TABLOID TRUTH?: PBS examines pursuit of Michael Jackson (Feb 14 1994)


Staff member
TABLOID TRUTH?: PBS examines pursuit of Michael Jackson
The Vancouver Sun
Feb 14, 1994

"It was either going to be a superstar falsely accused, or a superstar guilty of one of the most heinous crimes we know. Either way I couldn't lose.''

Diane Dimond of A Current Affair.

Well, there's a sensitive, understanding outlook for you. Either way somebody suffers, but either way Ms. Dimond couldn't lose. Welcome to the sordid world of tabloid journalism.

And welcome to Tabloid Truth: The Michael Jackson Scandal, this week's scandalous instalment of Frontline (Tuesday at 9 p.m. on KCTS).

We still don't really know what happened in Neverland to the 13-year-old boy who accused Michael Jackson of molesting him, and perhaps we never will. Jackson has paid the boy and his family $20 million US to drop their lawsuit against him.

An admission of guilt? Again, who knows? But for a period of weeks leading up to last Christmas, it seemed that anyone who'd ever carried any kind of press credential in his or her life, was determined to find out.

It was the world's most public fox hunt. A little blood was sniffed in Los Angeles, and suddenly packs of hounds from every news organization on the planet were set upon making what looked for a while like the ultimate kill.

And they were willing to pay big money for it, too. Thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars for the right information. A police snapshot of Jackson's penis was on the bidding block for $3 million US. (Though in the end, that proved too rich.)

"Journalism cannot be done today at our level without somebody getting a cheque out and presenting the best offer,'' says Stuart White, a reporter for the notorious British tabloid, News of the World.

They're called "buy-ups,'' the documentary explains, and they're just part of the biz. The National Enquirer routinely places advertisements in so-called respectable newspapers offering to pay people who work for Hollywood stars to blow the whistle on those stars. The juicier the news, the bigger the cheque.

All this is explained against the particular background of the Michael Jackson story, but references are made to the Bobbitts and the Menendez brothers as well, since their stories fit the same salacious mold: Gossip masquerading as legitimate news.

"All our news is entertainment,'' says the program's narrator, Richard Ben Cramer. "Even child abuse is a property with a price.''

As a piece of television, Tabloid Truth: The Michael Jackson Story is a thorough enough piece of work. With only an hour at its disposal, it covers all the highlights -- or should that read lowlights? -- of the scandal fairly well. However, it does that assuming that its audience knows a lot of the players already.

The thinking of its producers probably was that anyone prepared to watch this special was interested in the story to begin with. So why bother introducing at any length the Quindoys, Jackson's valet and cook, Stella and Phillipe Lemarque, two more tell-all servants, and Jack Gordon, husband of Jackson sister La Toya?

It also points out, no doubt unwittingly, in a surprisingly flattering way just how thorough and hard-working tabloid reporters are. Their motives may be dubious and their methods even worse, but they do get the job done.

What it doesn't do adequately, however, is turn the cameras back on the audiences who digest all this "news'' so hungrily. It mentions them -- us -- but only briefly, which is wrong. Because if it weren't for them -- us -- there would be no Michael Jackson scandal, only the sad story of a little boy whose childhood may or may not have been ruined forever.

And perhaps justice would have been done, quietly.

Indy researcher TSColdMan