Stipulated: I have long-believed that Michael Jackson was a probably a pedophile. The circumstantial evidence is voluminous; he was obviously beset with psychological and emotional problems, he had the wealth and influence to cover up his conduct, and a grown man who admits to sharing a bed with young boys and insists there is nothing wrong with it is justifiably suspect. However, the plain facts are that Jackson has never been proven to be a child molester.
In case you haven’t followed this story, here is the Wikipedia entry on Jackson’s first molestation scandals—it’s long, but we can’t fairly discuss it without common reference points. A bulleted summary from that article:
- Jackson became friends with Jordan Chandler and his family after a meeting in May 1992. Their friendship became so close that the National Enquirer ran a featured story with the title “Michael’s New Adopted Family”. The story implied that Jackson had “stolen” the boy from his estranged father, Evan Chandler.
- Jackson invited Jordan, his stepsister and his mother to visit his weird, theme park-like Neverland Ranch on the weekends. They would also take trips to Las Vegas and Florida. These trips interfered with Jordan’s scheduled visits with his father, with Jordan preferring to visit Neverland.
- On July 2, 1993, in a private telephone conversation, Chandler was recorded saying that he had hired a “nasty” lawyer to sue Jackson: “Jackson is an evil guy, he is worse than that and I have the evidence to prove it. If I go through with this, I win big-time. There’s no way I lose. I will get everything I want and they will be destroyed forever … Michael’s career will be over.”
- The recorded conversation was a critical aspect of Jackson’s defense against the allegations made against him.
- The Los Angeles Police Department’s Sexually Exploited Child Unit began a criminal investigation into Jackson. A search warrant was issued, allowing police to search Neverland Ranch. Police questioned 30 children who were friends of Jackson, who all stated that Jackson was not a child molester.No evidence (medical, photographic or video) could be found that would support a criminal filing.
- In the winter of 1993, Jackson’s sister La Toya Jackson, who had been estranged from the family and not seen him for several years, claimed that Jackson was a pedophile and offered to disclose evidence for $500,000.
- In December 1993, Jackson was served with a warrant for a strip search, as police wanted to verify Jordan Chandler’s description of Jackson’s genitals. Reports vary on whether the photographs of Jackson corroborated Jordan’s allegations.
- On September 14, 1993, Jordan Chandler and his parents filed a civil lawsuit against Jackson.
- In late 1993, district attorneys in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties convened grand juries to assess whether criminal charges should be filed. By 1994, prosecution departments in California had spent $2 million and the grand juries had questioned 200 witnesses, but Jordan’s allegations could not be corroborated.
- The lawsuit was settled on January 25, 1994, with$15,331,250 to be held in a trust fund for Jordan, $1.5 million for each of his parents, and $5 million for the family’s lawyer, for a total of approximately $23 million.
- In 2004, Jackson’s attorney said: “People who intended to earn millions of dollars from [Jackson’s] record and music promotions did not want negative publicity from these lawsuits interfering with their profits. Michael Jackson now regrets making these payments.” The settlement agreement specifically stated that Jackson admitted no wrongdoing and no liability.
- A Santa Barbara County grand jury disbanded on May 2 1994 without indicting Jackson, while a Los Angeles County grand jury continued to investigate the sexual abuse allegations.
A summary of the second episode, which involved a trial, again from the Wiki article:
- In August 2000, Gavin Arvizo, a boy with cancer in remission, visited Neverland Ranch with his family.
- In 2003, ITV broadcast a documentary, “Living with Michael Jackson,” for which journalist Martin Bashir (he is the one who was fired from MSNBC for saying that Sarah Palin should be forced to eat shit) interviewed Jackson over eight months. In the documentary, Jackson and Arvizo held hands and discussed sleepovers, and Jackson said he had slept in bed with many children. He said: “It’s not sexual, we’re going to sleep. I tuck them in… It’s very charming, it’s very sweet.”
- In June 2003, The LA police investigation into Jackson’s alleged pederasty was reopened, the whole of it lasting two years and producing 1,900 pages of grand jury testimony.
- In August, authorities interviewed Gavin Arvizo, who told police that Jackson had molested him several times.
- On November 18, 2003,police searched Neverland Ranch, and again, nothing incriminating was found.
- On December 18, 2003, Jackson was charged with seven counts of child molestation and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent for the purpose of a committing a felony.
- On April 21, 2004, a grand jury indicted Jackson on several additional related charges, including conspiracy involving child abduction, false imprisonment, and extortion.
- Jordan Chandler, the alleged victim in the 1993 child abuse allegations, left the country rather than appear as a witness in the trial.
- Chandler’s mother, June Chandler, testified that Jackson had become angry and upset when she would not allow Jordan to share his bedroom. She claimed Jackson told her: “We’re a family. Why don’t you allow Jordie to be with me… Jordie is having fun. Why can’t he sleep in my bed. There’s nothing going on. Why don’t you trust me?” She relented, and in return received a gold Cartier bracelet from Jackson. During her testimony, she claimed that she could not remember being sued by Jackson (who had counter-sued for extortion) and said that she had never heard of her own attorney.
- After deliberating for about 32 hours, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty on all charges.
Of course, the bare bones do not give a flavor of the carnival-like atmosphere of the trial, the media coverage, and Jackson’s cultish defenders. The point, however, is that we don’t know. The parents of his Jackson’s accusers were of dubious character: it was suggested that parents allowed their sons to spend time with Jackson hoping they would be molested. We didn’t see the testimony or review the evidence. After the trial and the acquittal, people settled into camps of those who thought Jackson was just a misunderstood case of Innocent arrested development and those who thought he was a predator by celebrity, but we don’t know.
Then, last weekend, Dan Reed’s “Leaving Neverland” aired on HBO last week in two parts on Sunday. It is a documentary that profiles Wade Robson and James Safechuck, two men who now say Michael Jackson sexually abused them when they were children. They did not accuse Jackson while he was alive, or come forth forward during the trial, or when the Jordan Chandler affair was going on. There has been no law enforcement investigation of their claims, and Jackson, who is dead, has not been questioned about their allegations, nor did he have a chance to deny or disprove them. However well-done “Leaving Neverland’ may be, it is a documentary, meaning that a film-maker has scripted and edited to advocate something, in this case, the accusations of these two men. We know, or should, how documentaries can be persuasive without being fair, objective or accurate: we’ve seen “An Inconvenient Truth” and Michael Moore’s artful manipulations.
I can go on Netflix right now and watch intermittently convincing documentaries showing that the U.S. government is engaged in a long-running conspiracy to cover up the activities of outer-space alien activities, that JFK was assassinated by the CIA, and many even more amazing claims. A documentary is one side of an argument, even when it purports to include the arguments of skeptics. So why was the public reaction to “Leaving Neverland” to suddenly conclude that Michael Jackson was a monster?
Oprah Winfrey, long a defender of Michael Jackson, cashed in characteristically with a weepy one hour special with the director and the two men as her guests. The presumption of the show was that they were telling the truth. They were, after all, victims. Winfrey packed the audience with victims of sexual abuse, none of whom had any relevance to whether or not Jackson was guilty. Winfrey solicited responses from some of the them: again, irrelevant. She called upon Howard R. Fradkin, a psychological trauma consultant specializing in male sexual abuse, to speak about patterns of grooming and manipulation. It might as well have been Dr. Phil. He’s never interviewed Jackson. Fradkin’s presence is prejudicial without adding anything substantive to the case against Jackson.
Then Oprah Winfrey mentioned her own experience as a survivor of child abuse. Again, irrelevant, except that it allies her with Jackson’s accusers, a cheap and unethical tactic that also reveals her own bias. That she was molested has nothing to do with Michael Jackson, nor does it tell us anything about the credibility of Robson and James Safechuck, but to most audience members, it seems to. After all, the Great Oprah was a victim and she’s telling the truth, and they are just like her, right?
Winfrey explained at the beginning of the taping that she reached out to Reed after watching the documentary, telling him that he had done “in four hours what I tried to do in 217 episodes” dedicated to educating her audience about sexual abuse. Well fine, except that no matter how accurate the documentary may have been about child abuse, it was primarily a post-mortem accusation against a dead man who had no opportunity to defend himself.
Robson filed a lawsuit against the Jackson estate in 2013, and Safechuck filed his own a year later. Filing a lawsuit does not prove guilt (I’m being sued for defamation), and suing after the true defendant is dead suggest to me that the plaintiff just might not want ensure a fair trial. Reed denied that Robson and Safechuck are only coming forward for financial gain, and swore that neither of the men or their families received compensation for the film, but the two lawsuits are both pending, and money is at stake through them. There are other ways the documentary might pay off for them.
Winfrey, referring to the Jackson family’s lawsuit against Reed and HBO, said, “All the anger — you guys are going to get it. You know that, right? You’re going to get it. I’m going to get it. We’re all going to get it.”
They all will deserve “it” too. Waiting so long to make a devastating accusation that that it must be believed on faith—Hello, Anita Hill and Dr. Blasey Ford!-–is unethical (This is why Robson’s suit was thrown out: it’s too old. He’s appealing) when the accused is alive. Doing so is worse when the accused is dead. The sudden turn of public opinion against Jackson is ultimately political: it is “believe all accusers” propaganda. Oprah provides more bogus justification for ignoring the principle of presumed innocence. Victims should be believed if the mistreatment they are alleging is horrific (false); they should be believed if they seem sympathetic (false); they should be believed if doing so advances efforts to stop the conduct at issue (false); they should be believed if others have suffered what they claim to have suffered (false); they should be believed if other genuine victims have been disbelieved (false). The should be believed if they seem believable (false). They should be believed if there are other reasons to dislike or distrust the accused. (false.)
They should be believed if, and only if, there is sufficient evidence other than their testimony to support the accusations, and if the accused has had a fair opportunity to defend himself.
Yes, I think the King of Pop was probably a child molester, but I don’t know. I do know that “Leaving Neverland” proves nothing, and anyone who pretends that it does is joining the dangerous and unethical “Believe all accusers” fallacy, which has been advanced to assist the “believe all women” movement.