By: LINDSEY O'NEILL, ESQ.
While watching the television reports last evening covering the untimely death of Michael Jackson, I couldn't help but feel angry at the press. Michael Jackson was constantly pursued by the media from the time he was only a little boy. Once the innocent, shining star of the Jackson 5, then the King of Pop, loved and admired by millions of fans, only for Michael Jackson's life to ultimately become a tabloid feeding frenzy of negativity. The press called him and treated him like a "freak" - whether that week's attack revolved around his looks, his relationships, his family, his parenting skills, his sexuality, his finances, his leisure activities or any other "hot topic" of the week. Through accusations of child molestation to being cruelly nicknamed "Wacko Jacko" the press took every opportunity to criticize and villainize Michael Jackson - and we apparently just ate it up.
I've written previously about invasion of privacy and how public figures, including celebrities, have reduced privacy as a result of their fame. At the end of the day, we have a system which allows the press to publish details of a public person's life, without being held liable for invasion of privacy, when such details are "newsworthy" or of "legitimate public interest." But... is it really legitimate for the public to pry into the details of how Michael Jackson plays with his kids, or gets dressed in the morning? The issue is particularly disturbing to me given the fickleness of the press. One day, Michael Jackson is a freak who wears masks and strange outfits and talks funny and is accused of child molestation.... and another day he is praised for his talent and creative contribution to our society. So is all that stuff really newsworthy? Or have media outlets simply abused the power of the press? Do we, as a society, believe that there is no value in a celebrity's private life but to serve the entertainment of the masses? What evils will result from that collective view?
I just can't help but think of the lyrics to one of Michael Jackson's most acclaimed and poignant songs... Man in the Mirror. Talking about the cruelty in the world, the disregard we have for others.... and inspiring us to stand up and make a change.
"I'm starting with the man in the mirror / I'm asking him to change his ways / And no message could have been any clearer / If you wanna make the world a better place / Take a look at yourself, and then make a change."
"...I'm Gonna Make A Change .... It's Gonna Feel Real Good / Gonna Make A Difference /Gonna Make It Right..."
One of the ways things change is through the courts. It was once legal to have segregated schools – black students and white students were separated. Until one day, a judge decided to “make a change”… “make a difference”… “make it right” – ruling that separate was inherently unequal and, thus, a violation of the Constitution.
So, has freedom of the press gone too far? Has it invaded the privacy of celebrities, like Michael Jackson? And, if we think it's reasonable for celebrities to have fewer privacy rights than the rest of us, because “it just goes with the territory,” then how much less privacy should they have? Are there any things about a person’s life that should remain private …. even for celebrities? Does the press really have the right to publish stories and sell magazines that are solely about “Wacko Jacko wears a funny mask today”? Or, is tabloid entertainment a necessary evil in order to protect the public’s general right to be informed?
You tell me… At the end of the day, I don’t know the answer. But what I do know is that in watching the television reports last night, I felt not only deeply saddened by the loss of the incredible talent and entertainer, Michael Jackson, but I felt even more saddened by the way his personal struggles had been so ungraciously played out in the press for our tabloid entertainment. "...Who Am I, To Be Blind? / Pretending Not To See Their Needs..."
The only redeeming quality about the television evening was that in the end, we did in fact celebrate the man, his talent, and his contribution to us all. But, when we stand up and say "enough." And when we get to "enough," wherever that point is, who among us will be the strong individuals to stand up and say it... Who's "Gonna Make A Difference... Gonna Make It Right . .
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