Reality Media, Michael Jackson, Bush and Iraq

He said “getting the job done,” my friend complained, referring to George W. Bush’s “determination” to keep a US presence in Iraq. “That pisses me off,” he said. “He’s never had a real job in his life and he hasn’t defined this job. He swore he wouldn’t undertake nation building. If he’s combating terrorism, he won’t finish that job. Or did some speech writers figure out that cliches like that set the stage for this piece of flotsam’s re-election bid?”

What do you really think of him, I asked?

“Bush is an insert,” he replied, “a reappearing figure in photo ops. He’s standing beside Queen Elizabeth, playing dress up in a jump suit on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and hugging a woman whose home has burned down in the California fires. His handlers have spun him as the positive equivalent of Michael Jackson in handcuffs or OJ Simpson driving his Bronco on the LA freeways. The White House manipulators have integrated his media persona–does he have a political one? –into the hideous world of gossip. This has nothing to do with politics. It’s meant to distract people from thinking about the world and get them focused on who poked who.”

As if to illustrate my friend’s thesis, on November 20, ABC Radio News announced it had to interrupt its programming for an “important breaking story.” The “live on the scene” reporter spoke with urgency about the intimate details of “Michael Jackson’s Gulf Stream Lear jet” landing at the Santa Barbara airport. “Excitement fills the air as the plane taxis toward a hangar where sheriff’s department personnel await the arrival of the famous pop singer. They will arrest him on charges of child molestation…”

Meanwhile, in London, another media celebrity, Bush, acknowledged–or dismissed — the 150,000 plus people who had gathered to protest against him and his policies. Using his childish, elf-like expression, he made short shrift of massive disapproval as he had done previously in February 2003, likening the worldwide protests of millions against the Iraq war to “a focus group.”

“The tradition of free speech exercised with enthusiasm is alive and well here in London,” he cavalierly announced. “We have that at home too. They now have that right in Baghdad as well.”

Evidently, he had not read a November 11, 2003, Reuters story from Iraq. “American soldiers handcuffed and firmly wrapped masking tape around an Iraqi man’s mouth after they arrested him for speaking out against occupation troops.” The story quotes the US commanding officer on Tahrir Square, the arrest scene that “`this man has been detained for making anti-coalition statements.”

Reporters had more immediate tasks than to reveal the dramatic contradiction between what Bush said and the facts. After all, a twelve year old boy had accused Michael Jackson. The enigmatic African American singer with snow white skin had no intention of distracting the public from its citizen duties, or turning upside down reasonable notions of priorities.

“Mind your own business,” my father told me a thousand times, meaning that when people had intimate relations in the privacy of their bedrooms–or even the Oval Office–it did not relate to the great decisions of our time. If Jackson broke the law, let him stand trial, but the media acts as if compelled to inject the public vicariously into the sordid sex life of celebrities. By doing so it substitutes the virtual excitement of a TV news event like Jackson or music mogul Phil Specter getting handcuffed, for the world of war and peace where political morons like Bush direct our lives and futures.

Tens of millions of viewers watched and then “discussed” the Jackson episode, as CNN inter cut to Bush in London. In his November 19, Whitehall Palace speech he acknowledged “sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East,” and proposed a “forward strategy of freedom.”

Before anyone could digest his empty words and figure out they had not ingested one serious sound bite to do with real change in the Middle East politics, the TV image returned to Jackson on his way to custody. Then legal experts offered meaningless one liners while underneath, in writing, the CNN screen affirmed that Bush had again made threats against Syria, Iran, and Arafat. The Rupert Murdoch owned Fox News had even longer Jackson-scandal sequences. Alexander Cockburn well-characterized Murdoch as the tycoon who “offers his target governments a privatized version of a state propaganda service, manipulated without scruple and with no regard for truth. His price takes the form of vast government favors such as tax breaks, regulatory relief, monopoly markets and so forth” (<>, November 24, 2003).

Thanks to both Fox and CNN, with the other networks following, the public has become habituated to strange juxtapositions, like TV moralists condemning Jackson for his fetish for kids, while words pop on the screen that say Bush has praised the Moroccan king and some oil Sheiks for making minute and mostly superficial steps towards democracy. What relationship does Jackson’s Neverland estate have with Bush extolling the virtues of US “allies” like Saudi Arabia and Egypt? What connection does a vindictive Santa Barbara District Attorney’s vow to get Jackson have with Bush’s platitudes like “working democracies always need time to develop?”

If you can find connections in these discrete morsels of “news,” you will have gained eligibility to join the international Sherlock Holmes club of international affairs. This elite association of brainy people can explain linguistic gobbledygook such as: when Bush says has waged a pre-emptive war on terrorism and that this is also “a war for liberty” he really means that he had no reason to wage war (like Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction which it planned to use aggressively or links to the terrorist gang that did the dirty 9/11 deeds).

Jackson distracts the public from focusing on Bush’s obvious May 1 gaff when he announced “mission accomplished” and to the President’s current dilemma about what to do in Iraq as casualties mount.

In mid November, on the bottom of millions of TV screens on the ever flashing network news shows emerged words about a Gallup poll that discovered that the majority of Iraqi resident opposed the US occupation.

Indeed, Gallup reported that only 5% of Iraqis believe the U.S. invaded their country “to assist the Iraqi people.” 43% opined that the purpose of the US-British invasion concerned stealing Iraq’s oil. A November 10 CIA memo concluded similar results: most Iraqis see us as occupiers, not liberators. The vast majority think of the Iraqi Governing Council’s decisions as “mostly determined by the coalition [US-British].”

As we multi task to obtain the TV news, listening and watching a woman who looks like a movie star but calls herself an “anchor” offer breathy accounts of Michael’s alleged love life with minors of his own sex, while speed writing news of the world, we can also sip from our highball, or, if you’re Rush (pre-hab) Limbaugh, pop an Oxycontin–just to obtain proper perspective on the world TV news presents.

At the lunch room, chatter revolves around Jackson. Someone relates his case to perhaps actor Robert Blake’s murder charges and new details on the Scott Peterson wife killing. Two secretaries talk about the love lives of Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin.

I foolishly asked about my colleagues’ reaction to the $400 billion bill to change Medicare and prescription drugs. I got blank stares. I dared not raise the issue of how Bush has privatized Iraqi property and allowed US and other companies from “coalition” states to scoop up Iraqi property. International law supposedly limits the benefits occupying powers can suck from occupied territories. We’ll see!

Instead, the people in the lunchroom exchanged intimate details about Jackson’s 1993 arrest and subsequent payoff to a 12 year old. “What kind of parent lets his kid hang out with Jackson?” asked one woman. Heads shook in disapproval. “Imagine parents letting their kids do this to collect big bucks,” another said.

I didn’t dare ask any of the assembled if they understood that US Proconsul in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, had encountered problems finding international insurers to cover the Iraqi properties the United States has decided to privatize. Indeed, the occupation big shots can’t figure out how to create a government out of the stooges they appointed to the interim governing counsel, which doesn’t govern. Hey, compare the interest in such an issue with the sex lives–vicarious of course–of celebs!

Next month guerrilla fighters in Iraq may vie for headlines with LA Laker guard Kobe Bryant who may stand trial for rape. The President will attend fundraisers for his own re-election and avoid funerals of dead US soldiers who have borne the brunt of Never-Get-Into-A-Fight-Yourself Bush’s “bring `em on” taunt to the Iraqi resistance fighters.

SAUL LANDAU is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. He teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University. For Landau’s writing in Spanish visit: His new book, PRE-EMPTIVE EMPIRE: A GUIDE TO BUSH S KINGDOM, has just been published by Pluto Press. He can be reached at:


SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.