Making A Mountain Out Of A Molar
How TMZ turned a dental appointment into a global news story.
Friday 14th January 2011, Sawf News
Among the less scrupulous red-top reporters on both sides of the Atlantic, there’s an old adage; ‘Never let the facts get in the way of a good story’. I can’t think of a recent story which has embodied that philosophy more than TMZ’s supposed scoop yesterday, accusing Michael Jackson of pressuring a dentist into putting his youngest son Prince Michael II (AKA Blanket) to sleep with anesthetic.
‘MJ Pushed Dr. To Improperly Give Son Anesthesia’, read TMZ’s headline. Shocking indeed. Certainly more shocking than ‘MJ’s Son Went To The Dentist Two And A Half Years Ago’, which would have been a far more accurate assessment of the situation -- for while TMZ accused Jackson of ‘subjecting one of his children to risky medical treatment’, the truth was far more banal.
At the heart of this story is the allegation that in July 2008, Dr Mark Tadrissi performed oral surgery on two occasions, once on Jackson and once on his son Blanket, which required the use of anesthetic.
The snag? Dr Tadrissi didn’t have a permit to use general anesthetic in his office, but called in an anesthesiologist anyway and went ahead with the surgeries. Dr Tadrissi was investigated over his actions in 2009 and sanctioned by the Nevada State Board of Dental Examiners in 2010.
The TMZ article appears to have been written with two specific intentions; the first, to suggest that Jackson was reckless when it came to drugs -- particularly anesthetic, an overdose of which caused his death in June 2009 -- and the second, to suggest that he was a bad father, ordering his then six-year-old child to undergo a procedure involving the ‘risky’ use of general anesthetic. In actuality, the facts demonstrate neither point.
Describing the use of anesthetic on a child during oral surgery as a ‘risky medical treatment’ is utterly inaccurate and entirely irresponsible. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry’s (AAPD) website, “General anesthesia can be helpful for children requiring significant surgical procedures.” Jackson’s son required two hours of dental surgery.
The AAPD website also states that, “general anesthetic can be used safely and effectively when administered by an appropriately-trained individual in an appropriately-equipped facility.” This brings me neatly to my next point.
According to TMZ’s own version of events, which purports to be taken from internal documents, Dr Tadrissi told Jackson he wasn’t able to administer anesthetic – so Jackson instructed the doctor to bring in a qualified anesthesiologist.
According to a legal document obtained by SawfNews.com -- a Stipulation Agreement filed by the Nevada State Board of Dental Examiners in March 2010 -- Dr Tadrissi did exactly that, hiring a ‘Nevada licensed anesthesiologist’ to administer anesthetic during Jackson’s own surgery. His son’s surgery is not mentioned in the Stipulation Agreement, but there is no evidence to suggest that Dr Tadrissi’s actions differed when treating the boy.
This confirmation that Dr Tadrissi hired a licensed anesthesiologist renders some segments of TMZ’s article entirely fictitious, not least it’s incredibly misleading headline, ‘MJ Pushed Dr. To Improperly Give Son Anesthesia’. The anesthetic wasn’t given by the doctor and it wasn’t given improperly. Moreover, Jackson didn’t push the doctor to administer anything. By TMZ’s own admission, Jackson specifically asked for a professional anesthesiologist.
The article’s first line is also fictitious, stating that, “Michael Jackson subjected one of his children to the same risky medical treatment that eventually killed him.” Jackson died in his home after his personal doctor -- not a qualified anesthesiologist -- self-confessedly administered anesthetic unnecessarily and did so without any of the necessary accompanying equipment. Conversely, in 2008 Jackson allowed a licensed anesthesiologist to sedate his son using the correct equipment in a dentist’s clinic for necessary surgery. The situations aren’t remotely comparable.
Once you strip TMZ’s scoop of its inaccuracy and hyperbole, here’s what you’re left with; in 2008, Michael Jackson took his son to a dentist, who told Jackson that his son required a two-hour-long surgical procedure and would need to be anesthetized. Jackson asked the dentist to hire a licensed anesthesiologist. The dentist complied. The boy was sedated under the correct circumstances and monitored by a professional throughout his surgery. In other words, Jackson behaved like any other parent, allowing his child to undergo necessary medical treatment but first ensuring that it was to be done properly.
By wrongly accusing Jackson of ‘pushing’ and ‘cajoling’ the dentist into conducting a ‘risky medical treatment’, TMZ implies that the dentist’s care was somehow substandard or dangerous. This is untrue. Dr Tadrissi did not stand accused of endangering his patients, giving substandard care or any other form of incompetence. He simply allowed a licensed anesthesiologist to sedate a patient in his clinic without the correct permit.
So for all TMZ’s sensationalism -- which would have you believe that Dr Tadrissi is some sort of Dr Feelgood, dishing out anesthetic like lollipops -- his only real mistake was one akin to selling a few bottles of Wild Turkey out of one’s garage without first acquiring a liquor license. Aside from covering the cost of the investigation ($2750), Tadrissi was simply required to complete eight hours of education (four on ethics, four on record keeping) and take a jurisprudence exam.
Through misleading and at times wholly inaccurate wording, TMZ has spun a bureaucratic misdemeanor into an exaggerated tale of medical malpractice and maniacally irresponsible parenting. The timing is suspicious; Dr Conrad Murray has just been ordered to stand trial for the involuntary manslaughter of Michael Jackson and the media’s coverage of both the singer and his physician could significantly impact potential jurors’ views on the star’s death between now and the trial.
By twisting the facts in order to portray Jackson as a deranged diva who demanded the ‘risky’ use of anesthetic on himself and his six-year-old son, TMZ paints a picture of a man who could very easily have bullied his physician into giving him anesthetic or even have administered it to himself.
TMZ’s sensationalistic story about Jackson’s trips to the dentist is especially irresponsible given that the website is now seen by many as a go-to spot for news on the star. Ever since the site was the first media outlet in the world to break the news of Jackson’s death (although many fans have labeled this a fluke, claiming that the site announced Jackson’s death long before it was even called at the hospital) the website has achieved a level of popularity, recognition and perceived credibility which it had never before seen.
Already, dozens of other websites have replicated TMZ’s story and many more will almost certainly follow suit. In an industry plagued by ‘copy and paste’ journalism TMZ should take more care to ensure that its journalism is both fair and accurate. Neither can be said for yesterday’s story.
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