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Michael Jackson, the congressman and his Kinsley gaffe

Posted by padams under All, Media Commentary

Paul Adams

The brilliant American journalist and commentator Michael Kinsley once called attention to what later came to be known as a Kinsley gaffe. This is when a politician commits a gaffe by inadvertently telling the truth.

Did Peter King, the conservative Republican congressman commit such a gaffe when he commented on the media’s “orgy” of Michael Jackson coverage? King referred to Jackson as a “pedophile” and a “pervert”, and said more attention should be paid to firefighters, police officers, and soldiers in Afghanistan that to the self-styled King of Pop, whose personal behaviour was infamous and shameful.

I think he came close. There does seem to have been a willful refusal by the media to balance their wall-to-wall coverage of his stardom with an open acknowledgement of his extremely troubling pattern with regard to young boys. In almost every other context, the sexual exploitation of children has been elevated by the media and society more generally to the highest of crimes. Jackson, true, was found not guilty in his one trial for such behaviour, but remember also that a previous criminal case fell apart after Jackson reached a $20 million settlement in a civil case which resulted in the boy himself clamming up to authorities.

Gosh, Jackson’s own sister publicly denounced him for his relationship with boys (not children, as media reports often have it, but almost exclusively boys).

For some reason, the allegations of Jackson’s illicit drug use are fair game — the subject of extended coverage — while the equally well established pattern of improper relations with boys is glossed over euphemistically when it is mentioned at all.

Representative King’s aggressive tackling of the Jackson’s all-but-overt pedophilia triggered a defensive reaction in the entertainment media. Even CNN treated the story as if it was covering another outrageous Fox-News type claim by a right-wing screwball.

As I write, 16 channels on my TV are airing the Jackson memorial live, hour after hour of it, with barely a word of critical commentary — and this includes the BBC. If this isn’t a media orgy, and an uncritical one at that, I don’t know what is.

Jackson may be the most lamented pedophile since Socrates. Judging by today’s coverage his cultural contributions have been much, much larger.

The one way in which Rep. King’s comments may fall short of the classic Kinsley gaffe is the issue of whether they were indeed inadvertent. King, who after the furore caused by his initial remarks said he would not comment further on the day of the Jackson memorial out of respect for the dead, may have intended to create a stir, but maybe just not as big a stir as he eventually did, according to the Washington Post.

Paul Adams teaches journalism at Carleton