Celebrity, Sex and Race

The week after jury selection began in her son's child molestation trial, a plainly piqued Katherine Jackson told Fox News "He loves children. You don't molest anything that you love." That's of course what a mother would say about her son. It was not the first time she said it about the ex-pop king. She vigorously defended Michael Jackson for a decade in news interviews. Each time she said practically the same words, namely that he would never hurt a child. Though the prosecution fumbled and bumbled in its case, and never established smoking gun proof of Jackson's guilt, legions of others still did not share Katherine's unyielding faith in her son's innocence. They believed that the one-time pop king did, or at least was capable of doing, the terrible things to children that Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon prosecuted him for. But did he? If so, how did the world's best known pop entertainer sink to become the world's best-known criminal defendant?

That plunge insured that his trial would again dump the issues of celebrity, sex, and race on to the press and the nation's table. Jackson for decades was not just an entertainer but also the reigning king of the pop entertainment world. He was fabulously rich. Many regarded him as an artistic and creative genius. He was the man that energized and revolutionized pop music and dance. Millions bought his records, thousands of frenetic fans worldwide engaged in an orgy of idolatrous worship of him, and the celebrity gossip shows, tabloid rags, and even much of the mainstream press played up Jackson's foibles as big news.

But Jackson was tried on multiple counts of kidnapping and child molestation. This is the one charge that instantly stirs revulsion, disgust, and deep passions in millions. Jackson pleaded innocent and battled for months to try to win acquittal. The trial played out in fits and starts. There were dull moments and bizarre moments. There was the parade of witnesses that convicted and acquitted him in the same breath. There were tales of "Jackson Juice" drugging, conspiracy plots, aborted planned kidnappings, and an alleged Beatle song book vendetta against him. There were serio-comic moments when Jackson stumbled into court in his pajamas, did a jig on his SUV, and revved up adoring fans from his hospital room window.

Jackson also took his fight outside court. He claimed that his celebrity and fame made him the target of a wrathful DA, envious and malicious former employees and a doubtful public. There was no evidence that any of this was true, but it made good press, and was a good fallback for a man battling for his freedom, and to salvage what was left of his badly tainted professional reputation. His fans took up his defense chant.

Many blacks went further and claimed that he was victimized by a racist system out to bring down another prominent black man down. They cited the examples of Jackson, O.J. Simpson, Mike Tyson, and even Clarence Thomas and railed that they were the victims of a "legal lynching." There no evidence that this was true either. Simpson was tried and acquitted of a double murder. Tyson raped a black woman. Thomas was grilled about sexual harassment charges but he was still confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. In an interview midway through the trial, Jackson flipped the race card. He cast himself in the mold of Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela, and Jack Johnson, all high profile blacks that allegedly wound up on the legal hot seat because they were black.

He claimed that he was on the hot seat for the same reason. Jackson made even better copy as a celebrity defendant than as a celebrity entertainer. The cable networks, tabloids, and even mainstreams newspapers and magazines filled news pages and TV programs with rumors, half-truths and gossip to titillate and tantalize the public about Jackson's legal travails. A relatively new player on the media block, the smokinggun.com scooped them all and got any and every morsel and tidbit of testimony and information about Jackson's alleged evil doings from grand jury testimony. This was greater grist for the tabloid mill. That mill churned relentlessly during the trial and Jackson was more than happy to help churn the wheel.


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