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Home > Media

Journojism: Bashing Bashir

17 June 2005

As Michael Jackson walks free, so is the can of legal whoop-ass reopened in the face of journalist Martin Bashir. Legal action against Bashir and Granada Television for breach of confidence was suspended during the trial, but may now be taken up again. As well as this, Bashir may be facing contempt of court charges for being so utterly useless and taciturn when called to give evidence. No stranger to the journalist-becomes-the-story scenario, he may soon have to lie back and think of the book deal.

Whatever you think of Jackson, it's hard to justify the kitten-kicking safari of sensationalism that was 'Living With Michael Jackson', the ITV documentary that marked the start of the whole mess. The New York Times accused Bashir at the time of 'callous self-interest masked as sympathy', and it's hard to come up with a better summation, although something about the kind of unctuousness you could deep-fry chips in would set it off nicely.

It's not so much his comprehensive dicing of an already finely-chopped individual, or his craven inability to face up to the implications of his own work in court, but his denting of the already tarnished trophy of journalistic integrity. Journalists are under enormous pressure to secure stories, to gather actual news, but given a little rope and a bit of a budget many of them will agree that it's better to gain the trust of your subject in order to get the best from them - bullying and doorstepping gets results, but only up to a point. Subsequently, the golden goose gets a bit constipated.

Journalists, of course, have a job to do. They are not your friend. They will get you on side, and then they may very well do you. They may pretend to know what 'off-the-record' is and then oops, un-know it. It happens, it goes with the territory, and no one is pretending that it's a good idea tostop being wary of journalists if you're famous or potentially famous. But somehow Bashir did such a number on Jackson, sucking up to him with such pigletish fervour before dismembering him with such butcherly ferocity, that his journalistic conduct was as shocking as he intended the documentary to be. Purportedly a serious programme-maker, he succumbed with Faustian gusto to the lure of tabloid hysteria-mongering. It does journos scrabbling to maintain integrity in the face of ruthless competition no good for the world to see Bashir as an avatar of their trade, just as it does victims of child abuse no good to have the manipulated Gavin Arvizo as a representative.

Bashir can't be happy right now, but the day of the verdict wasn't an especially good day for anyone, except the defence team and the ecstatic fans who use Jackson to opt out of reality in much the same way the singer uses children. Nutty, exploitative mother Janet Arvizo will be fucking off home to seethe, and be harassed, and somehow deal with it. Gavin Arvizo has even more to deal with, most notably that he has a deranged crazyperson for a carer. Prosecutor Tom Sneddon will be retiring in ignominy and disappointment. The bloke who played Jackson in the hilarious Sky reconstructions will be anxiously scanning the job pages.

And Jackson himself will be returning to his big empty house with nothing much at all to look forward to but the thought of a nice MTV tribute when he dies, thin and spent, in a heap of teddy bears and Grammys and tasteful coffee-tablebooks with just one or two naked boys in them. But at least then the Sky guy will get work again, so it's not all bad.



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