Michael Jackson’s trial was expected to be the white-hot celebrity trial of the season. The media are camped out by the courthouse and ready to go, but curiously enough, the public does not seem to be biting. LA Times reporter Robin Abcarian tells Brooke that the case has yielded such icky information that even the tabloids, talk radio shows and celebrity mags are shying away.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Pop star Michael Jackson, accused of molesting a 13 year old former cancer patient - No, don't touch that dial - don't change the - well, for those of you who are still listening, what struck us this week about the Jackson trial is that it has turned out to be the dog that didn't bark. The media are camped out by the courthouse in profusion, but the public's passion in the proceedings is something less than profuse. Robin Abcarian wrote in the Los Angeles Times that the court drama yielded such icky information this week that even the usual tabloids, talk radio shows and celebrity mags stepped back - at least according to her informal survey.
ROBIN ABCARIAN: What they said was that some of the testimony in the last week or so, which was some fairly graphic sexual behavior, allegedly on the part of Michael Jackson, was kind of grossing their audience out. Of course, the subject of pedophilia is so unpleasant that there is a sense of kind of pulling back on the intensity of the coverage.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, obviously the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church got tons of coverage. This is a court case. Scott Peterson's grisly murder got a lot of coverage. What makes this different? What did they tell you?
ROBIN ABCARIAN: Well, you know, it's funny. I did not raise the question about the Catholic Church. That, of course, is an institution - an ongoing scandal involving so many people, and this is such a more concentrated thing. It's the one person. He's still fascinating to people, but yet he's peculiar, and it's almost like watching a slow motion train wreck of his life over the past ten years.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But we love train wrecks.
ROBIN ABCARIAN: We love train wrecks, but I have to tell you, when I talk to people about the difference, for example, between the Michael Jackson molestation case and the Scott Peterson murder case, for some reason, there is this idea that in the Peterson trial, you could root against the bad guy, and there was a protagonist - Laci and her unborn baby and these pure innocents who were cut down at a tender moment. And in the Michael Jackson case, everybody seems tainted. In other words, even the victims are not pure victims. They have their hands out. They consort with people that are shady. It seems a person hasn't taken the stand who at some point hasn't wanted to cash in on any kind of association with Michael Jackson.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ken Baker, who is the west coast executive editor of Us Weekly told you that there's a line that is drawn, and that line is people don't want to know what Michael Jackson did in that bedroom. And he said that even the tabloids - the nasty ones - seem to feel that way.
ROBIN ABCARIAN: Yeah. If you look at the tabloids, there is a shying away from pedophilia in these publications that we so often in the mainstream media like to think of as, you know, the lowest of the low, the tabloids.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, Court TV, you noted, did have a big spike in viewership over the same period last year, and maybe that's because they're doing those peculiar re-enactments.
ROBIN ABCARIAN: Yeah. I do know this: people who sit in the courtroom and then go watch the re-enactments have been struck by how they don't really capture the tone of the day's events. There's absolutely no sense here, of course, that it's not the most important thing in the world right now.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But, as you noted in your piece, ordinary people don't seem to be taking that much notice of it, compared to what was anticipated. You say in your article that People magazine, which had devoted five covers to the Peterson murder trial, only did one cover with Jackson on it, right after he was charged, and that it didn't even perform well.
ROBIN ABCARIAN: I know. I find that interesting, and I mean, to the extent that you can quantify the public's actual interest in this case, the best indicator is to look at magazine cover sales. People have backed off of doing any covers on the case, and they told me that they could see possibly doing a cover at the end, but they - even that is not a sure thing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I think what amazed me most was that talk radio, the place where a thousand Jackson flowers would bloom, isn't cottoning to the story much either.
ROBIN ABCARIAN: What is there to say? After all these years of talking and arguing and shrieking, as talk radio is wont to do, where else do you go but what's the verdict going to be?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you've mentioned a couple of reasons why the Jackson story isn't flying quite as much as might have been anticipated. But what do you think is the number one reason?
ROBIN ABCARIAN: I think, frankly, it's icky. In a word. It's sad. There's nobody to root for. If the charges prove to be true, what you have is some very damaged people. If he's exonerated, there will still be damaged people. There's not anything particularly uplifting in this story, and I think that's why people are shying away from it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It just doesn't fulfill the requirements of narrative.
ROBIN ABCARIAN: Exactly. There's no hero to root for.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Robin, thank you very much.
ROBIN ABCARIAN: Thank you, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Robin Abcarian is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. [MUSIC]
ATTORNEY: What did you see when you went to the arcade?
WITNESS: Michael was playing with Macauley Culkin at one of the games.
ATTORNEY: And what did you see that upset you?
WITNESS: His left hand was inside the pants of the kid. [THEME MUSIC UP & UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Megan Ryan, Tony Field, Jamie York and Mike Vuolo, and edited-- by Brooke. Dylan Keefe is our technical director and Jennifer Munson our engineer. We had help from Susanna Dilliplane and Nick Gilewicz. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our senior producer and Dean Cappello our executive producer. (At least, he was - as WNYC's head of programming, he's decided to hand off his post here at OTM to John Keefe. Hello, John. But before Dean passes from our credits, we want to note that he created OTM in its current form. He re-launched the show with Bob and me and gave us the freedom to try out all of our ideas - even the weird and risky ones.
BOB GARFIELD: And, and the stupid ones. Don't forget the stupid ones.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And for that, all of us at OTM will always be grateful. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. This is On the Media, from WNYC. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
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