As the media frenzy over Michael Jackson's death enters its third week, stories are beginning to run out. The seemingly endless parade of Jackson 'friends' and 'insiders' is thinning and news outlets are stuck in limbo as they await the results of Jackson's autopsy. In the absence of any new or concrete information about Jackson's death, newspapers are becoming desperate for fodder. So desperate, in fact, that British red-top The Sun today publishes two separate 'Jacko' stories attributed to one Ian Halperin.
For those who don't know, Halperin is a celebrity blogger who has spent the last 8 months publicising an upcoming Jackson biography. He has done so by releasing a steady stream of fictitious stories about the popstar to any media outlet desperate or gullible enough to print them. In this era of cost-cutting, almost every media outlet in the Western world has swallowed and regurgitated his outlandish claims without hesitation.
Today's Halperin exclusives include revelations about Jackson's 'secret gay life'. The star, alleges Halperin, would disguise himself as a woman and sneak out to a motel to sleep with a male construction worker.
But here lies the problem: Halperin is a proven liar and a fantasist.
In November 2008 Halperin made headlines the world over when he claimed that Jackson had been struck down by a genetic lung condition known as Alpha 1, leaving him blind in one eye and unable to speak. In his blog entry he fabricated a confirmation from Jermaine Jackson and offered to provide proof of his findings the following week. That proof never materialised.
Halperin is now making much of the fact that he accurately predicted Jackson's untimely demise, carefully neglecting to mention that last month's tragic events were no more than a convenient coincidence. Halperin claimed Jackson would die within 6 months of a genetic lung disease... He died 8 months later of a suspected overdose.
Shortly after his lung disease story went global, Halperin claimed that Jackson had been booked to perform on the yacht of a Russian billionaire. This story also proved untrue.
In April 2009 Halperin appeared on British television claiming that the star hadn't shown up to any of the rehearsals for his London concerts. In actuality the star was rehearsing five days per week at Centre Staging Studios in Burbank, LA.
In the wake of Jackson's death, Halperin penned an article for the Daily Mail claiming that the star was so frail during his last weeks that he could barely stand or talk, let alone sing or dance, and was only scheduled to perform for 13 minutes per night during his London residency. Days later, rehearsal footage showed Jackson running around the stage during a three hour dress rehearsal.
Halperin's credibility was further diminished when, in the wake of the lung disease fallout, he was exposed as having lied about receiving a prestigious award. The blogger's bio claimed that he had been awarded the 1985 Rolling Stone award for investigative journalism. But the magazine itself issued a statement saying that nobody of that name had been handed any such award, rather that the award had been given to an entire newspaper staff, in which Halperin had been a minor player.
In spite of his track record, Halperin's Jackson biography is sure to fly off of the shelves when it is released later this month. But why does the media continue to quote him as an authoritative source on Jackson when every story he has released about the star thus far has proven entirely false?
Halperin's ability to consistently sneak his fabricated Jackson stories past fact checkers and into newspapers the world over is churnalism in action. Too few reporters filling too many pages leaves too little time for fact checking. When a chancer like Halperin comes along and hands them a story on a plate, they thank their lucky stars, lay it on a page and move onto the next task. Everybody's happy - Halperin gets his publicity and the newspaper fills vital space.
The losers, though, are Jackson's family. His fans too and, when he was still around, Jackson himself. Not to mention the general public. Misinformation is rife at the best of times, but with this rush for Jackson material, less and less time is being dedicated to fact checking.
Reporting on Michael Jackson has always been less than ethical. The man is a target for bogus stories. AEG head honcho Randy Phillips said in an interview earlier this year, "I was sitting opposite Michael Jackson in a meeting one morning and suddenly a news alert popped up that he'd been struck down with a flesh eating virus."
Halperin's articles have been repeatedly proven false. His biography is certain to be littered with similar errors. Readers beware - in death Jackson will be an even bigger target for shoddy reporting than he was in life.
More on the Jackson situation as it develops.