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Saturday, November 22, 2003

All (alleged) Pedophiles Created Equal?

No matter how hard you try to avoid it, you simply cannot, lately, escape the media blitz surrounding the Michael Jackson pedophilia case. Our nation is just beginning to wind down from the Catholic Church scandal, and it seems as though the American people are hungry for more sensationalism and rumors of pedophilia.

But with one difference: the information mills seem to be scouring the horizon for evidence that Poor Michael Jackson is a victim of unfair allegations and attacks on his reputation and career. No such evidence was sought or supplied in most of the Church scandal stories.

Stories like this week's from the Sunday Herald highlight comments made by Jackson's family members stating that he couldn't possibly be guilty. Even while they relay Jackson's own defensive comments with tongue-in-cheek cynicism, they further his defense and imply that Michael Jackson's oddity points to instability, not malice.

Where were the interviews with family members when priests stood accused?

The news stories and gossip-on-the-street also frequently imply that the Jackson case is more about an attack on his status than it is a rightful accusation. The prosecutor might be, just possibly, acting on a grudge, the article mentioned above hints. It points out the possibility, then quickly pulls away... just presenting it long enough to leave a doubt in the mind of the reader. Other people, both journalists and gossips alike, have stirred the same rumors. Other rumors include that this is nothing more than a career opportunity for all lawyers involved, or even that poor Michael Jackson is being accused for financial gain, or even solely because of his race.

How often do you recall seeing mainstream media imply, over the past two years, that many of the priest accusations might have stemmed from bigotry or the wish for financial gain?

Finally, I haven't seen any broad, categorical denunciations yet based on Michael Jackson's alleged behavior. I have yet to see any pedophile jokes beginning with "How many singers does it take..." You see, when it is a popular figure who is implicated, the natural instinct is to want to limit accusations, offer "other sides" to the story, and most certainly to prevent the accusations from being spread more widely against others who share a career or religion with him. No such protection has been offered the Catholic Church, or priests in general. We've all been subjected to the priest jokes.

Am I bitter? Maybe a little. But mostly, I am hurt for the people who are hurt in both scandals. The innocent victims of molestation, whether by a rich man or by a poor man who represents a rich institution, deserve our compassion. But those accused also deserve a fair hearing. Perhaps because Jackson has both more to lose financially and more resources personally available to him, he will get the fair trial that many accused priests have not gotten. Even in cases where charges were rejected by law enforcement for complete lack of evidence, many priests have suffered punishment merely for having been accused.

And I hurt for the priests who have never been implicated at all. Many good men who have diligently served God, Church, and parish have suffered from the categorical judgment of all priests. I hurt for them, too.

The "media" must bear some responsibility for imbalance in reporting the two scandals. Yet they cannot bear all the responsibility for leading us as a nation in judging the accused in a very imbalanced way: for they could not lead us if we would not follow. If we must be hungry enough to feed the frenzy for sensationalistic stories of high-profile pedophilia, shouldn't we at least demand consistency in how they are presented?