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Michael Jackson Trial: Media Perceptions

In the course of ongoing reporting on the Michael Jackson child molestation trial, I have received a steady stream of comments from well-intentioned Jackson supporters who have stated as a matter of fact that the media is highlighting the salacious allegations against the performer as opposed to his defense rebuttals, and skewing coverage of the trial against Jackson in general because “sensationalism sells” and the perception that he is a “freak.”

Due to a broadcast media ban on the trial, which I am coming to see more and more as a disservice to ALL involved, only the handful of people actually in the courtroom each day know what really happens in terms of minute to minute ebb and flow, nuance, tone, mood, individual reactions to testimony, and the vocal inflection of that testimony. In other words, all we really know about the trial is what the media tells us, rather than having the ability to follow along and make decisions for ourselves had the trial been televised.

And based upon the headlines and reports on, for example, yesterday’s testimony by Macaulay Culkin, one might come to a conclusion opposite to that of my many Jackson-defending commenters about the media’s bias in this case.

Note the following headlines:

    Actor Macaulay Culkin comes to Jackson’s defense – Reuters
    Actor Macaulay Culkin denies being molested by Jackson – AFP
    Culkin comes to Jackson’s defense – SantaMariaTimes
    Culkin: ‘He never molested me’ – The Santa Barbara News-Press
    Mac Backs Michael – E! Online
    ‘We are unique people. He understood me’: Culkin defends Jackson – The Independent (UK)
    Culkin Describes Bond With Jackson – CBS News
    Culkin calls charges against Jackson ‘ridiculous’ – San Diego Union-Tribune
    Jackson abuse rejected by Culkin – BBC

Etc, etc: you get the picture – and all these stories reflect the emphasis of the headlines.

The only one I could find that didn’t echo the theme of Culkin defending Jackson and denying molestation was this:

    Child star shared bed with Jackson – The Guardian (UK)

which is a very different emphasis isn’t it? If the press was so biased against Jackson, why did they almost universally select the Jackson supporting theme?

Now consider this commentary from Steve Corbett, who is in the courtroom every day for the hometown Santa Maria Times. Virtually none of what struck Corbett about Culkin’s testimony came out in other media coverage:

    Rumpled in an open-neck dress shirt and dark suit, Culkin raised his hand and took a seat. Pro that he is, Culkin delivered his lines with familiarity, flair and import. Adding a little dash and a hint of swagger, Culkin must have made Jackson’s heart flutter.

    A truly famous friend had finally taken the stand.

    In truth, though, since a witness has testified that Jackson sexually molested Culkin, the young actor was testifying to save his own reputation as much as Jackson’s.

    “Ridiculous,” Culkin said of the accusation.

    “I’ve never seen him do anything improper with anybody,” he said.

    As solid as Culkin’s testimony might have been, Jackson’s future largely depends on what behavior jurors consider to be improper. Adult men who sleep with a stable of little boys still causes concern in most quarters.

    Culkin’s appearance provided Santa Barbara County Senior Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen with yet another chance to take jurors on yet another tour deep into the beddy-bye darkness that has dominated Jackson’s adult obsession with little boys.

That information is familiar from the other reports, even if the slant is different, but I haven’t seen the following Culkin testimony reported anywhere else at all:

    “He kind of called me out of the blue one time,” Culkin testified, recalling how Jackson phoned when Culkin was 9 or 10 years old.

    With Culkin’s sudden fame, Jackson commiserated and told him that he could understand the child’s dilemma. After all, Jackson had suffered the same loss of privacy when he was a little boy.

    Jackson suggested that maybe they could get together.

    Culkin detailed a trip he took to Bermuda with a friend and the friend’s family.

    Jackson invited himself along, Culkin said. Or maybe Culkin invited Jackson. Confused, cagey or both, Culkin stammered as he tried to explain.

    “Which was it?” Zonen demanded.

    Culkin said he didn’t remember.

    “He gave you a watch?” Zonen said, already knowing the answer.

    “He gave a Rolex to an 11-year-old child?” Zonen said.

    “It wasn’t all that crazy to me,” Culkin said, adding that his father had a Rolex.

    Zonen asked Culkin if the family that hosted him on the trip felt excluded because he was spending so much time with Jackson. Zonen asked if the family felt that Jackson was dominating Culkin’s time.

    Culkin said he couldn’t recall because the trip happened a long time ago.

    Zonen wanted to know if Culkin’s friend’s mother forbid Culkin from going places alone with Jackson.

    “I don’t remember those kind of details,” Culkin said.

    …Then Culkin took jurors to bed with him and the defendant.

    And the image of yet another little boy alone in bed with a grown Jackson became part of the mounting circumstantial evidence against the solicitous entertainer.

    But nothing sexual happened in bed, Culkin said.

    Nothing sexual ever happened.

    Culkin described a close relationship.

    “We had the understanding of one another,” he said.

    “We were close,” he said.

    Like family?

    “Yes,” he told Zonen.

I have no way of knowing whether the jury saw the testimony in this light — because I couldn’t watch it for myself — or in the overwhelming majority media light of Culkin simply denying that he was molested and that was that.

But that isn’t that, because Jackson isn’t on trial for molesting Culkin, he is on trial for molesting another boy, and the behavior patterns, the gifts, the attention, the “grooming,” the parade of boys to Jackson’s bed, could be just as important to the case as Culkin’s denials that anything untoward happened.

And you didn’t hear that anywhere else – in which direction is the media biased?

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014.Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted.Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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