April 14, 2005 | Graham

Balanced reporting of the Michael Jackson trial

It’s fashionable to complain about bias in media coverage. John Howard does it. David Flint does it. Paul Keating does it. Media Watch does it. I do it. You can probably even do a university major in it. But often what we complain about is the linguistic equivalent of having one tyre on the inside pair of the double white line.
Now I’m no fan of Michael Jackson (stock disclaimer to prove balance) although some of my best friends have been known to moon dance and my daughters have been known to say that he is Kewl (sp) (just totally disclosing all potential conflicts of interest here); but how would you feel if you were at the centre of the sort of media circus he is performing in.
I’m willing to believe the worst of a guy who changes his face to look like Diana Ross (not too successfully as you can see here)but still wants to have sleep-overs with young kids. But, I can’t believe the horrendous reporting of his case.
Virtually none of the witnesses for the prosecution, or the alleged victims, has any credibility at all, but most newspaper reports I read are constructed with 75% of the article luridly detailing the allegations, and an “Oh by the way” paragraph lightly sewn on the end. Like “Oh by the way the person making these allegations sued Jackson for wrongful dismissal last year and lost, and still owes millions of dollars in legal fees to Jackson.” Or “Oh by the way, the mother making these allegations has been accused of trying to shakedown other celebrities.”
If I had the luxury of a staff of investigative journalists, I’d be exploring the issues of abuse of the legal system rather than child abuse, and digging a bit more into the backgrounds of the attorneys involved and everyone else. The story line would be more along the lines of “Yet another weak witness with a vested interest in smearing Jackson testified today. Is there a case for making lawyers liable for the defendant’s legal fees when there is no basis to the case being pursued.”
Maybe I’m wrong and Jackson will be convicted, but I don’t think so. Just checking out the Internet today it appears that some of the media organisations have belatedly come to that conclusion too. This Reuters account of the alleged victim’s mother’s testimony has a veneer of “facts, nothing but the facts” over it, but then you notice phrases like “In sometimes overwrought testimony interrupted by tears, rambling asides and outbursts directed across the courtroom at Jackson,” and you think that the coverage may have turned the corner. Not that I’d condone this sort of colour coming from the other direction either.
Don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but a lot of journalistic copy would be a lot more objective if only it omitted the adjectives.

Posted by Graham at 1:21 pm | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Media

1 Comment

  1. I am very behind things. I didn’t start appreciating Michael Jackson as the worlds best dancer until this trial when I downloaded some of his material.
    Similarly, despite my first cd being ‘redneck wonderland’ I didn’t appreciate Midnight Oil as the worlds second best rock and roll band until Peter garret was drafted for Kingsford Smith.
    And I had never heard “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die” until Johnny Cash died.
    Who’s next?

    Comment by Benno — April 16, 2005 @ 12:33 pm

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