A bunch of dead people laid outside of my 12:30 class yesterday. Pretend dead people. I wondered, briefly, if they were pretending to be dead little boys. Probably not.
‘Copters circled the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport, awaiting Michael Jackson’s return from Las Vegas. He was shooting some sort of music video for a special on CBS that got canceled once the press made charges of molestation official.
Tuesday, the assistant county editor and I drove up to Neverland after hearing that law enforcement officials were combing Jackson’s ranch.
I brought along a friend’s copy of Jackson’s 1979 album “Off the Wall” for the ride up. Don’t stop ’til you get enough, Jackson squeals on the first track. I shake my head. Oh Michael, you should’ve stopped. The superb bass lines and urging high-hats remind me of the visionary that Jackson once was; these over two-decades-old songs have all the elements of great techno today. Where did he go wrong?
We drove through Solvang into Los Olivos to the command center the police had set up to ask the public information officer a few questions. There were two television news broadcasters, some guy from the radio and a handful of print journalists. News vans, some with satellite dishes sticking 20 feet into the air, were parked in orderly rows.
“There will be a press conference tomorrow morning at 11 at the Earl Warren Showgrounds,” said the PIO, and little else. Everybody pressed him for more information, some with news cameras behind them. No chance.
We decided to proceed to the gates of Neverland.
The phrase “media circus” took on new meaning. News vans, with their satellite dishes and floodlights, lined both sides of about a quarter-mile of the small country road Jackson lives off, centered at the gates to Neverland. There were literally hundreds of press monkeys. There was even a news crew from a German TV station. Cameramen leapt into action any time the gates opened, usually to let a cop car or three out. Media folk were pacing nervously everywhere. I saw two or three live news broadcasts. We got yelled at by one.
“Flashes aren’t helpful when we’re broadcasting live!” A short blonde woman was berating the assistant county editor for directing the flash on his camera her way.
“I’m very sorry, I thought the flash was off.” She stared us down. He looked at me, incredulous. “She’s complaining about flashes?”
So hordes of gossip purveyors can hover outside Jackson’s house, floodlights trained on his gate, satellite dishes poking into the sky creating some sort of crazy electronic forest, speculating about what he may or may not have done – but to have a single flash go off in the face of the paparazzi is wrong.
Madness. The story suddenly shifted focus for us. There isn’t any news on M.J. There’s just a mob of vultures swarming the small town of Los Olivos.
I decided to ask the press about the sensibility – or pure sensationalism – of their actions. None of them would talk to me.
I approached a middle-aged man who looked like he’d be going on TV later.
“Excuse me, I’m busy right now.” Walked right past me before I could get two words out. This punk obviously had nothing to do for the next few hours. He’s just killing time until the 11 o’clock broadcast, four hours away.
Nothing was working out at the gates of Neverland, invaded by the world of adults. Something about that just didn’t sit well.
We decided to head into town to ask the locals about the media invasion. In a small deli, a man called them jackals and said they were causing more trouble than M.J. He didn’t want us to quote him, though. I felt for him. We continued to hotels to ask about the influx of customers. They never seemed to grasp that we weren’t asking about Jackson, but about the media mob. Whatever.
One woman said the press turned the U.S. promise of “innocent until proven guilty” into “guilty until proven innocent.” She seemed excited about the possibility of being quoted.
Cory Anthony is a Daily Nexus Opinion editor.