Saturday, June 27, 2009

Media's coverage of Michael Jackson's death exposes the failures and corruption of the Las Vegas news media in covering the death of Danny Gans

“In New York and Los Angeles, when a major star
drops dead of unknown causes, there is a repulsive
ritual that takes place. A certain breed of journalist
will begin a vigil outside the deceased’s residence,
will rifle through their trash, will bribe all sorts of people
for all sorts of reasons and will call up anyone and
everyone even questionably related to the person for
even the most unlikely comment.

“In Las Vegas, when left to our own devices,
we do things a little differently.”
--Steve Friess, Las Vegas Weekly

Someone asked us about the parallels between the deaths of Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. We're more interested in the parallels between the news media's respeonse to the deaths of Jacko and Danny Gans (who imitated Jacko in his show): the biggest star in the world (consummate showman and Christian), and the biggest star in Las Vegas (consummate showman and Christian).

The actions of public officials and the Fourth Estate in each case reveal a stark contrast in transparency and fulfillment of responsibility:

Michael Jackson, genius performer, dead at 50.
Danny Gans, genius performer, dead at 52.
Michael Jackson, found not breathing at home in his bed
Danny Gans, found not breathing at home in his bed.
Michael Jackson, pulled to the floor for CPR as a 911 dispatcher gives instructions.
Danny Gans, pulled to the floor for CPR as a 911 dispatcher gives instructions.
Prescription drugs are immediately suspected as the cause of Michel Jackson's death.
Prescription drugs are immediately suspected as the cause of Danny Gans's death.
Police say they want to speak to Michael Jackson’s many doctors immediately.
Police do not seek out Danny Gans’ many doctors.
Police impound the car of one of Michael Jackson’s doctors in search of drug evidence.
Police allow Danny Gans’ wife to gather “all of her husband’s medications” for then to examine.
The world media swarms onto the Michael Jackson story.
The Las Vegas media tiptoes around the Danny Gans story.
Michael Jackson’s “secret” dependence on prescription drugs is immediately laid bare by journalists and their editors, who can finally publish what they’ve known for years.
Danny Gans’ “secret” dependence on prescription drugs is immediately covered up by journalists and their editors, who decline to publish what they’ve known for years or to investigate further.
Michael Jackson’s family members, friends, doctors and colleagues say they knew about his drug problems, but were helpless to save him.
Danny Gans’ friends and colleagues lie about him and claim ignorance, and the gullible and cynical local media print and broadcast what they know is not true.
Respected publications like The New York Times and Los Angeles Times go with major front-page splashes on Michael Jackson’s death, with details about his final hours and many sidebars about his secret life and speculation about what killed him.
Publications like the Las Vegas Review-Journal publish major front-page splashes on Danny Gans’ death, but report only the information that was handed to them.
The Michael Jackson 911 tape is released immediately and analyzed by police, journalists and the public.
The Danny Gans 911 tape is kept under wraps.
Journalists investigate the actions of the paramedics who treated Michael Jackson and get immediate answers, erasing any mystery.
Las Vegas journalists go with the official statements, with one (who is a stringer for The New York Times) stating that it is improper to “harass” the paramedics who attended to Danny Gans, adding to more mystery.
Police and the coroner hold a press conference in which journalists ask many obvious questions about Michael Jackson’s habits and cause of death.
Police, the coroner and Danny Gans’ boss Steve Wynn issue terse statements regarding Danny Gans’ death.
Police and the coroner answer all of the questions they can in the case of Michael Jackson.
Local journalists ask no questions at all in the case of Danny Gans.

Newspapers and media cover every aspect of Michael Jackson’s life, art, influence and legacy, filling column inches for days with fascinating detail about the troubled superstar.
Local newspapers and media get reactions from people like Carrot Top and run out of Danny Gans coverage in a day and a half.
Newspapers and media offer forums for fans to vent their grief and confusion over Michael Jackson.
Las Vegas media outlets censor any correspondence criticizing their performance, publishing only letters that demand the Danny Gans details be kept private.
The coroner says it will take four to six weeks for the toxicological report to reveal exactly what killed Michael Jackson, but with all bases covered and all secrets laid out, there will be no shock or mystery when the details come out.
The coroner says it will take as long as six weeks for the toxicological report to reveal exactly what killed Danny Gans, and the local media close their notebooks and walk away, claiming they are helpless to report or publish any of the easily-verifiable information about the superstar until the government official hands them his statement. When the coroner’s report turns out to be a politically-parsed, incomplete, confusing explanation that only deepens the mystery, the local media whine for a day and then drop the story.
In the Michael Jackson case, members of the news media show what they do best, clearing away mystery, cutting through the spin and laying out the unpleasant truth.
In the Danny Gans case, members of the local news media reveal their corruption, adding to the mystery, clouding the truth and holding back what they know to be true.
Fans understand that the great Michael Jackson was only human and love him only more.
Fans wonder if the great Danny Gans they loved was actually a fraud, and their perception of him darkens amid the coverup.
Revealed as myth and man—thanks to the news media-- Michael Jackson’s legacy is burnished.
Transformed from man to mystery—thanks to the local news media-- Danny Gans’ legacy is tarnished.

Yes, in Las Vegas, when left to their own devices, they do things a little differently. But is the public or the subject well-served by their fear to offend? It seems that the responsible and aggressive coverage of the newspack in the Michael Jackson case puts the lie to Steve Friess' excuses and proves there's a big difference between Reporting 101 and bribery. What do you think? And can you think of other contrasts in the case? Add your own!

COMING SOON: Analysis of the Danny Gans 911 tape and investigator’s report... They closed the case after this??


Jody in LA said...

You're absolutely correct in your analysis. Obviously Danny Gans wasn't anywhere near the celebrity that Michael Jackson was, but he was without a doubt a Las Vegas superstar for many years, with the most hyped and highest profile of any performer in town in the last 10 years. Add in his connection to the Wynn properties, and the whole clean living, born again christian, philanthropist and family man image that was pushed - big time - it's a no brainer that the Vegas media should have, and should still be, all over this story.

Vegas attracts what, 40 million visitors from around the globe annually? No one could fly or drive into town without seeing massive billboards with Danny's All-American good looks and big smile, touting him and his show as THE biggest thing in Vegas.

I was in Vegas just last week, and noticed that all of his signs have completely vanished. You wouldn't know that the guy ever existed at all, except for small tribute placards the back of a taxi here and there. And speaking of taxi's, I had to take several of course, and as always, like to chat up the drivers to find out what's new in town. They all had PLENTY to say about the whole Gans thing - steroids, painkillers and disgust at how the truth about his life and death was just being swept underneath the rug.

Until the recession hit hard, I believe Vegas had been one of the fastest growing, if not the fastest growing city in the nation, and was starting to come into its own as much more than just a bunch of casinos in the desert.

Gans was a key player in the local economy and careful image makeover/re-branding the city has been undergoing for the past 10 years, even if his role was primarily as the figurehead/face of the "new" family friendly Vegas - a place with respected communities, schools, churches, industry and jobs beyond gambling & tourism, and a booming housing market.

This story has political, religious and economic elements to it that make it more than the typical "performer has substance abuse problem and dies" tale.

If it had been pursued and covered properly from the get go, it wouldn't have the stench of corruption and cover-up all over it at this point, and people wouldn't still be talking about it - and asking questions.

So much for the "new, more respectable Vegas".

Props to Tabloid Baby for not caving to the pressure to just shut up and go along. Well done!

markbyrn said...

The Daily Mail has an excellent article on Jackson. http://tinyurl.com/lcznue