What a relief it was when the peerless broadcaster Maury Povich took up the cudgels in defense of pop singer Michael Jackson. The no-nosed Jackson had come short when he set out to charm a hard-nosed British Journalist by the name of Martin Bashir of Granada TV. Bashir had spent eight months in Wacko's World, and came away with some patently obvious and crisply clear conclusions, aired on "Living with Michael Jackson."
This did not sit well with the flighty Jackson. Povich was recruited by the suitably vulgar Fox channel to correct the alleged distortions presented by Bashir. Having fronted a daytime TV freak show, Povich was well qualified for the job, although it is unfair to leading lights like Ricki of "The Ricki Lake Show," or Montel Williams of the show by that name, or Jerry Springer, to call Povich peerless. (Add to Povich's professional pedigree his marital muse, the legendary Connie Chung, and you get the picture—Chung's verbal swordplay is a match for Larry King's repartee.)
It is not surprising then that in "The Michael Jackson Footage: The Interview You Were Never Meant to See," Povich exposed "truths" such as that Jackson's surgical metamorphosis from a rather nice looking—if androgynous—black boy, to an albino gremlin was just your average adolescent growth spurt.
Bashir, on the other hand, is well respected for his incisive 1995 Panorama interview with the tawdry Princess Diana, and with Louise Woodward, the British nanny who was accused of child murder in the U.S. The insightful comments Bashir spliced into the Jackson documentary narrative showcase his no-nonsense, independent style.
Most Americans, however, were expecting the mind-numbing adulation a Jules Asner, Barbara Walters, or Diane Sawyer would dish up. In interviews that make the flesh crawl, these TV tarts always redeem their subjects, however revolting, with the ever-forgiving vernacular of popular psychology. They may delve into prurient recesses for the sake of ratings, but their liberal framework always absolves the interviewed from personal responsibility.
Bashir's documentary attacks with verve this no-fault therapeutic outlook. He described events plainly and drew reasonable inferences from them. Can anyone argue that Jackson dangled a flesh and blood baby from the hotel balcony? Elizabeth Taylor did, but then she has had half her cranium removed due to a brain mass. Other Jackson buddies and defenders include Uri Geller, the Israeli shyster spoon bender, and his equally off-putting liberal co-religionist, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, that all-time vulgarizer of the faith.
Speaking truth to power and money is certainly a dying tradition among American journalists. Yet the best journalists rip into their subjects. And Bashir provided plenty corrective feedback to the indulged mega-star. "I'm Peter Pan," Jackson dulcetly intoned. "No you're not; you are Michael Jackson," came Bashir's firm reply. "I let children sleep in my bed not in a sexual way ("It's a warmth thing," joked comedian Jon Stewart), but as a way to heal and spread love," Jackson minced, clasping the hairy hand of his very well-developed 12-year-old companion. "You're a 44-year-old man," winced Bashir, offering that he would not want any adult man in bed with his own kids.
Jackson wailed to Bashir about Joe Jackson. Daddy had spanked him and made him feel unloved. Joe was evidently an old-fashioned, therapeutically unenlightened African-American father. He provided his children with an intact family and a wicked work ethic. Proponents of firm discipline, Joe and Katherine Jackson believed individuals as gifted as their kids should be made to realize their potential. Woe is me and what were they thinking?
Povich's contribution is to reveal that bad Bashir failed to air Jackson's afterthought about his old man's genius: When Jackson was through sullying his father, he did offer a weak compliment about the man's intelligence. Perhaps Bashir simply thought that Jackson commenting on intelligence was almost as incredible as Jackson claiming to have conceived his children the old-fashioned fun way, another "truth" Bashir was accused of leaving out.
Did Bashir suck up to the narcissistic star? To get to the guts of a story, a journalist may have to flatter the subject whose entrails he is examining. Jackson gave his consent to the operation, but expected to control the outcomes. It doesn't work that way in the adult world, Peter Pan.
The Fox/Povich production goes one better than Judith Krantz's kitsch with the "candid" confession of Debbie Rowe, Jackson's ex-wife. The lighting is soft, the background music corny, as Debby tells how she did Michael; the kids, apparently, are the "ultimate love children." Michael is shown propped up on a pillow like a little Chihuahua or a Pekinese pooch on show, his concave face turned away from the camera.
No amount of patchwork by Povich can change that Jackson's kids were bred for his benefit. "Debbie did it for me," Jackson boasted. The kids don't have their own distinct names. The King handed down to them the tickets, "Prince Michael I and II." This fits with the disturbing picture Bashir let emerge.
By becoming part of the life of this shallow, vain individual, whose delusions go unchecked, Bashir pieced together the corrosive core: Michael's kids say they have no mother. Debbie Rowe says the kids were her gift to "a good friend." Bashir didn't have to say much. He delivered the real deal: Like so many freaks, Jackson uses children for his own emotional gratification.
©By ILANA MERCER
February 26, 2003