High summer is traditionally the “silly season” for the press. When news is scarce, gay people—famous and obscure — become targets for journalists in search of easy copy. And because there’s so little competition in the news rooms, our sexuality is likely to end up in 200-point type on the front page.
You can almost imagine the relief among journalists, therefore, when a 13-year-old boy accused Michael Jackson of “abusing” him. Within 48 hours of the accusation being made the papers did what they’d been longing to do for several years now — they tore Michael Jackson into tiny pieces. Like sharks in a feeding frenzy they trawled the depths for any fantasy, innuendo or negative comment they could find and ran it all — true or false, they didn’t care. It became so bad that a thousand of Jacko’s fans felt moved to ask the Press Complaints Commission to investigate the treatment their hero was getting at the hands of the papers. They were, of course, sent away with a flea in their ear. “We only investigate complaints from people directly involved,” the PCC said feebly.
In the meantime, all kinds of strange people crawled out of the woodwork to testify in the kangaroo court which the tabloids had set up. They were anxious to reveal what they “knew” about Jackson. According to The Sun (September 6th) one of the singer’s “closest aides” who had worked at the Neverland Ranch was prepared to tell all for the modest fee of £170,000, This fact alone goes some way to explaining the queues of people offering the newspapers all kinds of weird and fanciful stories about Jackson. With so much money around, there are bound to be plenty of unscrupulous people trying to get a slice.
Think back to 1987 when Elton John was being put through a similar wringer by The Sun and remember that at the time the paper was paying liars, pimps and rentboys who were inventing stories that just happened to support their own Big Lie.
Despite his continuing world-wide popularity, the tabloids have been trying for several years now to knock Jackson from his pedestal, and their nickname for him — “Wacko Jacko” — should have told him that one day they’d get him, “Child sex abuse” was the perfect medium for their most savage attack.
The no-smoke-without-fire principle, on which the press operates, has already ensured that Michael Jackson has been found guilty by insinuation. What chance does he have of a real trial when all the “evidence” has already been splashed across newspapers, television and radio?
One interesting aspect of the press coverage of this appalling business has been that no one has said that Michael Jackson is gay. The word has not as far as I have seen — been used at all in connection with this case. This is unusual, as the scummy rags are usually anxious to infer that paedophilia and homosexuality are synonymous. (As The News of the World put it on September 5th under a story about child porn: “Rapist’s Gay Love: Child rapist James, Saunders is having a passionate affair in Broadmoor — with another man.”)
Why are the papers reluctant to say that because he allegedly chose boys as his sexual playmates, Michael Jackson must be gay? Is it because they consider that being gay is even worse than being a paedophile? Or is it that they consider the two things completely separately?
There is no doubt that sexual activity between adults and children is rapidly becoming the number one taboo in our society. The tabloids would have us believe that their present obsession with it stems from readers’ concerns, but the prurient interest in the details of the sexual acts (“he watched Jackson put his hand in a nine-year-old boy’s pants…he was also said to have kissed a seven-year old on the lips and caress a three-year-old” — The Sun, September 6th) seem to hint at something more sinister.
A more considered approach to paedophilia was attempted by Graham Lord in The Daily Telegraph (August 17th), when he wrote about the current spate of men accused of assaulting children. He cites, among other cases, that of a rector who was jailed for four months after admitting “assaulting” a teenager 20 years ago. The Bishop of Sheffield has said that the man should never have been sent to prison. Mr Lord is of the opinion that “we need somehow to deter potential gentle paedophiles” without shaming them. “Monsters who torture and murder their victims should be locked up until they can never hurt a child again.” he said. “But what of the men who are not monsters but simply weak and inadequate?”
He recalls his first headmaster who was convicted of “abuse” and was “so mortified by his prison sentence — and so ostracised afterwards —that he committed suicide. He had never used violence and none of his victims seems to have been damaged. Suicide was a tragic, unjust end for such a man.”
Reviewing a book called Seduction of the Mediterranean — writing, art and homosexual fantasy in The Sunday Times (August 29th), Gilbert Adair said of the Italian boys who became the objects of desire for ex-pat British gay men in the 19th century: “What did they think of all the homo-erotic attention they received? Most of the boys went on to marry and have children, and apparently suffered no loss of face among family or friends for their youthful indiscretions…Today, from our vantage point in a world in which homosexuality is no longer a crime but paedophilia is practically a blasphemy, where nothing could be less politically correct than the sexual exploitation of the underprivileged, it all seems so far away and long ago.”
Certainly Michael Jackson is learning that a calm, rational approach to his alleged relationships is an impossibility. “Child abuse” allegations now seem equivalent to McCarthy’s dreaded question in the fifties “Are you now, or have you ever been…”
Is it impossible now for Michael Jackson to recover from this affair — even if there is no trial, and even if the law finds him innocent? Or will he be for ever the “child abuse monster” of tabloid hysteria?
One thing is sure — if there is a trial, it will almost certainly be televised, and the boy will be mercilessly savaged by ambitious lawyers who think and act as though they’re on a film set. The whole world will be watching, anxious for all the juicy details, and there will be plenty willing to provide the melodrama.
It isn’t only superstars who are subjected to terrorism by tabloid, Social worker Terence Dunning found himself the centre of a press-created maelstrom earlier this year when his local authority refused to allow a mixed-race couple to adopt a baby because they were considered “naive” on the topic of racism.
The storm returned when The Daily Express revealed that Mr Dunning is gay. From that moment, the topic of the story changed from adoption rights into the suitability of gay people to be social workers.
Norfolk County Council foolishly called a press conference to try and stem the hysteria which was mounting. Mr Dunning told reporters that his judgement was in no way affected by his sexual orientation. His employers, Norfolk social services, backed him up. “We don’t want to make any judgement about his private life,” they said. “There is no doubt about his ability as a social worker. The director of social services is appalled at the way the two things are being linked.”
The press conference simply provided more fodder for another attack the following day.
The Sun said, in an editorial: “So what are his qualifications for acting like a little tin god? He ABANDONED his wife after 20 years because of his love for another man, He ADMITTED his homosexuality on a TV programme. It didn’t stop him getting promotion and a pay rise. He’s still sitting in judgment on ordinary couples. Terence Dunning’s bedtime habits are of course his own affair. A pity he can’t show the same tolerance to others that he expects for himself.”
Clause 15 of the Press Complaints Commission’s Code of Practice states: “The press should avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to a person’s race, colour. religion, sex or sexual orientation…it should avoid publishing details of a person’s…sexual orientation, unless these are directly relevant to the story.”
So how does the press square its attack on Mr Dunning with the Code of Practice signed by every editor of every national paper?
And while we’re on the subject of Clause 15, can I ask The Daily Star, whose editor Brian Hitchen is chief apologist for the Press Complaints Commission, what it thought it was doing publishing a story on its front page (August 26th). headed “2 gay mums dump 7 kids to go on hol” and continuing it inside the paper with the heading “Dumped by gays”. The two women involved in this story may or may not have abandoned their children (there have certainly been no police charges) but what exactly does their sexuality have to do with it?
The story, as it developed over the following days, turned from being about neglecting children into whether or not lesbians were fit to be parents, The London Evening Standard (August 27th) carried a particularly unpleasant feature about the case, in which Walter Ellis reported from the Surrey estate where the women lived. He told a tale of suburban low-living and the neighbours resentment of the “lezzy house”. One woman is quoted as saying: “I feel that lesbians and gays shouldn’t have children. They live their lives as they want, but they don’t stop to think of the little ones.”
The whole sorry saga was played as a reassurance to heterosexual parents that, however badly they treated their children (and let’s face it, the vast majority of child abuse is committed by heterosexuals), at least they aren’t queer.
Then we have The News of the World (August 22nd), which ran a story about the manager of pop group Take That. The story’s one and only purpose was to tell NoW readers that the man is gay and that his lover died from Aids. The man involved told the paper: “I’ve no comment to make about my private life or my sexuality” — a clear indication that his sexuality was being paraded against his wishes.
What happened to all those reassuring noises about privacy which were being bandied about a little while ago? And what happened to the moral outrage expressed by the “News of the Screws” when a gay group threatened to “out” people a couple of years ago? And what happened to Clause 15?
Then came the case of the “Gay Girl Cop”. This unfortunate woman became involved with someone called Anne Wood-Wilson, who had embezzled thousands of pounds from firms she worked for. When the case came to court, the WPC, who had been having an affair with the woman, was cleared of any charges, but her sexuality became the main element of the story. Why?
The News of the World (August 29th) also outed Sally Becker, the so-called “Angel of Bosnia”, in a completely gratuitous way. What has her lesbianism got to do with the anything, and if she wants to keep it private why shouldn’t she be allowed to?
The Government is issuing a White Paper covering its proposals to tighten up controls on press invasions of privacy. From what has been leaked so far it seems that there will be little hope of stopping abuses such as the ones above. The Press Complaints. Commission is ineffective, serving only to protect the heartless tabloids from the wrath of the public.
There is something particularly unpleasant about seeing gay people betraying their own kind. A nasty example appeared in The News of the World (August 8th) when Keith Russell, who is described as a drag queen by night and a salesman by day, recounted how he had placed an ad in Boyz magazine and received a reply from a gay policeman. After meeting the PC, and having sex with him, Russell then went to the NoW and told them all the dirty details.
The paper then did what it does best —baited and humiliated the gay policeman by publishing the letter which he had written to Russell. No doubt his career will now be on the line as the NoW spitefully intended. I hope you’re proud of yourself, Judas Russell. You’re just the kind of person the gay community could do without. And I hope any cash you got from Murdoch’s filthy rag makes you very pleased with yourself.
The Sunday Times (September 5th), carried an article about the Rev Pat Robertson, the American politician and religious maniac. Apparently, Robertson is now well on the way to taking over the Republican Party. “He bought a run-down television station and became the most powerful figure on America’s religious Right,” says the paper, and now has a tight grip of the Republican’s “spiritual heart”.
Moderates are alarmed by these developments. “People should have no doubt that Robertson is pursuing his aim to be the most powerful political influence in America by the turn of the century,” said one observer. “If his success continues to snowball it would mean fascist measures, such as death penalties for gays, will eventually be debated by the Republican Party.”
Should we be worried by this, or should we rest easy, safe in the knowledge that Mr Robertson will eventually go into self-destruct mode as such people generally do. Surely even American voters wouldn’t allow such a nutcase anywhere near the White House?
The Mail on Sunday (August 8th) told us of “Death threats against a woman who fought to be heterosexual”. The story concerned Jeannette Howard, who claims that she was once a lesbian but has decided “on moral grounds” to give up her homosexuality and become heterosexual. She says that gay people have a choice and can renounce their “pre-pubescent emotional way of thinking”.
She is publishing a book this autumn called Out of Egypt in which she will tell her own story and give full particulars about how we can all stop being gay and become “normal”. She now claims to be a full-time counsellor (although, significantly, she doesn’t mention which organisation she belongs to). She claims to be persecuted by gay people who issue “death threats” to her and accuse her of being a Nazi. Naturally these nasty old gays throw bricks through her windows and have forced her to go ex-directory, etc. etc. The article was short on particulars that might have made it clear where Jeannette
Howard is coming from. There is no mention of religion, but I have a strong suspicion that Ms Howard may have strong leanings in that direction. When I say strong, I actually mean obsessive. Like so many of these “ex-gay” people, I suspect she is driven by a desire to prove the Bible correct on the matter of homosexuality, ignoring all social and scientific progress that has been made since the First Century.
You wouldn’t have suspected any of this from The Mail on Sunday. But then, truth ain’t very important when there is propaganda to peddle.