MEDIA WATCH: Jacko exacerbates image woes in damaging documentary

ABC's February 6 airing of the British documentary Living With Michael Jackson was a ratings hit, drawing the network's biggest Thursday audience in 10 years. That's the good news. The bad news was the show's content, which People (February 17) called "Michael Jackson's oddest interview yet." And considering who we are talking about, that's saying something.

ABC's February 6 airing of the British documentary Living With Michael Jackson was a ratings hit, drawing the network's biggest Thursday audience in 10 years. That's the good news. The bad news was the show's content, which People (February 17) called "Michael Jackson's oddest interview yet." And considering who we are talking about, that's saying something.

Filmed over eight months, the documentary presented MJ the person, with little discussion of his music or his career. One of the most shocking revelations was Jackson saying that he regularly allows other people's children to sleep in his bedroom with him, that he saw nothing wrong with it, and that he was shocked that people would think it is inappropriate. The ensuing media coverage focused heavily on concern for the well-being of these children that were spending the night with Jackson. Several pundits, anchors, and reporters expressed discomfort with the idea, and indicated they would not let their children stay in Jackson's bedroom. Whether addressing the children sleeping over, his bizarre parenting of his own three children, or his steadfast claims that he had only had two plastic surgeries in his life (both on his nose, to make him sing better), reports often asserted that the strangest aspect about Jackson was his inability to tell right from wrong. A Rolling Stone writer told CNN (February 7) that many of Jackson's problems have occurred because he lives in a bubble, detached from reality: "It's the loss of perspective that runs through the whole [documentary] that has caused so many of Michael Jackson's problems, I think, in recent years." There appeared to be a consensus in the media that the documentary was a PR disaster. The New York Times (February 6) wrote, "As a PR move, Mr. Jackson has done himself more harm than good with this latest interview." Meanwhile, PR expert Michael Sitrick told NBC's Today (February 7) that the documentary was "clearly a very damaging misstep." The revelations that Jackson was sleeping with children caused reporters to rehash the 1993 child-molestations charges that were brought against him and the multimillion-dollar out-of-court settlement that Jackson secured with his accusers. The incident was usually brought up in the context of it being highly inappropriate for a 44-year-old man accused of child molestation to be sleeping in a bed with other people's children. Finally, in true Peter Pan fashion, MJ was widely quoted at the time of the show's airing and in the following days as saying that his innocence had allowed him to be taken in by the filmmaker, and that the documentary was a gross distortion of the truth. While it's no secret Jackson has an image problem, this latest public outcry stems directly from his own statements. The documentary appears to have backfired magnificently, serving to reinforce the public's image of him as a "freak." Crisis PR and damage control appear to be very limited as to the good they can do for MJ. Years of bizarre behavior won't easily be erased in people's minds. Moreover, the consensus seems to be that Jackson is beyond help, and that he can't even recognize that his own actions seem so vastly out of step with the acceptable norms of human behavior.
  • Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.

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