MSNBC host Martin Bashir recently apologized for one of the most offensive remarks ever uttered on an American TV news program, insinuating that Sarah Palin, “America’s resident dunce,” and “world-class idiot,” be defecated and urinated on.
Even those who despise Gov. Palin agreed that Bashir had entered a place so repulsive that his reputation might never return.
Yesterday, he said he was sorry and I am someone who believes in granting forgiveness. I trust that Mrs. Palin will do so and move on.
Unfortunately, Mr. Bashir is developing a pattern of unethical behavior that is deeply troubling. And there is lasting damage for previous incidents for which he has yet to apologize, most notably with regards to Michael Jackson.
Among those of us who knew Michael and prayed that he would get his life together, the mention of Martin Bashir’s name evokes contempt.
One of Mr. Bashir’s producers had initially contacted me in about 2000 to pitch a documentary about Michael’s life. I told Michael about it and strongly advised him to decline. “Your life’s not ready to be opened to the public.” I argued that for Michael to be in good physical and emotional health should be a precursor to any elective, much less extensive, public exposure. At the time, Michael seemed lethargic and unfocused. Besides, he was already famous enough and didn’t need this documentary.
Three years later, Mr. Bashir’s documentary Living With Michael Jackson appeared. Mr. Bashir had gone through a different friend of Michael’s who had introduced the two and a deal was made. The documentary depicted Michael as excessively materialistic with a seemingly bizarre relationship with a boy. Mr. Bashir called Michael’s Neverland Ranch a “dangerous place” for children. Mr. Bashir’s voice-over expressed uneasiness about what he viewed as an apparent obsession with children and pledged to confront Michael on certain areas of his life that Bashir found disconcerting.
Fair enough. Everything Michael said in the interview, and the damage it did, was his own fault. He should never have agreed to participate until he had found the higher purpose his life was yearning for. He certainly should not have said he thought it was acceptable to share a bed with a child who was not his own.
Besides, as a journalist, Mr. Bashir had the right to make whatever judgments about Michael’s life he wished.
What was not absolutely not right was Martin Bashir’s deception. What later emerged from footage Michael’s own cameraman took of Mr. Bashir’s conversations with Michael was the interviewer pretending to adore Michael’s unusual lifestyle, parenting and care for other children so as to gain the singer’s trust. What also seemed to emerge was Mr. Bashir using only that material which supported an unflattering image of Michael, prompting even The New York Times to criticize Bashir’s documentary as “callous self-interest masked as sympathy.”
During the 2005 trial involving allegations against Michael, Mr. Bashir was nearly held in contempt of court for refusing to answer questions about deceiving or manipulating Michael for the purposes of his documentary. Mr. Bashir declined to comment on such basic inquiries such as whether Michael signed documents in the presence of a lawyer and how many hours of footage were omitted from the documentary.
Of course, what made Mr. Bashir’s reputation was his interview with Princess Diana in 1995 about her failed marriage to Prince Charles. There are allegations that Mr. Bashir used the same deceptive techniques, feigning support for Diana in order to earn her trust. But at least in that case we have no actual footage of Bashir being two-faced.
Martin Bashir has never been held accountable for pretending to care for Michael in order to persuade him to open up, while all along, it seems his intention was to enhance his own reputation by burying Michael’s. A weird Michael Jackson was going to be a lot more saleable than a mostly normal yet highly eccentric performer. And let’s not forget that Michael faced trial over the boy who appeared in the documentary but was acquitted on all 10 felony and 4 misdemeanor charges.
I want to make it clear that I strongly disagree with Sarah Palin’s comparisons between the national debt and slavery. It was a misinformed and unfortunate comment. But the fact that it evoked such horrible hatred from Martin Bashir should give us pause about a man who seems ready to trample on basic decency in order to get ahead.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom Newsweek and The Washington Post call “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the founder of This World: The Values Network, and is the international best-selling author of 30 books. He will shortly publish Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.