I once heard someone describe journalism as a perpetual cycle of seduction and betrayal. If programs like “20/20” combined with the efforts of British paparazzi set the standard, I would have to agree.
Although there may be no such thing as neutrality or objectivity in the real world, it is still the work of reporters to make an effort in the interest of fairness and balance-the tenets of journalism.
In the recent “20/20” airing of “Living with Michael,” a documentary about the King of Pop produced by celebrity trasher Martin Bashir, the journalist was buried under the same impulses of judgment as was the once serious medium of the documentary.
On the show, ABC’s Barbara Walters, who is known for her exclusive interviews with the infamous, shamelessly promised shocking and disturbing intrigue as she stands atop a floor that looks more like a discothŠque than a newsroom. With Michael Jackson hits as a backdrop, the show took the very serious act of trashing someone’s trust and reputation and lightened it by adding a sense of music video flair.
Over the course of two hours, interviewer Martin Bashir displayed a passion to be the star of the show. His eagerness to discredit his subject was equaled only by his apparent mentor, Jerry Springer.
With Bashir as our mean-spirited guide, we follow Jackson up a tree and into the recesses of painful memories of childhood abuse.
What viewers see is a sad (and ridiculously wealthy) former pop icon, who believes in his heart he is Peter Pan. Yes, Jackson’s behavior is strange. Yes, he has terrible taste in home furnishings.
And yes, to the delight of Walters and Bashir, he confessed his denial about his infamous face, the rejection of his race, and his unorthodox approach to parenting.
More distracting than Jackson’s behavior, however, is Bashir’s relentless probing for dirty secrets.
Through the narrative rudeness and interruptions by a “shocked” Walters, we are invited to celebrate our normalcy by jumping on the destroy-the-freak-bandwagon. Jackson’s fans and enemies alike learn that his personal theme park is just a physical manifestation of his inner escape into fantasy.
More upsetting than the portrait of a suffering human being whose matchless talents are both gift and curse, is the “grown-up” journalists ready to be the voice of morality at the expense of their bread and butter.
Finally, we are instructed by Walters to ‘draw our own conclusions.’