy.

That's right, the CBS News source list is now headed by one of the most aggressively shoddy and dishonest programs on the air in the U.S..

Zahn to Dimond: "Was there any suggestion that other children were involved?" And later: "We heard some stories that some photos were involved, too. Have you heard anything about that?" Dimond said she "was workin' on that angle," but it appeared that Zahn and CBS News executives would have to be patient and watch Hard Copy themselves to find out just what she had up her sleeve.

Rehashing the granite-inscribed allegations about Jackson and a 13-year-old youth would serve no good purpose here, but suffice to say that CBS News gave Dimond the V.I.P. treatment, in effect legitimizing Hard Copy while undermining its own credibility.

Other mainstream newscasts have routinely slipped tabloid front pages and headlines - most memorably the New York Post's "Peter Pan or Pervert?" banner - into their Jackson coverage.

Another favorite has been that notorious London rag, the Sun, whose cover photo of Jackson and The Boy has been widely featured. A columnist from the Sun has been interviewed concerning the paper's decision to print The Boy's name - as if it had any ethics to breach in the first place.

Inside Edition, which self-righteously shuns the tabloid label itself, interviewed a London Daily Mirror columnist and got some other crucial information about Jackson's activities from a "Michael Jackson follower."

The show's policy is to "protect the identity of alleged child abuse victims," said anchor Bill O'Reilly shortly after Inside Edition showed footage of Jackson and The Boy, whose face was identifiable despite being electronically marbleized.

And of course Hard Copy, which also got quoted on CNN's Larry King Live, weighed in with Dimond's "very detailed account" in addition to choice Jackson anecdotes regarding kids from an anonymous "limo driver".

It was CBS This Morning again, this time on Thursday, which demonstrated just how a story like this balloons into an 800-pound gorilla, taking on a menacing life of its own far beyond any identifiable factual base. At one point Zahn asked a CBS News reporter, Rick Frederickson in Bangkok, Thailand (where Jackson's reported illness caused temporary suspension of his worldwide "Dangerous" tour), about "reports yesterday of a suicide attempt."

What reports? From tabloids?

Whatever these "reports" or whether they had substance - Frederickson could not validate them - they now flew across the airwaves, settling into the public consciousness along with other "facts" in the case. Thus, others in the mainstream media may now feel compelled to follow up these "reports" and, warranted or not, further extend their life.

Next on the Jackson interview list was pop psychologist Joyce Brothers, seen earlier last week introducing stand-up comics on the Arts & Entertainment network's An Evening At The Improv. Among other things, Zahn wanted to know from Brothers how parents could prepare their children "if it is determined that these allegations are indeed true." Thus the big jump, from scattershot reporting of unproved allegations to a speculative question that appeared to reinforce these allegations.

Meanwhile, it seemed inevitable that The Boy would be sacrificed on the altar of The People's Right To Know.

As this story continues hurtling out of control, it becomes increasingly harder for even scrupulous, well-intentioned media to respond to it without revealing the identity of The Boy, at least indirectly. Identify the divorced parents, you identify him.

Along with Jackson's reputation, anonymity has been a major casualty here.

On Wednesday, KCBS-TV in Los Angeles headlined the name of a prominent child actor who also was reportedly "interviewed" in connection with this case. And KCBS-TV reporter Harvey Levin elaborated Thursday on CBS News This Morning, adding that the actor "denies" that Jackson did anything improper in the youngster's presence. By using "denies", Levin gave the impression that a charge of wrongdoing had been made.

True or untrue? It didn't make any difference, for the image of Jackson and the youngster together was already fixed in your mind.


Copyright 1993 Toronto Star, All Rights Reserved.

Source: Indy researcher 'TSColdMan' at MJJF