Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review Dec. 31, 2003 / 6 Teves, 5764

Jonathan Turley

Turley
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
MUGGER
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports


Celebrity is often its own best defense


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | The Michael Jackson case is the latest celebrity trial designed for public consumption — and the public's appetite has never been so ravenous. Sunday night's "60 Minutes" interview with the pop star accused of child molestation just fed the beast.

Celebrity trials operate on their own set of rules. They give the public a glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous — lives where common fetishes or fantasies are overindulged and assume monstrous proportions.

In California, the public has been fed an almost constant diet of celebrity cases involving sexual escapades and perversions great and small. The roster of celebrity defendants is a who's who of the Hollywood elite stretching over a century, including Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Errol Flynn, Charlie Chaplin, Roman Polanski, Hugh Grant, Charlie Sheen and many others.

Accusations of corrupting or abusing the young are particularly prominent in these scandals. Actress Joan Crawford had a public affair with an underage actor, Jackie Cooper. Chaplin had a well-known penchant for underage girls; he married girls who were 18, 17 and 16 years old.

A review of these cases reveals that the usual practices in criminal trials often do not apply when celebrities are involved. For example, in noncelebrity trials, the defense struggles to make the jury more sympathetic toward the defendant by emphasizing common habits and interests. Defendants dress in understated ways and their spouses are asked to wear no jewelry in court. But celebrity defendants often emphasize their wealth, hoping to establish the motive of greed on the part of their accusers, claiming that the charges are fabrications by people trying get rich quickly.

The defense in the Jackson case has already suggested that once access to Neverland Ranch ended for the alleged victim and his mother, they decided to try to take part of the dream back through litigation.

Such corrupt motives have been central to past celebrity defenses. In Arbuckle's 1921 trial, the most famous silent film star of the time was accused of brutally raping a showgirl, Virginia Rappe, who was found in a coma and later died. The public was obsessed with reports of the debauchery and indulgences of Arbuckle, the era's highest-paid actor.

The world heard how Arbuckle and his friends traveled in his specially built Pierce Arrow touring car. Though certainly no Neverland Ranch, the car's built-in restroom and bar filled with illegal booze were beyond the imagination of most citizens in the 1920s.

Arbuckle's accuser was a self-professed friend of Rappe's, Maude Delmont, who insisted that Rappe implicated Arbuckle in her final words. In what should be a lesson for the Jackson prosecution team, the Arbuckle case showed that no prosecution is stronger than its witnesses. Arbuckle's defense team found a telegram from Delmont to two friends telling them that "we have Roscoe Arbuckle in a hole here. Chance to make some money out of him." The defense further showed that Rappe had lived what today would be called "the vida loca."

Donate to JWR

This fed a common public reaction to celebrity trials. Though the public is often repulsed by the lifestyles of celebrities, harsh judgment is cast upon their accusers too. Victims and witnesses are often portrayed as motivated by money or fame — an accusation that proved correct regarding Delmont.

The Jackson team has already laid the foundation for a type of Arbuckle defense — stressing statements made by the boy and his mother that previously exonerated Jackson.

Sometimes, a celebrity's reputation can actually be an asset. Consider the case of Errol Flynn. The swashbuckling actor was well known in Hollywood for his preference for underage girls. Indeed, in a frank acknowledgment of the laws of statutory rape, Flynn often called his young girlfriends his "San Quentin Quails" or JBs (for jail bait).

The trial of Flynn for the statutory rape of two teenage girls electrified a war-weary public and liberated a sex-shy media. The evidence and Flynn's reputation were consistent with the testimony of the two alleged victims, Betty Hansen, 17, and Peggy LaRue Satterlee, 15. Flynn in many ways was saved by his reputation as a rake — a reputation that painted his alleged victims as willing participants. Flynn's lawyers hammered away at the girls' interest in Flynn and their alleged encouragement of the encounters (despite the fact that consent is not a defense against statutory rape).

In one of the most savage moments, Flynn's attorneys revealed that Satterlee had had an affair before the alleged rape and later an abortion — a social stigma that all but destroyed her credibility for a jury in 1943. Adding insult to injury for these girls, "in like Flynn" became a popular expression after the trial for a man lucky with ladies.

For Jackson, this tactic may be brought to its most extreme form. The gender-bending, child-obsessed star may be seen as a walking warning to any cautious parent. How is the jury to view as a witness a mother who took her son for sleepovers with Jackson?

Ultimately, a jury may have a hard time understanding a maternal motive for exposing her son to Jackson but it can well understand a financial motive. In other words, Jackson's persona could prove to be not his downfall but his salvation in the context of a celebrity trial.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.



JWR contributor J Jonathan Turley is a professor at George Washington Law School. Click here to visit his website. Comment by clicking here.

12/27/03: U.S. soldiers lack best protective gear
12/17/03: Going for the gold in a competition of the corrupt
11/25/03: Will Malvo jurors spare life of young suspect?
11/11/03: The Black Tax: Of charlatans, crooks and victims and the reparations scam
11/04/03: Sniper case lacks appeal, public lessons of other cases
10/02/03: Is a soldier's life worth more than $650?
08/26/03: One justice wields too much power on today's Supreme Court. It's time to make the top bench much bigger
08/11/03: Don't let jobs grow on family trees
06/26/03: A Ruling That Only Goldilocks Could Love; We still don't know how much weight to give race in college admissions
06/24/03: 'Educating' Congress at the hands of lobbyists
06/12/03: Crooked arm of the law
06/10/03: Defense on lay-away
05/23/03: Innocence doesn't pay, either
05/15/03: A see-no-evil parole system
05/08/03: An American Gulag?
05/01/03: CUNY Law gives grads a cynical parting gift
04/22/03: Congress Must Send Spammers a Message
04/16/03: End Apartheid in the State Prisons
04/07/03: NBC's sacking of Peter Arnett over a critical analysis plays well in Baghdad
03/07/03: Rights on the Rack: Alleged torture in terror war imperils U.S. standards of humanity
02/25/03: How democracy could clear our snowy streets
02/11/03: Sanity and Justice Slipping Away
01/28/03: Quit horsing around, senator
01/14/03: Public Payroll: a Family Affair; Nepotism in Washington poses a threat to institutional integrity
01/09/03: DARPA and democracy
12/24/02: The 13th juror
12/19/02: Back to the admissions morass
12/10/02: Pro-Choice at Expense of Free Speech; NOW case against abortion protester may backfire
12/02/02: A cruel bait and switch for vets
11/15/02: Junk justice
11/07/02: OUR second-class soldiers
10/30/02: 'Quirin' revisited: The dark history of a military tribunal
10/22/02: Un-American Arrests: Mass detainments of the innocent may be the ultimate form of crowd control, but the tactic is unconstitutional
10/16/02: Reverse pawn shops? Broke state officials across the country have been looking for businesses to buy their assets at a fraction of their worth to pay for budget shortfalls
10/08/02: A legal tattoo hullabaloo
10/02/02: Gagged justice sets dangerous precedent
09/25/02: The Great Salmon Rose Caper
09/17/02: Reparations: A Scam Cloaked in Racial Pain
09/12/02: This country's hidden strength
09/04/02: 1st Amendment protects even the ugliest among us
08/28/02: A secret court goes public
08/20/02: I defended Ashcroft during his nomination; he's become a constitutional menace
08/07/02: San Francisco embracing states-rights
07/31/02: Who needs Jenny Craig when you can have Johnnie Cochran?
07/22/02: The meaning of justice and the madness of Zacarias Moussauoi
07/16/02: The President vs. the Presidency
07/08/02: How one woman's whims dictates the rights of millions
07/02/02: Just say 'no' to extracurricular activities
06/24/02: Missing Ted Bundy
06/14/02: DESTROYING A FAMILY TO SAVE IT
06/10/02: A comedy of eros06/14/02: 05/31/02: Beyond the 'reformed FBI' hype
05/23/02: Do we really need a Federal Marriage Amendment?
05/19/02: No "battlefield detainee" should leave home without a U.S. birth certificate
05/10/02: The perfect constitutional storm
04/26/02: 'Slave of Allah' wounds justice
04/12/02: The importance of being nameless
04/05/02: The adjusted value of justice
03/18/02: How Clinton got off: A law professor's take
03/11/02: Profiling and the terrorist lottery
03/05/02: Yes, Sharpton, there was a failure of justice
02/28/02: The Lay of the land
02/14/02: Living in constitutional denial
02/05/02: Legal Lesson for Afghanistan: War's Not a Slip-and-Fall Case
01/25/02: Sever "Jihad Johnny"'s ties to his homeland
01/21/02: "Out of sight, out of mind," but they're still prisoners
01/14/02: Your papers, please!
01/07/02: Prescription for disaster
12/18/01: Madison and the Mujahedeen
12/07/01: In the U.S., espionage crime is easy to understand but difficult to prove
11/19/01: What type of 'creature' would defend bin Laden?
11/19/01: Could bin Laden be acquitted in a trial?
10/28/01: The ultimate sign of the different times in which we are living
10/25/01: Al-Qaida produces killers, not thinkers
09/28/01: The Boxer rebellion and the war against terrorism
08/31/01: Bring back the silent Condit
08/27/01: Working out the body politic

© 2003, Jonathan Turley