Monday, June 29, 2009

When It Comes to Michael, Cable News "Never Can Say Goodbye"

If you spent anytime watching the cable news networks as I did over this past weekend, you probably noticed an interesting phenomenon. The financial crisis is apparently over, the situation in Iran has evidently quieted down and no one cares any longer about Luv Guv Mark Sanford's startling discovery that the Appalachian trail extends well below the equator.

Yes, on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and the morning network news shows, the only story was, and continues to be, Michael Jackson is still dead!

Apparently that's the only thing of any importance going on in the world right now. 24 hour cable news is all Michael, all the time. There hasn't been this much wall-to-wall coverage of Michael Jackson since the Michael Jackson trial in Santa Maria.

A trial for Michael meant a job for Craig.

And if it wasn't for Jackson's trial on child molestation charges, I probably wouldn't have ever started blogging.

On a day in the middle of February 2005 I was at home sitting on my couch minding my own business when I got a call from one of the secretarys at the County Counsel's office where I used to work telling me, "A producer from NBC News called here trying to reach you." I took the producer's number down and called her back. Turned out she had asked former sheriff Jim Thomas, who I had not seen in years, if he knew of any ex prosecutors from Santa Barbara who might be willing to be interviewed about the Michael Jackson trial. He gave her my name and she hunted me down.

She sent a news crew over to my house that day to talk to me. I'm told the story, which I recall was about the make up of the jury that had just been empaneled, ran on the network news over that weekend. I never saw it as shortly after I wrapped up the interview, I left for Canada and was gone for a week.

When I returned, NBC called again and asked me to do another interview. What you may not know about these interviews is that they spend a half hour or so setting up their equipment, another half hour talking to you, and then they use maybe all of 12 seconds of what you say on the air.

Then NBC offered to get me a press pass so I could come up and watch the trial. Before I knew it, I was running off to join the circus, the media circus that is.

I was driving to Santa Maria several days a week in order to observe the trial. During the breaks and at the end of the day, I was one of a number of "legal analysts" who would stand in front of a microphone just outside the courtroom and answer reporter's questions. Those press conferences would be taped and then made available to any news organization who needed the sound bytes that came out of them for their daily stories on the trial.

Soon relatives in North Carolina were calling and saying, "we saw you on the news here." Another friend who was vacationing in the south of France e-mailed to tell me that he saw me on CNN International.

On those days on which I attended the trial, I was getting up early and doing the hour plus drive to Santa Maria. Court started at 8:30 every morning but you had to be in line to enter the courtroom by 8 am in order to go through security. Judge Rodney Melville wanted everyone in their seats well before Jackson would arrive.

There was a standing betting pool each day among the media as to whether Jackson would be late. Most of the time in the courtroom you could only see the back of his head. But even so he looked very slight and somewhat fragile. And even back then, you had to wonder if he was on something. Remember pajama day?

For several weeks I continued to drive myself up to Santa Maria. One Thursday a "booker" from MSNBC called and wanted to know if I could be available to do a 7:15 am live shot from the Santa Maria courthouse the next day. I told her I couldn't, citing the fact that I had plans to drive to Palm Springs on Friday afternoon and didn't want to add an extra two and a half hours of traveling to what was already going to be a long day behind the wheel. "Suppose we send a car for you?" she asked. A car! I thought to myself, "all this time I could have been holding out for a car?" The next morning a chauffeur driven Lincoln Town Car arrived at my front door at 5:30 in the morning, whisked me up to the Santa Maria for a five minute live interview, then took me back to Santa Barbara.

From that point on, I was riding in a lot of limos.

On June 13, 2005, the day the jury returned their not guilty verdict I was very busy. I was on the air for three hours with Hal Eisner of FOX 11 in L.A. doing their verdict coverage. After that, I was a guest on CNN, first with Paula Zahn, then with Larry King and on CTV in Canada as well. Lengthy interviews I had taped before the verdict was returned ran on 48 Hours on CBS and on ABC's Nightline that night.

I had been booked to appear again on Larry King later in that week as well, then they called and said, "We're going to go with Jermaine and Tito instead."

Terrific, I'm getting bumped by two guys who haven't had a hit record since the '80s.

Michael was free and I was out of a job. I headed for the place where every out of work journalist seems to end up these days, the Internet. When the going gets tough, the tough go blogging. And if it hadn't been for being part of the media circus (and loving every minute of it) taking my act to the Internet probably would have never occurred to me.

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Speaking of trials, the NLRB vs. News-Press hearing has been in recess since June 19. The hearing will resume again on July 7.
© 2009 by Craig Smith and