More and more the public is calling for the reigning in of intrusive police practices and tabloid news that constantly abuses the right to a free press and infringes on people’s privacy rights. During his lifetime, Michael Jackson endured extraordinary invasions of his privacy as a public figure, as well as slander and defamation of his character, to which he protested vigorously. Nor was it not long after his death on June 25, 2009, that the media started in on his family, especially his underage children. And while there is at least the possibility of legal remedy for the living, heretofore there has been none to protect the rights of the surviving family of the deceased. That is why CADELAW is a bill whose time has come.
In her 2010 book, Outrageous Invasions: Celebrities’ Private Lives, Media, and the Law, UConn law professor Robin D. Barnes devotes Chapter 10, “John Lennon and Michael Jackson: The Influence of the Superstar,” to discussing how because of the popularity bestowed by the media and fans on John Lennon and Michael Jackson, the two men became targets of deliberate attempts by governments to neutralize their cultural and political impact. Lennon’s youngest son, Sean, told the New Yorker magazine in 1998 that his father was considered a threat because of his influence: “If he had ever said bomb the White House tomorrow, there would’ve been 10,000 people who would have done it. Pacifists revolutionaries are historically killed by the government.” Barnes reports that “government impotency in relation to the potentially unbounded influence of the superstar,” means clandestine methods and tactics are to shape the “tone and tenor of public discourse.”
The case of Lennon, according to Barnes, leads to understanding how an “equally powerful superstar,” Michael Jackson was also considered a monumental threat to disrupting the status quo. Michael’s 1998, “Man in the Mirror” (written by Siedah Garrett with Glen Ballard), along with the revolutionary social and political message in the lyrics and in the images used in the short film that went along with it “put the world on notice,” according to Barnes.
But in the summer of 1994, when a confidential report of accusations of child molestation was leaked to Hard Copy tabloid reporter Diane Dimond from the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services, the ensuing media persecution began its relentless quest for ratings by using rumor and scandal. Already marginalized for his eccentricities, Michael was objectified, dehumanized, and finally demonized as the press cashed in. For example, Barnes cites Los Angeles criminal defense attorney, Tom Mesereau’s comments that tabloid huckster Nancy Grace’s coverage of the trial held in 2005 “was sub-moronic . . . [and that] she tried to spin a verdict through a lot of emotional innuendo that was just buffoonery.”
Barnes asserts that while trying to prove there was an “actual conspiracy to imprison Jackson” was elusive, the case could be made for Jackson being a convenient scapegoat to deflect heat off the Catholic Church because of the concurrent sexual abuse allegations against clergy of the Archdiocese of Boston. The massive investigation of the Catholic Church went on for several years before Jackson was again falsely accused and his Neverland ranch raided by 70 County Sheriff’s and members of Tom Sneddon’s District Attorney’s Office. All this to control Michael’s rising political influence.
From 1994 until he died, Michael endured relentless persecution from the media. Barnes asserts that while the U.S. Constitution grants free speech and freedom of the press, the Supreme Court fails to enforce the laws that require prerequisites to the proper exercise of those freedoms and the protection of constitutional rights. She notes that the media defends slander and defamation by asserting that the statements they make are true for the most part. False statements also get a pass as simply being reported or quoted, most often from anonymous, so-called inside sources.
Still, Michael is gone now and supposedly what the media writes or broadcasts can no longer hurt him. Obviously not, but it can and does hurt his young children, as well as other family members who share his name. For that reason, our representatives should be introduced to CADELAW and asked to vote to pass it to protect the rights of the family of the deceased.
Article written and submitted by: Sherry Walker Bryant
Sherry Walker Bryant is a doctoral student at Ball State University in Muncie Indiana. She is designing an educational series called “Teaching Michael Jackson” to share her research and writing a book on Jackson’s worldwide charismatic influence.
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