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Critique of Global Media Coverage

Aired June 18, 2005 - 21:00:00   ET


WALTER RODGERS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Walter Rodgers in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories of the moment.
We begin this week with coverage of the Michael Jackson acquittal. It was on the edge of your seat television. Would a jury convict the pop star of child molestation, settle for a split verdict or clear Jackson altogether?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We find the defendant not guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You cannot argue with that. Michael is innocent.


RODGERS: 30 million people watched the decision come down in the United States. Many others around the world. And as you know by now, Jackson was cleared of all charges. But how did the media fare? Did they play judge and jury?

To discuss this further, I'm joined by Howard Kurtz of the "Washington Post" and anchor of CNN's "Reliable Sources." And, in New York, CourtTV anchor Lisa Bloom. And here in London is Hannah Perry, news editor of "Heat" magazine.

Howard, it seemed that Michael Jackson got a fair trial. Did the media, however, give him a fair trial?

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN HOST: Probably not, Walter.

A lot of talking heads, legal analysts and others, convicted Jackson before the jury heard any evidence, and even after the acquittal I've heard a lot of people on television saying, well, he got off, he beat the rap, he's moonwalking to freedom, but we all know he's guilty, right. So the media have done a lot of damage to his reputation and understandably, there was a lot of evidence here, but we all have to remember in these trials that you've got to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt -- that's the U.S. standard. But the media seem to operate by a different standard.

RODGERS: All right, Howard.

Lisa, do you want to join the battle?

LISA BLOOM, COURTTV ANCHOR: Well, I do. I'm one of those legal analysts, perhaps, that Howard is criticizing, and I was on the air hundreds of hours, on CourtTV and on ABC News, debating the merits of the case. I was generally on the prosecution side. But there was always one or two or three defense attorneys on the other side arguing the merits.

You know, on American television we have people who are commentators, who put their opinions out there. That's what I do for a living. That's what many others do for a living. We also have reports who are unbiased and just give the facts.

But I certainly never said on the air that Michael Jackson was guilty, that he was a pedophile, that he was a child molester. I would say that I thought the prosecution had enough evidence to give to the jury. I thought the defense made many very strong points as well. And so I think in depth reporting that includes opinion is acceptable, is appropriate, and I don't think it crossed the line.

RODGERS: But should there be a presumption of innocence?

BLOOM: Yes, of course there should be. And there is. And I said that many times.

I think Americans are well aware there is a presumption of innocence. But if I'm asked on the air, for example, as a former child sexual abuse attorney, do I think the prosecution has a strong case, and I say there is an eye witness, there are prior acts, there is Michael Jackson admitting on tape that he enjoys sharing his bed with boys, and if that made this case stronger than many others, I'm just speaking the facts that I know.

RODGERS: Hannah Perry, here in London, enormous coverage of Michael Jackson in the United Kingdom. Was it evenhanded? Was it judicious? Was he given a presumption of innocence over here?

HANNAH PERRY, "HEAT": I think it's very much you're innocent until proven guilty. I mean, we all think that over here. We all have to go by that. But, obviously, some of the papers saw Michael Jackson as a meal ticket for their front page on several occasions with headlines like "Wacko Jacko" and the rest of it.

I mean, nobody knows. He's now been proven innocent and we all have to believe that, but that doesn't stop the thousands of words that went into copy, sort of people believing whatever they believe, you know, beforehand.

RODGERS: Howard, what was the most egregious thing you saw in the coverage of the Michael Jackson trial?

KURTZ: The thing that drove me absolutely crazy was in the 45 minutes before the verdict was announced, once we knew there would be a verdict, a lot of these legal experts came on and made predictions about what the jury was going to do, including several very prominent attorneys, Robert Shapiro, who was O.J. Simpson's lawyer in that celebrated criminal case, saying that Michael Jackson would definitely be convicted.

So we kind of treated it like a basketball game. All we've got to do is wait another 40 minutes and we would all find out. Now, obviously, there were people on both sides in the legal community, whether it's Lisa Bloom talking about the strength of the prosecution's case or defense lawyers focusing on the Jackson defense, but there were also a lot of anchors in television who took the position, or at least strongly implied that Jackson was guilty. And, again, I think the presumption of innocence is a nice legal term, but it often is trampled upon, shall we say, in the media coverage.

RODGERS: Lisa, do you pontificators have egg on your face now?

BLOOM: No, I don't think we do. And, by the way, I do agree with Howard, that it is inappropriate to predict. I was asked many times on the air on many networks to predict the outcome. I always said, like Yogi Berra, I don't like to make predictions, especially about the future, and I think it is inappropriate. It trivializes a criminal case to be calling the outcome like a basketball game.

And, you know, to say we're pontificators, in this country we have the First Amendment. The viewers like to hear people's opinions, and I think as long as people do that in a way that is respectful to both sides, there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think it serves a valuable public service, for people to hear both sides of an issue.

RODGERS: Yes, but you did in fact, Lisa, have pontificators saying there is no doubt there's going to be a conviction here. Now, come on, that's not cricket.

BLOOM: Well, if somebody said that, that was very foolish, and I don't think that very many people said that.

People did try to call the case. Obviously there was speculating. And, look, I agree that that is wrong. I have never taken the bait to do that on any case because I have too much respect for the system to do that. And, by the way, I will also say that on my show on CourtTV I had four of the jurors on the day after the verdict. I had a great deal of respect for them. They called the case as they saw it. They didn't think the case was there beyond a reasonable doubt.

I then had people on my show that said that they were dumb, and I thought that was inappropriate and I called them on that. You can't call somebody dumb just because you disagree with them. I think even when we disagree with the outcome of a jury verdict, we have to very much respect the system.

RODGERS: So the system worked well there.

Hannah, let me ask you this. What did the media do well in its coverage of the Michael Jackson trial?

PERRY: Well, they just covered every single aspect of it. I mean it was there right from the beginning, right through the end. Everybody was on their seats when those verdicts came through. They just couldn't believe it.

You know, there were sort of news breakouts coming out. You know, next verdict. Next verdict. We were all on the edge of our seats waiting. And then, of course, the papers the next day, across the front pages.

RODGERS: Why did the British lap up the Michael Jackson trial?

PERRY: Michael Jackson is just huge. I mean, Michael Jackson, just say he went to prison. I mean, what would that mean? It would just go crazy. I don't think anyone could really believe that this guy was in court. We still feel quite away from it.

RODGERS: Howard --

KURTZ: Well, on this side of the Atlantic, Walt, I don't think everybody was on the edge of their seats. I mean, clearly, this is one of the most famous people ever to be tried, but there was something about the case, obviously the sexual nature, sort of what I would call the ick factor here. There was a lot of interest in this, sure, but I don't think it ever reached the proportions of the O.J. case. I didn't hear lots of people furiously debating the verdict the next day. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I think the media were a lot more interested in this case than some Americans were.

RODGERS: Do you think --

BLOOM: I don't know. You know, on CourtTV we got our highest ratings in ever, in our history, for the Michael Jackson verdict.

RODGERS: A jury of his peers acquitted Michael Jackson. Do you think he's been destroyed as a celebrity, as a star? How does he emerge from this trial even with the acquittal -- Howard?

KURTZ: Well, you know, in an age of comebacks, Martha Stewart being the latest and most prominent example, I don't think Michael Jackson is ever going to become the musical force that he once was. His career was in decline even before this case. But, you know, he can go on tour, he can write a book, he can go talk to Larry King and there will be a lot of interest because he's been somebody that we all watched grow up.

Again, I think he -- there was so much evidence here about sleeping in bed with young boys that even if you don't buy the acquittal, I think clearly he's been tarnished, but there seem to be second, third and fourth acts in America.

RODGERS: Lisa, how did he, Michael Jackson, emerge from the trial?

BLOOM: Well, you know, Walt, it's ironic because this case was born out of an interview that Jackson did with a British journalist, Martin Bashir, where he said on tape that he enjoys sharing his bed with little boys so he could share the love with him. Ultimately, to blame the media for the words out of Jackson's own mouth that caused the hubbub that led to this trial I think is disingenuous. I don't think the media is to blame here. It's Jackson himself who has got to clean up his act and now and move on with his life.

RODGERS: Hannah, how did he emerge?

PERRY: Well, I think not very well, really. As Howard said, there is a certain amount of ick factor here, and I just think that people want to stay away from it. I don't know how he can turn his career around now. I don't see how he's got a career. He can talk about it. He can go on the TV and talk about it, but, you know, I don't think people want to hear about it anymore. I think the trial is done, it's over, and I just do not know where he can go with this.

RODGERS: Great discussion. Howard, Lisa, Hannah, thanks so very, very much.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, Britain versus France. How is the press handling the latest big chill?

We'll return after a short break.


RODGERS: Welcome back.

Britain and France. It's been grin and bear it time at the E.U. summit in Brussels. Just last year Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac celebrated 100 years of peace, the Entente Cordial between their two countries. But now the entente seems anything but cordial.

The relationship's fractious condition is getting much media attention.

Joining me now, Christian Roudaut, Radio France foreign reporter, and Dan Altman, the "International Herald Tribune's" global economics correspondent.

Gentlemen, in the run up to this meeting this past week between the two leaders, it reminded me of the days when the British tabloids used to run advertisements for who could tell the best anti-French joke here in Britain.

Christian, why did it get so contentious?

CHRISTIAN ROUDAUT, RADIO FRANCE: To start with, I think that French bashing here in this country is almost like a national sport. If you can read the tabloids, like the "Sun," I mean, they can write some vicious and nasty lines about the French.

I don't know. There is a kind of obsession with France in Britain that you won't find in France or in the French press.

RODGERS: Is this clash between Chirac and Tony Blair deeply personal? Do they dislike each other?

ROUDAUT: I think they do. At the beginning, I mean, it was quite as the beginning of a love story. They liked each other quite a lot. But it started to turn nasty again about agriculture in 2002, when Mr. Chirac famously said, "You've been rude with me. I've never been spoken to like that." Which was quite rich for him to say that because he had been even ruder to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. I will not repeat what he said, but even the translator was so embarrassed that he didn't want to translate what Mr. Chirac said to Ms. Thatcher.

RODGERS: Dan, is this good sport or is there a more fundamental problem here, something much deeper?

DAN ALTMAN, "INTL. HERALD TRIBUNE": Well, it doesn't take much to get some French bashing going here, just as it didn't in the United States a couple of years ago. There is plenty of people who would love to say well, we've bailed you out twice and what have you ever done for us.

However, I think that it is more of a sideshow in terms of the substantive issues. The tabloids aren't even covering the rowing in Brussels over the E.U. budget at this point and I think the issues which are really at the core of this are at much greater importance or much greater awareness in France then they are here in the United Kingdom.

RODGERS: But we are seeing a resurfacing of an angry scar, the deep rivalry between two once-great nations, are we not -- Dan.

ALTMAN: I think that's right, and I think we're also seeing a little bit of an angry rivalry between two once-great politicians. They're both trying to give a little burnish to their legacy in what may be the last couple of years that they hold onto power.

RODGERS: This is a very complicated story, what's happening at the E.U. Do you expect the public to really understand rebates on agricultural policy? Or is this the reason we're seeing the media revert to this kind of cross-channel sniping at each other, because it can't really explain to the public the story well enough, so they just snipe at each other.

ROUDAUT: No, I don't think that's true. I think that especially the French farmers, they know perfectly well what it is about at the moment, what we are talking about, because it's a question of willing to reduce agricultural subsidies. So, I mean, the French farmers are very aware of what is going on in Brussels.

But I think that at the moment what is interesting is it is deeper than just this question of cap. You've got two men who have got a very different view of what Europe is about. Tony Blair would like more flexible kind of Europe, more flexible union, more liberal. And Jacques Chirac would prefer a more social, if you want, social European Union. And we are at the moment at a crossroad, but I'm afraid at the moment the direction shown by Chirac is not the one that the people in Europe want to follow.

RODGERS: Dan, what does this say about the concept of European unity to you as an American journalist here who can take a dispassionate view of it?

ALTMAN: Well, back when the Maastricht Treaty was being considered, the one that's given us the European Union that we have now, there was some worry that the core nations, Germany, France, the Benelux nations, would strive ahead and they would leave countries like the U.K. and Italy and Spain in the dust by forging a very close union.

But now there is a complete turnabout because we see countries like the United Kingdom accusing Germany and France of being mired in the past. And I think that there is really a crisis here in terms of where we see Europe going.

The big problem for me is nobody is offering a constructive vision. They're just grabbing at what they want, they're grabbing at things that have been promised to them. No one is looking towards the future to say how can we make a fair system.

RODGERS: Christian, I have one last question for you. Is it possible we will now see the Europe Union shrink to simply a free trade zone, as former (INAUDIBLE) Counselor Helmut Schmidt said was possible?

ROUDAUT: It's still a possibility. I don't think that's the project of Mr. Blair, for instance. I thing he wants to carry on with more integrated union, but not in the same way as the French would like. But I would say a mild Europe, not as strongly integrated as it was before. I think that's the tendency at the moment, especially with the newest member states.

RODGERS: Two European leaders nipping -- two European lame ducks nipping at each other's tail feathers.

Christian, Dan, thanks very, very much.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, stunt journalism, effective investigation or an invasion of privacy?

We'll be right back.


RODGERS: Welcome back.

A royal headache or a royal favor?

The "Sun" newspaper says it smuggled what looks like a bomb so close to Britain's Prince Harry, they say they could have blown him to bits at the Sandhurst Military Academy 50 kilometers south of London. The stunt follows several recent lapses in royal security, but is this kind of journalism in the public interest? Or is it a dangerous game?

To discuss this further I'm joined by Robert Jobson of the "Evening Standard," and Kim Fletcher, editorial director of the "Telegraph" group.

Kim, legitimate journalism?

KIM FLETCHER, "TELEGRAPH" GROUP: I think it's interesting to the public. I don't think it's necessarily in the public interest. The thing that fascinated me about this one is that Rupert Murdoch, the man who owns the "Sun," was visiting London. So that was a very good time, if you're the editor of the "Sun," to come up with a stunt that everyone was talking about.

RODGERS: But it did seem to expose some security flaws at Sandhurst.

FLETCHER: Sandhurst is a huge area of land. The prince has gone into the army. He is going to be exposed to risk. The prince goes out in London pubs. You know, that's quite a risky thing to do if you're a young man in a London pub. I think everyone got very overexcited about this.

RODGERS: Bob, are there risks to this kind of expose? Risks to the royal family? You cover the royals.

ROBERT JOBSON, "EVENING STANDARD": I do. I think there's more risk for the journalist. I think the very fact of going on a military base, whatever level of importance that is to the base. You know, he could have easily got shot. I think we've had enough of these exposes, personally. I think when we have Ryan Perry (ph), who (INAUDIBLE) at Buckingham Palace just before Bush's visit, and that stung the "Sun," that really hurt them. So we've had a couple of stunts since, when they went into Windsor Castle (INAUDIBLE) the fake bomb. And now this military base of Sandhurst, no matter what level it is at, I think it's a very dangerous game.

Yes, it exposed some degree of security lapses. There is no doubt about that. But the truth of the matter is, I think if he carries on like this, a journalist is going to get shot and a few executives heads will roll.

RODGERS: But Graham Dudman, the managing editor of the "Sun," says he's performing a public service. Do you disagree?

JOBSON: I know Graham quite well. I think Graham's got a point. I think yes, no doubt, this has exposed lapses in security and the queen is visiting there next week, and obviously there are lapses. But there again, I think it is more to do with the time of year. There is not much news around. And I think that they were trying to generate a situation rather than -- you know, they were generating the news rather than reporting the news.

RODGERS: How do you think, Kim, Rupert Murdoch views all of this?

FLETCHER: I would think he'd be delighted. He comes into town and everyone is talking about the "Sun." The astonishing thing for me, too, is how the government reacted, how John Reed (ph), who runs the armed services, and instead of saying well, actually, this isn't very important, he immediately says we'll have a report into this, thank you very much for this to he "Sun." You have this terrible sycophancy from politicians towards the popular press now because they don't want to get on the wrong side of them.

RODGERS: Well, would the "Telegraph" put a reporter in such a position, compromising him?

FLETCHER: We tend not to. In fact, after the recent trouble on airlines, we made it clear we didn't want journalists going around trying to smuggle knives onto planes or anything of that sort, because we think, you know, our job is actually to report what's going on, not to try to create news.

RODGERS: Is there a dignity issue in this? Is it beneath a reporter's dignity to do this sort of thing?

FLETCHER: I don't think journalists have got much dignity, insofar as they've got any. It's slightly below dignity, I guess.


JOBSON: Kim's got a point. Honestly, on this particular instance, I think it's more to do with generating publicity for the "Sun" newspaper rather than really seriously actually being a major, major story. The truth is, also, that there is now a row over the authenticity of the video that was shot. They're now saying it's not Prince Harry in the video footage, which is all a bit of a silly row, really.

RODGERS: Let me ask you this, philosophically, this concept, and other papers have done this sort of stunt, if you will. The "Daily Mirror" has done this sort of thing. Are they creating news and is that a journalist's job -- Kim.

FLETCHER: Well, I think it is a journalist's job now, because newspapers are having to look for all sorts of ways in which they can sell newspapers, and it's not enough anymore, certainly in this country, in Britain, the newspapers just to report the news. They certainly regard their function as to create news.


JOBSON: I don't think so. I mean, I think if a story is good enough, then the newspapers will sell it. I mean, I broke the story in the "Standard," Charles and Camilla to get married. We put on 30 percent on (INAUDIBLE), and that was a genuine story, it was a real story, it was a historic story. This is a flash in the pan. It's editors sitting around a coffee table, you know, beforehand, saying what can we do next to sell some newspapers.

But I would say, on a serious note, it's dangerous, too, because if you're going to do this sort of thing, you've got to be quite prepared that your journalist is either arrested or worse. In an instant like this, if they felt it was appropriate, he could get shot. He's wandering around with this fake bomb. Well, if you've got a trigger-happy young MOD policeman, the Mod Clods as they're called over here sometimes, they're not particularly the brightest sparks, you know. Some of them might just fire at him. He's dead and you've got a lot of embarrassed executives.

RODGERS: Kim, just one last question to you. Do you think that this demonstrates the royal family as particularly vulnerable to potential terrorist assassination?

FLETCHER: No, I think it demonstrates the royal family as vulnerable to press scams.

RODGERS: Gentlemen, Bob, Kim, thank you very, very much.

That's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next time for another look at how the media are handling the big issues.

I'm Walter Rodgers, thanks for joining us.



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