The unprecedented media coverage of the past two weeks would suggest that America has lost a statesman, someone whose stature would surely rate favorably with that of Franklin or Jefferson. Failing that, a hero like Audie Murphy or George Washington. Surely, at the very least, a change agent on par with Ghandi.
But no, it's devoted to someone else entirely.
An accused pedophile.
So discomforted by his race that he did everything humanly possible to disguise it, Michael Jackson’s astounding popularity with segments of the black community is something that is still a source of confusion for me. (Yes, recent news items have explained that he bleached his skin because of the pigment destroying disease vitiligo, but that still doesn’t explain the nose.)
But even that pales—no epidermal pun intended—in comparison to the collective obsession we now see of this boy-man, a predator responsible for violating the most sacred trust given a person, the trust given freely and without suspicion by a child.
While many have little doubt as to Jackson’s culpability for the myriad allegations made against him, the absence of a formal conviction keeps them from making formal assertions. It is just as well.
Because those who do take Mr. Jackson to task for incontrovertible facts—little things such as giving pubescent boys alcohol, showing them pornography, exposing his genitalia to them, and silencing their accusations with millions in hush money—are met with obligatory accusations of being “haters” or “racists.”
Watch this video of Rep. Peter King (R-NY)
Now got to this blog, which crucifies King for saying what a lot of us are thinking.
In lamenting the time and energy the news media has committed to celebrating Michael Jackson’s life, I suppose I run the same risk.
Absent stories of babies hung over balconies, monkeys as companions, the elephant man’s bones, "Jesus Juice" and other Wacko Jacko incidents, Michael Jackson’s popularity would be wholly understandable. Just as inarguable as the more sordid aspects of his life and neurosis are his legacies of prodigious charity and musical genius. And given his degree of seemingly universal adulation and surfeit of riches, there is little doubt that MJ could have lived to at least 100 if he so desired, and done so in style.
But the zeal with which he undermined such possibilities through suspect lifestyle practices—the likes of which make Freudian shrinks drool—is hardly something worth celebrating.
For the moment, the King of Pop reigns over all.
And that’s to be expected.
Entertainment is supposed to be something pleasantly distracting from the rigors of daily life, something with all the sweetness and substance of cotton candy.
But when entertainment and its perpetrators monopolize other media, it speaks to a skewed sense of priorities.
On the evening of Harry Truman’s passing, CBS News accorded the former president’s legacy a mere 90 seconds with little acknowledgment of the Herculean challenges he successfully faced. Yet as I type, fully over half of my local network affiliates’ news hours were devoted to stories related to Jackson. And it’s 11 days after he passed.
Day by day and for hours on end, MJ continues to be the subject of scrutiny and fanfare. Speculations as to cause of death, future of his estate, clueless insensitivity of his father, costs to a bankrupt city and state for memorial security, and other MJ-related fodder continue to dominate the news.
Clearly, even though he was a talented musician, singer, dancer, and performer, Jackson’s passing and the nation’s reaction to it is another example of our subverted priorities.
Now here’s an example of someone who should be memorialized with every honor this country can give instead of MJ.
A father of five, Dep. Shane Tate was neither rich, nor famous, nor an accused pedophile. He was simply a cop doing his best to protect the citizens of Grundy County, Tenn. His compensation was $10.50 an hour.
On June 5, 2008, Dep. Tate attempted to arrest a probation violator. For his efforts, he was shot to death by the suspect.
But there would be no national period of mourning for Shane Tate. No congressional resolutions. No star-studded retinue in his wake.
It is doubtful that any of the five children he left behind will be the source for such anxious hand-wringing over what shall become of them. I doubt many wonder what will become of Shane Tate’s meager estate. Such concerns are reserved for MJ’s kids, who will no doubt be well cared for.
Nor is Shane Tate’s tragedy as unique as MJ’s. Many cops like Shane Tate can be found working as deputies in unincorporated areas across the country, typically making a fraction of what state troopers and city police officers earn and often lacking health insurance or other benefits. These rural centurions have to hope and pray they get through their shifts and home safely at the end of the day. For some like Shane Tate, their prayers go unanswered.
Whether or not MJ’s fans consider Shane Tate a hero—as I do—he is certainly worthy of being remembered. But for the country at large, his passing remains but a blip on the radar.
Speaking to this curious phenomenon of pernicious apathy, former Tennessee Sheriff's Association President Terry Ashe noted, "We beat our chests about soldiers, but we don't do that for the people who protect you every day. These men and women are risking their lives."
The danger he alludes to is very real. It is an inherent intrigue of the job, and renders our profession prime fodder for dramatic entertainment. It is why so many television series—part of the entertainment industry’s life blood—are oriented around law and order.
But just because we’re on their radar doesn’t mean that they love us.
Certainly, not as much as they do men who expose themselves to children.