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From the Field
Michael Jackson: The Fans and the Media
By Hal Eisner

They came from such faraway places as Germany, England, Denmark and Japan. They came to California not to walk it's beautiful beaches, to gaze on the Pacific Ocean or to stroll down Rodeo Drive. They flew thousands of miles and paid hundreds of dollars not to spend a day at Disneyland, travel through the wine country, tour Universal Studios or make their way to San Francisco. They came here from countries like Ireland, France, The Netherlands and Scotland to go to Santa Maria and Los Olivos.

The Chamber of Commerce in Santa Maria proudly boasts of the many things to see in this part of Central California, but the hundreds of people who came here during the last week of April were not here to see the sites, but one of the region's biggest celebrities.

Michael Jackson lives at the sprawling 2,774 acre Neverland Ranch. That's in the area known as Los Olivos which is, according to freeway signs along the 101 North, about 39 miles south of Santa Maria. On Jackson's street, Figueroa Mountain Road, the only sign of Neverland is it's large gates. But, on Thursday night April 29th 2004, it was the gates of Neverland that Jackson fans used as the backdrop for their pro-Jackson candlelight vigil.

If you missed the coverage, there were about a hundred fans who made it out for the demonstration. They had signs proclaiming Jackson's innocence, played Jackson music, read poetry, lit candles, a couple of guys had "Free Michael" t-shirts … that sort of thing.

I spent a lot of time there on Thursday. I also spent a lot of time there in January. That was the first time Michael Jackson was arraigned on charges related to this latest case against him. Similarly, at that time there was also a candlelight vigil for Jackson by fans who also showed up at the courthouse.

This time there were fewer fans. This time fewer at the ranch and a lot fewer at the courthouse. And, this time I noticed something different about the fans that were there. Off camera, they were friendly. At least some were. But, ask them to go on-camera and they'd get very serious, standoffish and turn you down! Many of them had a real mistrust of media. Actually, that's putting it mildly. They couldn't stand us!

They wanted our cameras to show them supporting Michael Jackson. But, to them journalists were simply not to be trusted. "Why don't they ever say nice things about all of the charitable tings Michael Jackson does?" They asked."He gives a lot of money? He helps a lot of people?" No argument there. But, on this occasion, that's not what brought us to them, and them to the United States. This international gathering was because of some very serious charges filed against the 45 year old singer.

But, let's stick to the dynamics between the fans and the media. Whether at Neverland or the courthouse, there are two kinds of fans. Those willing to talk with reporters.Those who didn't want to be interviewed. That last group included some who in January had no problems talking up their merits of Michael in front of the cameras. This time, though, they weren't interested in sharing their thoughts and they weren't shy about telling me why. Using a broad brush, they painted journalists as people who are out to get Michael Jackson, who twist their words and take them out of context. Believe me, if I heard that said once I heard it twenty times. No matter what I said to defend our profession, they wouldn't budge. It was as if someone had schooled them in what to say. I'm not suggesting that, but from reading Jackson's website, I am aware that fans at a recent demonstration in the U.K. passed out leaflets saying such things "Don't be brainwashed by the media."

Overall, those who are critical, paint those of us in the media, as people who lie, who make up things to sell newspapers and attract viewers to television and listeners to radio. That's not to say all fans have taken that position. They have not. There are plenty to interview. Plenty to talk about how Michael Jackson can't possibly have done what the Santa Barbara County District Attorney is alleging. But, those anti-media ones are a tough crowd. They seem to be made up mostly of fans from other countries although there were plenty from the USA. I remember one woman from Pasadena, California wearing a button that read "Guilty - Media!" And, to avoid broad-brushing myself here, let me just say that I thought all of the Jackson fans I met, whether from this country or overseas, were interesting, articulate and passionate. But, let there be no doubt that the media snub was clear, real and intentional. Many reporters commented on it both at Neverland and at the courthouse.

I will tell you that many of the people who chose not to talk to the media for attribution were really nice folks. We had some great conversations. And, since they were private conversations I'll leave them at that.

I respected their feelings not to speak publicly. That's their choice. All a reporter can and should do is ask. But, as I was confronting these obstacles I was struck by an interesting thought. One I ultimately asked a number of the anti-media types. "If Michael Jackson's gagged by the court. If Jackson's attorney is gagged by the court.If you, the fans, gag yourself? Who is going to speak for Michael Jackson? Aren't you tilting the balance you believe the media is not providing?" Interesting, they all agreed that's exactly what they were doing. Did it change their posture? No. Did they suddenly decide to talk? No. To them their presence was enough to show Michael Jackson is not alone. Clearly, he was not. But, just a thought from a guy who has been around the block a few times.To those who feel a picture says it all -- true, a picture can say a thousand words, but there is also great power in the spoken word and it may take a few to give that picture context and perspective.

About the Author
Hal is a reporter for FOX's two Los Angeles television stations KCOP UPN13 and KTTV FOX11. He's also very active in the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, The Associated Press Television Radio Association of California and Nevada and has been a television reporter in Los Angeles for 23 years. As always, he is accessible at