30 Jun 2009

Jackson highlights the contrast between LA and DC

Running round LA for the last few days covering Michael Jackson’s death, I’ve been amazed about how polite, pleasant and accommodating the LAPD have been.

They might not have told us all the details of their investigation (although they seem to obligingly leak quite a lot of info) but they have been doing their best to let us cover the story.

Flowers at the Jackson family compound

At every location – the coroner’s office, the hospital, the Jackson family homes – there are hordes of TV crews, reporters, satellite trucks and miles of cables. There is as large a press presence here as I’ve ever seen on any story.

In any other city in the world we would have been herded into tiny pens behind crash barriers without enough room to work and practically unable to see anything. In LA, instead of closing roads to the press, they have provided special access to allow us in to cover the story – practically even arranging the parking.

The first time we drove down a road that was closed off with police cones, I fully expected a cop to yell at us to “back off now or you will be arrested”. That’s pretty much the standard attitude in Washington. There if they can stop you from filming they will, and if even they legally can’t they will still try. Here they let us park behind their vehicles and show us where we can put our cameras to get the best shots.

It must be indicative of the different way the media is viewed in each city. In LA they know that media is how they make their money and they are keen to encourage anyone who is giving publicity to their principal industry.

In DC the press are those pesky irritants who keep asking annoying questions of the people engaged in that city’s main occupation – politics and government. No reason to help us do our jobs there when we are daring to question the motives of the city’s most important inhabitants.

Ordinary people take a rather different attitude too. In other places, at other times, people have been rightfully angry when the media intrude into people’s grief after a death. I have covered killings and funerals where mourners have been openly hostile to journalists – and I understand why they were.

But in LA all the people queuing up to lay flowers for Jackson at his star on Hollywood Boulevard or outside the Jackson family compound approach us and ask to be interviewed. They don’t even seem to mind when we say we don’t broadcast in the USA. That always puts off even the most junior politician in Washington when they learn no voters will see them on our news programme.

The moment I really knew I wasn’t in Washington any more was today. I was pushing forward trying to thrust a microphone in the direction of Joe Jackson, Michael’s father, when I accidentally bashed the handle of a policeman’s gun in its holster. He just laughed and told me to be little more careful.

I’d be wearing handcuffs right now if I’d made a mistake like that in DC.