Westchester attorney mystified by irresponsible media on Michael Jackson’s will

For more than twenty years I was a respected member of the New York press corps, an award-winner, someone who worked as a network anchor and street reporter.  Today, I am disgusted by this rush to report by the established media, spurred on by the rash of so-called “citizen journalists” ala Twitter.

As professionals, I would expect you to rise above the barrage of tweets and posts in the blogosphere.  I would expect you to know what you are talking about by doing your homework and interviewing sources.  Does anyone even remember how to check sources any longer?  Or are all of you so in a rush to beat the other guy at getting it wrong?

All day I have listened to irresponsible reporting.  I have heard veteran news reporters say “the children go to Jackson’s mother Katherine.”  That is just wrong.  Have they read the will?  Do they understand its meaning?  Have they bothered to interview an estates attorney?  Obviously not.  The will declares Michael’s desire that the children remain in the custody of his mother but it’s not Jackson’s choice.  A court, probably in August, will consider his testamentary desire but does not have to be bound by it.  Yet, no one has reported that today – at least none of the several stations which I listened to in New York.

Further, everyone is making hay out of the fact that he purposefully declares that he is leaving nothing to his ex-wife, Debbie Rowe.

photo courtesy:  DailyMail.co.uk

photo courtesy: DailyMail.co.uk

Did any reporter bother to find out that such a statement is standard will drafting language when there has been a divorce?  While a divorce will generally eliminate either spouse’s rights to the other’s estate, when there is such a large estate to be probated, attorneys do not take chances and make sure that the testator indicates the ex-spouse is in fact “ex” and as such she gets nothing.  It is not to slap the woman in the face; it is legal reinforcement of her lack of rights.

The state of journalism in this country, which leads the media in global coverage, mystifies me.  However, I guess it shouldn’t.  The handwriting was on the wall back in 1993 when I decided to go to law school.  I knew we were doomed when a desk assistant had not read one newspaper before coming in for an 11 a.m. shift the day John F. Kennedy Jr. had died; meanwhile, I had been up since 2 a.m. covering the news.  Bravo, Twitter, you’ve just placed the icing on the proverbial cake.