Celebrity, Sex and Race: Part 3, The Jesse Factor

A plainly chagrined Tom Mesereau swiftly issued a blunt public statement that put the court and public on notice that he did not authorize anyone to speak on behalf of Michael Jackson. He certainly had not authorized anyone to speak on the issues in the ex-pop king's trial. Mesereau had to say and do what he did. If not, he would have left himself wide open to the charge that he violated the Granite like gag order that Judge Rodney Melville had imposed on everyone involved in the case. Mesereau didn't say just who he believed spoke out in violation of the gag order, but the one person that instantly came to mind was the Reverend Jesse Jackson. During the many weeks of the ups and downs, twists and turns, and serio-comic moments in the Jackson trial and the case, Mesereau, the prosecutors, and Jackson's paid publicist and official spokesperson scrupulously avoided the one issue that could blow the case out of the water and sink Jackson. The issue is race.

In yet another one of his patented photo-op court appearances, Jesse rudely dumped race on Michael Jackson's legal table. During his carefully choreographed stint in front of the cameras, he didn't actually utter the "R" word. But he didn't have to. His mere presence in Santa Maria was enough to play hard on Jesse's and even Mike's occasional not so subtle hint that he is the victim of a racist stacked judicial system. The judge is white, the prosecutors are white, the jury is non-black, and despite his chemically whitened hacked up features, he is still the world's most celebrated black criminal defendant.

Jesse almost certainly knew that the few choice inflammatory sound bites that he tossed out on Michael Jackson would garner headlines with news starved reporters who had nothing to report with the jury still out. Jesse's tidbits could have consequences. The jury is not sequestered. Even if they religiously follow Melville's order not to read, watch or listen to anything about the trial or discuss the case with anyone, with Jesse grabbing headlines with his racially loaded pro-Jackson remarks, it could do damage to a case that is eminently losable.

But none of this should be a surprise. Jesse is only being Jesse. He's played the white knight to the rescue routine so many times and in so many celebrated cases and issues that it's become standard, but tired fare. In recent days, there's been a Jesse sighting at the Terry Schiavo vigil in Florida, the presidential palace in Mexico City when Mexican President Vincente Fox made impolitic statements about blacks and immigrant jobs, the Los Angeles County sheriff's shoot-up in Compton, racial incidents involving black students at an Illinois college, and the Los Angeles mayor's race. His modus operandi is always the same. He'll blow into town, lead a demonstration, or conduct a prayer vigil, deliver a fiery speech at a rally, and toss out minefield statements to the news hungry press, make vague promises to create a lasting campaign for justice for the accused, or to settle a compelling issue, and then do little to keep that promise. The no-name organizers and advocates for a cause that worked hard on the ground to bring to light what they believe is an injustice in a case or cause are muscled aside.

In Michael Jackson's case, the fans have been loony, bizarre, even obnoxiousness. They are textbook true believers but they have been there from the beginning, and Jesse did not acknowledge them. The small core of black organizers such as Najee Ali that organized caravans in support of Jackson got the same brush off. Jesse's media grabbing hit and run style of leadership is designed to burnish his image and credentials as a humanitarian, religious leader, and peace advocate. This instantly boosts his stature as media hero, and strengthens his standing as black America's main if not only man.

That's now more important than ever to Jesse. In the past few years his image and top dog standing as the supreme black leader has taken a severe pounding with the scandal over his fathering a child out of wedlock, the allegations of financial profiteering from his civil rights actions, and the ever present charge that he is a crass opportunist who relentlessly chases TV cameras and microphones. Jackson's free-fall from the pinnacle of black America's leadership heap almost certainly fueled Al Sharpton's mighty effort to grab the top spot as black America's main mouthpiece during last year's presidential campaign. Jesse is determined to see that his fall from leadership grace is only temporary. What better place to do that than in front of the hundreds of reporters from the world's press exuding righteous indignation over the plight of Jackson. No matter that that indignation and his presence could make the ex- pop king's plight even worse.



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