One night, during the first week of the trial, I actually lost count of how many times Nancy Grace uttered that phrase, verbatim. Always, of course, accompanied by her sneering nose and infamous screech. It had become a catchphrase for her, a convenient jingle with which to pummel viewers. Of course, as an MJ fan, I should probably feel some measure of gratitude. After all, she has been all about championing the rights of Michael Jackson-Victim these past few weeks. That would be all fine and good, except like most fans, it’s still a little hard to swallow that this was the same woman who screeched and pummeled the whole idea of Michael Jackson’s guilt onto her viewers in 2005. When it came to condemning Michael Jackson in the court of public opinion, she was the champion crusader. Even now, she admits she still thinks he was guilty in 2005, claiming she “believed parts of the boy’s testimony.” But now she has suddenly become all about “Justice For Michael,” picking up the sincere and heartfelt chant of fans, friends, and family, and turning it into yet another catchy jingle for ratings.
Now don’t get me wrong. There is an idealistic part of me that really wants to believe that she-and others of her ilk who have taken up the Fight For MJ As Victim-have had a change of heart. I like to think that, in the face of all the damnable evidence against Conrad Murray, that it has been enough to shift the burden of blame off of Michael Jackson for his own death. And the reasonable, fair minded journalist in me likes to think that there is still some shred of integrity in the world; that maybe it is very possible that someone like Nancy Grace could sincerely believe that even though she may personally think Michael Jackson was guilty of a crime, that he still deserves justice as a victim. But you know what? I’m a cynic by nature-and not fooled easily. As Thomas Mesereau once said, Nancy Grace is not a true legal analyst-she’s an entertainer. She jumps through hoops for ratings. She’s all about the prosecution-no matter the case, and no matter the circumstances. It just so happens that this time around, the prosecution is fighting on Michael’s side.
But now I’m going to lay something else on the line that may shock you. I don’t care. Yep, that’s right. I don’t care. Because, hey, if Nancy wants to pick up the gloves and fight on our side this time around, more power to her. But just because I may relish every single time she nails Murray a good one, doesn’t mean I’m blind to what it is.
You see, I began to notice a very, very interesting trend within the first few days of this trial. And I’m willing to bet most of you did, too. Instead of being villified, as I had almost expected from the start, a very strange thing began to happen. Were these hardnosed legal analysts, “experts,” and TV talking heads suddenly…well, going soft on MJ? Even when the “shocking” audio tape was played of Michael’s slurred speech, it seemed that this actually garnered even more sympathy for Michael Jackson as someone who was vulnerable and had been victimized by Conrad Murray. (But of course, they were sure to play it back only a million and one times, in case anyone missed it the first time-this was good, juicy stuff, the kind of thing they were salivating to hear!).
But nevertheless, the trend continued throughout much of the prosecution’s case. I have mostly viewed HLN’s coverage, so what I am referring to is mostly based on my experience with watching HLN. What I saw, however, seemed to be an amazingly (for what it’s worth) concerted and sensitive effort to refrain from “blaming the victim.” Now that isn’t to say they never proceeded to do just that. There have been quite a few moments where I had to bite my tongue and restrain myself from throwing stuff at the TV. But at least they seemed AWARE that Michael Jackson was the victim in this case-and that, friends, sad as it is to say, is progress. Granted,that’s sort of like saying it was progress when homo erectus became a homo sapien. Progress, yes, but…how many millions of years on the evolution scale did that take?
Somewhat ironically, the very next day after I had posted my first piece on “Justic For Michael Will Not Come Without Scars” guess who actually made a point of announcing on TV-not once, but over and over-that he wished to remind us all that “Michael Jackson is NOT the one on trial here?” Why, of course, none other than our friend, good ol’ Dr. Drew (you know, the same one who, nevertheless, never manages to miss an opportunity to remind everyone viewing that MJ was an addict and who has even mistakenkly referred to propofol as a barbituate!).
Of course, Drew isn’t shy to let viewers know that he has taken a massive amount of heat from Michael Jackson fans. I am sure this explains a lot of his newfound “sympathy and compassion” for Michael Jackson. And, lest we be too quick to forgive and forget, let’s not overlook how quickly Drew attemped to silence Dick Zimmerman when he dared to speak out about the media’s role in destroying Michael (was not able to embed the video clip, sorry):
Then, of course, there is Jane Valez-Mitchell, who never misses an opportunity to remind us that as a “recovering alcoholic” she is in a perfect position to note everything Michael was feeling and going through. Please. I don’t always agree with Jermaine on everything, but he said it best in his tweet to her. “Stop projecting.” Yes. Thank you.
But I also said from the beginning that there would be things to come out of this trial that would be uncomfortable for many. The fact that Michael may have had any kind of substance abuse problem at all is, for many fans, still a troubling and sensitive issue. But it’s not one that is going to go away by simply ducking our heads and hiding from it. As much as I disagree with Dr. Drew on many issues, he is correct about one thing: Addiction is a disease; an illness. It is not a character flaw. It does not mean one is a bad person. It does not indicate a weakness of will. It is what it is. Michael himself admitted in 1993 that he had an addiction to painkillers. For this, he sought treatment. But just as an alcoholic is never “cured” (instead, they are recovering alcoholics even if they never touch a drop the rest of their lives) a propensity for addiction is never something that is “cured.” The person may even be clean for years. But the disease remains. It remains because the underlying physical and psychological factos that led to the addiction in the first place are still there. For most addicts, total abstinence is the only answer.
So we know Michael had been an active addict in the early 90’s; in fact, probably ever since the Pepsi accident in 1984. The more problematic question is: Had his addiction returned by 2009? You can’t make that judgement call based solely on the media reports. They will always go for the easy, most obvious answers. Let’s put it this way: They NEED Michael Jackson to be an addict. In fact, the way they go on and on about it, you would think addiction was invented for Michael Jackson (yes, I’m sort of quoting Michael here; just substitute the words plastic surgery for addiction; it all adds up to the same truth).
But let’s just take a look at how many well respected icons, celebrities, and musicians, both living and dead, have been addicts: Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton, River Phoenix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Melanie Griffith, Jamie Lee Curtis, Angelina Jolie, Oprah Winfrey-and heck, that’s not even including the whole list of “usual suspects” such as Robert Downey. Jr, Lindsey Lohan, and most any musician from any genre you can think of.
However, none of this seems to pall the media’s apparent fascination with Michael Jackson’s alleged problems. Likewise, it’s an issue that fans remain super sensitive to, largely because Michael has been so villified by the media. Like it or not, the word “addict” still carries a very damaging-and demeaning- stigma. While enlightened in so many ways, our society remains shockingly medieval in many others. Perhaps, as Jane Valez-Mitchell is so fond of saying, this is a good opportunity for educating the public on the need for compassion and understanding of the problem of addiction. Or could be, potentially. But the truth is that it’s not really about educating. Lo, if only ’twere that simple! Certainly not from Jane Valez-Mitchell, who while relishing her role as championing addicts’ rights, never passes up an opportunity to sneak in one for the defense by reminding viewers that a very desperate Michael could have-might have-squeezed that pump! Well, yes. It’s theoretically possible-but just as “possible” as saying a third party slipped into the room while Murray was out, or that pigs can fly. No, this is about ratings. It’s about what makes the best copy. It’s about what grabs viewer attention. Think about this: How many times did we have to endure HLN pretending to be so “shocked” over that graphic autopsy photo, only to then proceed to show it again and again! How many times did we have to hear their feigned “concern” over the possibility of Prince taking the witness stand, when of course it was so obvious they were salivating over the very prospect! Come on, you know they were not only hoping for that child to be put on the witness stand, but probably wetting themselves with excitement thinking that he might even break down and cry and give them a “moment” just like Paris’s memorial speech, all over again! Nothing would have made their day more. Then they would have played the footage over and over while saying every time, “This is so heartwrenching to watch.” Well, seeing as how the trial is pretty much all but over at this point, and Prince did not testify, I guess they didn’t get their wish. But then there was the possibility of a poor substitute, when it was rumored that Murray might testify. I could just hear the newsroom and staff room conversations now: “Well, we’d rather have the kid, but hey, this might be good for some dirt on MJ or, well, who knows, Conrad Murray might break down and confess!” You get the idea.
So while painting the portrait of Michael Jackson as a vulnerable victim is good in one way (it’s the card that has to be played to win a conviction for Murray) my biggest concerns have been for the damage that may be done to Michael’s legacy after all is said and done. For sure, Michael Jackson would want to be remembered as The Greatest Entertainer Who Ever Lived. What he most emphatically would NOT want is for the world to remember him as “that poor soul who died with a condom catheter attached, neglected and surrounded by his own urine.”
No, it’s not a pretty picture. But none of this has been. It’s a muder trial, after all. Or..excuse me, manslaughter trial (sheesh, is it just me, or does the word “manslaughter” sound even more sinister than the word “murder?”).
In all these weeks of testimony, one thing stands out to me the most. On the day they showed the autopsy photo, just minutes afterward, court adjouned for the lunch break. Judge Pastor’s parting words to the jury that day: “Enjoy your lunch.” There were so many days that after sitting and listening to nothing but hours on end of details regarding Michael’s blood, urine, kidneys, liver, stomach contents, of being bogged down with details of toxicology, I became curiously numb to it all. Had Michael Jackson’s entire life and legacy been reduced to the sum of his bodily functions? Some days it seemed that way. I could only imagine what his mother and siblings must have been feeling.
But overall, there has been a silver lining. I have to say now, honestly, looking back on these last five weeks, it has not been nearly so bad as what I expected. For example, with but a few exceptions, the trial did not degenerate into a circus of rehashing the child molesatation allegations. For that, and certain other irrelevant issues that remained thankfully out of the limelight, we can largely thank Judge Pastor, who declared early on that this trial was not about MJ’s life or any issues not directly relevant to the day Michael died. That, of course, hasn’t stopped some from getting their potshots in. (Not to mention, the usual parading out of the usual media whores who love to attach themselves to Michael’s name every time he is in the news. I needn’t name names; we all know who they are!). But I’m just saying, all told, it could have been a lot worse. I was really dreading the week that the defense would present their case. But in hindsight, the worst thing to come out of it was the Demerol controversy (which I’ll tackle in another blog). In actuality, this wasn’t any huge shocker for me; I already knew from Katherine’s wrongful death suit against AEG that the subject of Michael’s visits to Arnie Klein’s office in April and May, 2009, had been an issue-mostly an issue for Murray and for AEG. In the end, however, I don’t think the “Demerol Defense” is going anywhere. It will all come down to the autopsy report. Demerol was NOT in Michael Jackson’s body when he died. End of discussion.
After this week, I breathed a lot easier. Even felt a bit giddy. I was left thinking: Is this the best they have to throw us? All I had heard, for weeks, was how the defense planned to villify Michael Jackson. But in the end, the best they could offer up were winesses who actually served the prosecution (yes, Cherilynn Lee, that one’s for you!), a few lame “theories” that changed as often as Murray changes the socks on his perfectly pedicured feet, and-oh yeah, that Michael Jackson had a lot of Botox shots in the spring of 2009.
Well, who can blame him, he wanted to be looking good for This Is It!
And no, I’m not making light of a serious situation. Just trying to put it in perspective.
Personally, if given the choice, I much prefer “Michael Jackson-The Victim” to, well, “Michael Jackson The Pedophile” or “Michael Jackson The Freak” or whatever Label-Of-The-Week that the media cares to hang on him. But my big concern is this: A label by any other name is still a label. And one can be as equally damaging as the other. “Victim” is a label that carries with it-potentially- its own unique host of negative connotations. In this case, it is being used to conjure an image of a helpless and vulnerable person who had lost control of his life; it paints a picture, whether deservedly or not, of dysfunction. But it is not the whole picture. Far from it. Michael Jackson in his last days was busy rehearsing, creating, and being a parent. Doing all the things he loved to do. The autopsy showed-and has since been confirmed by Dr. Christopher Rogers’ testimony-that Michael Jackson was a healthy, 50-year-old male whose only real medical issues were that of any normal man his age. And the only drugs in his body were the ones given to him by Murray that night-the very same drugs Murray admitted administering in his police report.
Michael Jackson is a victim in the sense that he has been the victim of a crime. He is a victim in the sense that he was a victim of gross negligence. But be aware. While the media may be playing the sympathetic card-for now, it is very much a double-edged sword. Just as they “needed” Michael Jackson to be a “freak” and a “pervert” in 2005, so now they need him to be a “victim.”
What they will never admit, however, is just how extensive a role they played in that victimization.