“Michael Jackson was a freak! He was a weirdo! He must have been guilty!” – Have you ever heard these type of arguments? I certainly did. In fact, the media itself did its job for long decades to completely dehumanize Michael Jackson.
Stripping people of their humanity is always the first step towards desensitizing other people of any kind injustice towards them. Or worse, giving people a license to treat these outcasts in the most abhorrent and unfair ways.
The media had no qualms about publishing completely untrue stories and even paid people to lie about him. All fairness and balance – and even basic journalistic ethics – went out the window when it came to Michael Jackson. Even the so called “serious media” did not feel the need to fact-check even the most slanderous stories that they ran with (see, for example, this, this, this, this). It was Michael Jackson, “the freak”, “the other”, “the wacko”, “the monster”, so it was all considered OK. Many did not seem to feel an obligation to be fair with him, like they would with anyone else.
With no other celebrity was this taken to this almost industrial level. Michael Jackson was probably the most maligned, most slandered celebrity of all times with a narrative built around him in the media that can only be described as an alternative “reality”.
It is no wonder that in this atmosphere the Vanity Fair magazine (which is by many considered a respectable and credible magazine) can run articles by the author Maureen Orth with utter falsehoods about Jackson, and then these articles become a reference point for many – including social media influencers, and other magazines and newspapers. As the old propaganda law says: “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”. (Often attributed to Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, although I think this is disputed. Nevertheless it is a well known propaganda technique.)
I picked the example of Vanity Fair (although I could have picked many other examples), because the articles they published by Orth included claims that are not too far away from medieval witch charges – in the 21st century! Here is what Orth wrote, and “respectable” Vanity Fair published without batting an eyelid, in a 2003 article entitled “Losing His Grip”:
“Respectable” and “serious” CNN also gave Orth a platform for this story in March, 2003:
None of this was true. It is a completely and utterly ridiculous story that never had one iota of evidence to back it up, and that probably would not and could not have been published in a supposedly “respectable magazine” or on “serious” television about anyone else. But with whipping boy Michael Jackson – “the other”, “the freak” – nothing is off limits. People will believe any crazy story about him as he himself pointed out already in 1995.
No doubt, if we were in the Middle Ages, Jackson would have been burnt as a witch with the cheerleading of people like Orth and others in the media.
Jackson’s dehumanization results in such extremities, but of course, it also makes it easier for people to believe stories about him that on the surface seem less outlandish, but nevertheless are just as untrue. It also makes people more readily accept an unfair media treatment of him and the media itself less inhibited in treating him that way: the malice, the vitriol, the unfairness, the one-sided, biased reporting, the laziness to do even basic fact-checking, the lies presented, circulated and repeated as the truth, or even paying people to lie about him.
Make no mistake, Michael Jackson was certainly different. He was in many ways not normal, his circumstances were not normal either. His mind obviously did not tick the way the average person’s mind does – this has been often the case with creative geniuses in history. It does not make him a criminal or a pervert. One can make the argument that rather his naivety and his eccentricity made him an easy target for opportunists who would use his vulnerabilities against him to make money.
I dedicate this segment of my website to showing Jackson’s humanity, because after decades of media dehumanization of this man, I think it is important to make people realize that he was a human being, not a “freak”. This segment will contain articles about his pain and sadness of being falsely accused; his human struggles through these allegations; how he reacted to these allegations artistically, in his music; what they did to his psyché; and stories that will help to clear up some of the misunderstandings and misrepresentations of his behavior and who he was.
The articles in this segment:
To be continued…