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Doug Gamble- Contributor

Doug Gamble is a former writer for President Ronald Reagan and resides in Carmel. [go to Gamble index]

Jackson Zoo
Of course the cable coverage of Michael’s trial will be restrained…

[Doug Gamble] 2/16/05

In what has to be among the more laughable observations in recent times, executives of two of the country’s all-news networks, CNN and MSNBC, say they foresee restraint in coverage of the Michael Jackson child molestation trial in Santa Maria. If ever there were an oxymoron it’s the words “cable news restraint.”

Mark Effron, MSNBC’s vice president of news and daytime programming, said of the Jackson case, “It’s certainly not going to dominate our air.” According to CNN chief executive Jonathan Klein, “You might see a dwindling of interest.” These remarks were apparently delivered with a straight face.

Klein’s statement might be easier to believe if CNN had not led several newscasts with the “news” that jury selection for the Jackson trial would begin the next day, on the same Sunday Iraqis were in the process of making history by risking their lives voting. The fact is, if Michael Jackson did not exist the all-news networks would have to invent him for the kind of coverage that gets ratings. Heck, they’d have to invent California, since this state offers up so much of what it takes to get cable news executives salivating.

The all-news networks know they get more viewers with titillation than they do reporting on President George W. Bush’s proposed social security reform or Mideast peace talks. That’s why it’s disingenuous for MSNBC and CNN -- both in desperate need of ratings -- to pretend that they will follow the Greek philosophy of moderation in all things in their approach to Jackson.

Think back to the summer of 2001. The lead story on cable, day after day and week after week, despite a lack of new developments, was “Where is Chandra Levy?” the missing former Washington intern, later found murdered, with alleged but unproven romantic links to Modesto-area Congressman Gary Condit. The sex and homicide saga was not eclipsed as top story until the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

At least the Fox News Channel is not pretending the Jackson trial will not dominate its schedule. On the contrary, the insufferable egomaniac Geraldo Rivera is set to spend the length of the trial doing all he can to tout the ex-superstar’s innocence. And in an example of the kind of journalism that must have the late Edward R. Murrow beaming with pride at what his profession has become, Rivera promises to shave off his moustache if Jackson is convicted.

Rivera’s kissing of Jackson’s ring, if not lower, resulted in an exclusive interview in which the washed-up entertainer was able to project sainthood, and possibly influence potential jurors, without being cross-examined. A similar softball forum was afforded Jackson’s mother by Fox’s Rita Cosby. I doubt the prosecution considers this fair and balanced.

Leave it to our fame-obsessed culture to make celebrities out of celebrity-watchers. One of many examples is Fox News Channel’s Greta Van Susteren who no one outside her family, friends and colleagues had ever heard of until her TV exposure as a commentator during the O.J. Simpson trial. Reduced to covering obscure missing person cases since the Scott Peterson trial ended, Jackson trial testimony can’t begin soon enough for her.

Fame has also come to Court TV’s Diane Dimond, once a correspondent for the defunct TV magazine show “Hard Copy,” who broke the story of Jackson reaching an out-of-court settlement with another alleged young molestation victim 12 years ago. She has built a career as the go-to person on all things Jackson.

With the Jackson trial America’s latest zoo and the all-news networks the zookeepers, brace yourself for mostly Michael most of the time in the months ahead. Especially with sordid testimony and a potential witness list that includes actor Macaulay Culkin, and ex-wives Lisa Maria Presley and Debbie Rowe.

If the three major broadcast networks ever scrap their evening newscasts, as is often rumored, “Titillation TV” is all we’ll have left for news on the tube. Let’s hope the printed press hangs in for the long haul. tRO

California-based Doug Gamble contributed speech material to Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and writes a twice-monthly column for the Orange County Register and

Copyright 2004 Doug Gamble




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