by Debra Opri – Attorney and Legal Analyst
I waited until the Michael Jackson verdict was in and for a sufficient time to have passed before writing this column. I did so because I wanted to see if those in the media would absolve themselves of the long calibrated mean spirited analysis of the trial, the evidence & testimony, and finally of the jury deliberations. I waited, albeit quietly, and I was hopeful that a humility would begin to evolve in the tone of the media’s evaluation of the acquittal of Michael Jackson. It never came. They never spoke of the reality before them – that Michael Jackson was found innocent of the charges. They only judged and provided yet more opinion as to why the verdict was the wrong verdict, and why the jurors just ‘didn’t get it.’
I never heard anyone in the media say that, ‘the jury has spoken ..we must respect their decision and a job well done.’ Never did I see professionalism. Nor did I hear respect for this jury. What I did hear and see was the media’s disrespect of these twelve citizen jurors who had spent many hours and days sitting in court, listening to evidence, and ultimately coming to a decision of a man’s guilt or innocence under the rules of law. Their decision was sound, it was explainable, and it was reasonable under the law and the evidence they had been presented. We did not hear this. Rather, the media expressed complete disgust and anger for the outcome. I observed numerous media pundits questioning the jurors’ failure to use their personal bias in their deliberations, and why they didn’t use their ‘common sense’ in convicting Mr. Jackson for what was, these same pundits explained, a strong case with a lot of evidence that proved this man was a child molester. They tripped up on the ‘reasonable doubt’ legal standard, though why, I didn’t understand since many, if not all of these individuals in the media, had at one time been attorneys.
I heard shocking ‘media’ deliberations of the same evidence the jury had ruled upon only hours before in acquitting Mr. Jackson on all ten counts. This time out, the media’s deliberations were pointed directly at a conviction on all counts. I was appalled, but I was not surprised. I saw firsthand a media that was intent on convicting Michael Jackson even though the jury did not ‘go along.’ I saw the tirade of a lynch mob being told to go home and leave the rope behind.
It is with a heavy heart and a strong conviction for doing what is right, that I write this column. Being an attorney and a part of the media, I believe in and support the First Amendment right of free speech. I do not believe, however, in the media’s prolific propaganda which was long directed at convicting a man they had judged guilty long ago, using bias and a camera crew to judge not only the jury’s decision, but an overall assault on our fundamental right of a fair trial. Frankly, this is not what free speech should mean to us. It should not be all empowering and it is certainly not to be used as an enabler of a media’s locust mentality, which is to ravage all before you and then to move on to the next fertile field.
There are those in the media who understand that they have, indeed, become locusts in their quest to ‘find’ – and in many instances, to ‘create’ – stories. During one of my many interviews on the day of the verdict, I was asked how the media could ‘reconcile’ it’s coverage of a trial under the First Amendment with an individual’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial? It was a good and fair question, but again, the anchor who had asked it, and who had at one time practiced as an attorney, fell short, I felt, in her understanding of just what it was she had asked. The answer, I told her, was contained in the question she had just asked.’ ‘Just cover the trial,’ I told her, ‘and stop trying to create the news; stop trying to force your opinions of guilt or innocence down the throats of the public.’ ‘We the public really don’t care. We’re smart enough to figure it out for ourselves.’ [Incidentally, this same reporter left me a message a short time later that, in so many words, she had come to this job as a reporter wanting to honor these values, only to learn there was no interest in anything other than pushing an agenda].
There is so much more I could write and so many more individuals I could reference by name as examples, with stories to back up what is so wrong with the media and how much they misuse their power over the masses and over the individual, specifically, in this instance, Michael Jackson. They know who they are. Each of them understands what their agenda is and was, and what it will be, no matter whether they go on to other news assignments, or whether these reporters get some book deals telling ‘their’ side of the story. Personally, I didn’t know that they had one, or that they should have one. After all, they’re reporters, aren’t they? As we close this story, here’s the only point we need to remember: in the end, the media’s agenda failed. They could not convict Michael Jackson. This media did not sway the jurors, although they sought to and did, overall, sway the public’s opinion of just who they think Michael Jackson is.
In the end, I come away from the past year and a half of the criminal case against Michael Jackson with this understanding. I believe that long after the People vs. Michael Joseph Jackson is part of media history, much in the same guise of the O.J. Simpson trial; long after another trial takes center stage in the media, we will have finally learned to judge the media for what they really are – individuals who really don’t know any more than the rest of us, but who feed like locusts across our sensibilities with the agenda of ravaging our better sense of objectivity.
It is with certainty that I believe the media has damaged it’s reputation and it’s believability in terms of it’s reporting of the Michael Jackson case. It is with hope that I look to better days when the media’s agenda is back in the realm of reporting the news rather than trying to make the news. This is not too much too ask, and what I say is not a new request. It was spoken a number of years ago by Walter Cronkite, a renowned reporter upon his retirement, as he explained why he could no longer work as the reporter he was always so proud to be in a media that had long ceased to be the object of his pride. I wonder how Mr. Cronkite would have reported the Michael Jackson case. Perhaps it would have been simply, ‘today a not guilty verdict was reached in the Michael Jackson case.’