Despite Jackson spending four months in a courtroom at the centre of a criminal trial for child molestation, and being found not guilty on 10 counts, plus four lesser counts, this apparently means absolutely nothing as today’s prosecutors and jurors seem to be anyone with a social media account.
In 2005, Forbes commented that “no allegations have been more publicly scrutinised than those against Michael Jackson.” And yet, in an era where Hollywood is unravelling under a myriad of sexual abuse claims, the public focus seems to be once again, squarely on Michael Jackson.
So after 26 years, a 10 year investigation by the FBI, countless departmental investigations and two legal acquittals, Jackson is on the stand once again, except this time one created by social media!
The film, Leaving Neverland has sought to push Jackson’s reputation over the parapet, which he (and later his Estate) have been building up since the 2005 trial, in which he was fully acquitted. Featuring two former Jackson allies, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who after years of ardent support for Jackson’s innocence are now chasing a money trail by deciding to change their minds in favour of a tale of egregious behaviour on Jackson’s part, something they claim they only came to understand in 2013 was wrong, at the ages of 31 and 37 respectively.
Since its initial screening at the Sundance Film Festival, it’s had the intended outcome across social media – outrage, scandal and a revisit of the allegations of the past and once again, everyone has to add their thoughts on Michael Jackson. For their part, the majority of the media have responded as they did in 2005; and have fired out a barrage of Jackson-related articles across the internet at a rapid pace, all with the assertion and opinion that, based purely on Leaving Neverland alone, Michael Jackson must have been a paedophile.
And twitter accounts and Facebook pages of the public have played their part in taking these factless opinion pieces and running to the hills with them.
When somebody makes an accusation, there’s an understandable desire to believe them, nobody is arguing that point. However, it is then important to establish the facts – what happened? when did it happen? how did it happen? where did it happen? Whilst belief may be an initial entitlement, we live in a world where we have to work with facts. If I walked into a police station and asserted that I was attacked in the street, i’d first be given the courtesy of belief, but I would then be required to provide details.
And in the case of Leaving Neverland, they’ve provided ‘details’, two hours worth of ‘details’, the problem for them however is that the facts simply override their ‘details’ and the most contradictory for their claims is that both spent over 20 years defending Jackson’s innocence until 2013, where they attempted a cash-grab from the Jackson Estate, then changed their legal arguments multiple times, creating new narratives, something they’ve yet to address to an even remotely satisfactory or conclusive point. In similar fashion, the social media prosecution ignore the facts of the last 26 years and run with the details they’ve acquired from scandalous news articles and debunked theories, creating new narratives and failing to address their ‘opinions’ when challenged with in the presentation of actual evidence.
The 2005 case was tried on testimony AND facts. If the judge dismissed the jury to go and deliberate based on the Arvizos testimony alone, what kind of justice system would that be, without at least attempting to counter (or support) their claims with as many pieces of factual evidence as possible?
Yet that’s exactly what is playing out on social media as a result of Leaving Neverland, a film that offers a story, of epic and damning proportions, and then expects to just send the jury out for deliberations without counter arguments, facts, or most importantly, an explanation as to why they spoke under oath in Jackson’s defense and continued to amend and change their accounts during their lawsuit with the Jackson Estate. The film is designed to disgust whilst tugging on the heart strings.
The social media prosecution is running their case on emotion, not on facts. When presented with the evidence which contradicts the word of Robson and Safechuck, we’re bounced around the “yeah, but…” sphere and few manage to maintain one line of the discussion. Ultimately what we’re left with are nothing but opinions, which, are not facts. As Dr. Cortney S. Warren, an Associate Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the University of Nevada and an Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Nevada School of Medicine points out:
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But not all opinions are equally valuable. The truth is that opinions based in fact—in measurable, meaningful data—are more valuable than those that are not.”
And this is precisely where the social media prosecution should fall down, owing to the reason that all these ‘opinions’ of Jackson’s guilt, cannot be supported by facts, meaning they hold no value. Whereas opinions of Jackson’s innocent are easily supported by facts through legal documents, transcripts and physical evidence suggesting their value should be much greater. Two examples, and perhaps two of the most used social media arguments for Jackson’s guilt are:
“He had child pornography at Neverland”
This of course stemming largely from the Radar Online “exclusive” in June 2016, which claimed the FBI found sick and distressing evidence of child pornography at Jackson’s Ranch.
This claim was completely false, but it was debunked by the FBI records which are publicly available and shows no documentation of a single item of such nature. In addition, a lengthy article by Raven Woods on the Huffington Post includes the fact that many of the items Radar online were claiming the FBI had ‘discovered’ were either images which had been manipulated or redacted in specific areas to give the impression of nude photography, when they were not or, more incredibly, artistic pieces that were created in 2010, a year after Jackson’s death!
Finally, Neverland was subjected to a surprise raid, by order of a search warrant on 18th November 2003, by no less than 60 officers who uncovered absolutely nothing to the effect after a thorough search of the ranch, including areas that the warrant did not permit them to search. Yet still there was no evidence of illegal material. The video footage of the raid captured by the DA’s office, also showed no discovery of such material. Had they found anything of such a nature, then Jackson would have been charged a faced jail time for that alone. But he didn’t, because there wasn’t any.
On contrary, Jackson had a healthy appetite for heterosexual, adult pornography, (a list of which can be found here) something Jackson’s defense attorney addressed in the 2005 opening statement:
“The prosecutor told you that there were girlie-type magazines and sexually explicit material in Mr. Jackson’s home, and there were. Mr. Jackson will freely admit that he does read girlie magazines from time to time. And what he does is he sends someone to the local market, and they pick up Playboy and they pick up Hustler, and he has read them from time to time. He absolutely denies showing them to children.”
The second common argument of the social media prosecution is that:
“He paid off his ‘victims…he bought people’s silence…he was powerful and bought his freedom.’”
Three parts to unpack here in summary fashion, all of which centralise around money, which are key indicators in the five sexual abuse claims against Jackson.
It’s widely believed that in the first case in 1993 that Jackson paid money to the Chandlers to make the situation go away. In summary, despite early discussions regarding financial compensation, the Chandlers filed a civil lawsuit on 14th September 1993. With the criminal investigation on-going, Jackson’s lawyers requested a delay to the civil lawsuit, one they were denied. Two grand juries found there to be no evidence to pursue a criminal trial. Jackson entered rehab with an addiction to pain medication and so began the onslaught of the media in mocking his condition and legal circus that was now surrounding him.
In Jackson’s absence, his insurance company “negotiated and paid the settlement, over the protests of Mr. Jackson and his personal legal counsel.” Court documents revealed the insurance company made the payments based on their contractual rights to settle the proceeding without Jackson’s permission.
The agreement signed by both parties was clear in stating that the settlement was by no means an admission of any wrongdoing and Jackson maintained his innocence.
The Chandlers’ lawyer Larry Feldman stated: “Nobody bought anybody’s silence.”
The Francia case came directly off the back of the Chandler case and was shrouded in lack of evidence, deception and multiple changes in story, centred around an alleged tickling which Francia was never quite sure, by all accounts, if it even happened. With the release of HIStory on the way, Jackson paid $2.4 million on legal advice. For anyone looking to see this as ‘hush money’, the civil settlement still allowed Francia to testify on the stand in the 2005 criminal trial against Jackson, which he did. The Jury commented that they didn’t find Francia credible at all and his story had changed yet again.
These are the only two occasions that financial settlements have been made. In June 2013, The Sunday People alleged that Jackson had paid off 24 parents and children. These allegation have proven false and no such information existed in the FBI files The Sunday People claimed to be quoting. CNN Special Investigations reporter Drew Griffin noted
None of this is new — zero — and there was no FBI involvement, It just sounds like recycled tabloid reports from 20 years ago.”
Even Diane Dimond, who is hell-bent on linking Jackson to some shred of guilt, stated there was no evidence to back up the claims made by The Sunday People. All commentators point to Paul Barresi, a former porn actor who lost his private investigator licence for fabricating evidence and attempted to represent two live-in chefs at Neverland who claimed they’d witness Jackson fondle Macaulay Culkin, something Culkin has continued to state, did not happen. In 1994, Barresi stated in reference to the chefs:
“My interest in helping them was that they promised me a percentage of what they made,” Baressi said. “I was not on any kind of crusade to bring anyone to justice. Whether Michael was guilty or innocent at that point was inconsequential. My interest was strictly for the money, as was theirs, I might add.”
For the Arvizos, the subjects of the 2005 trial, financial gain could not be achieved without first going through a criminal case. Prior to 1997 a defendant could avoid criminal conviction for a misdemeanor molestation offense through what is called a “civil compromise.” If the alleged victim appeared in court and acknowledged receiving some sort of compensation, monetary or otherwise, for the injury, pending charges could be dismissed.
District Attorney Tom Sneddon was not going to lose his golden goose to a settlement. He’d been hoping for somebody to come forward and stated as much in public interviews in 1995, 1996, 2001 and 2003. Should he secure a guilty verdict against Jackson on criminal charges, this would leave the Arvizos to almost automatically win a civil suit. Jackson would be in jail and the Arvizos would receive their pay-day.
Finally, Robson and Safechuck who appear in the Leaving Neverland film, both of whom filed lawsuits against the Jackson Estate seeking astronomical financial settlements both of which were dismissed.
Those who claim Jackson was powerful and bought his freedom are again, lacking evidence to support this. What is true however is at the height of the 2005 trial, Jackson had two outstanding loans to the Bank of America totalling at $270 million. BoA sold the loans to Fortress Investment group in May 2005 on the belief that Jackson was at high risk of defaulting. With no touring, lack of endorsement deals, high debts and a damaged brand as a result of the allegations and media assassination, Jackson’s ‘power’ was virtually non-existent and his access to cash was much the same.
That aside, District Attorney Sneddon was so desperate to convict Jackson, he was steadfast on prosecuting and would not be party to any power plays or pay off. Equally, Judge Rodney Melville who presided over the 2005 case had served as a Superior Court Judge for 15 years, having previously specialist in family law – To suggest money or power affected his decisions to preside over a court case would be unjust and unfounded.
It’s easy to peg the latest frenzy as a result of Leaving Neverland to the ‘Me Too’ movement. But the two couldn’t be further apart if they tried. Jackson was indeed taken to court over the allegations, tried extensively and acquitted. He never hid in the comforting bosom of the Hollywood elite, under protection of powerful influencers. The media almost unanimously tried him through the press and found him guilty, the Santa Barbara district attorney’s office worked tirelessly to pin something, anything, on Jackson, but failed to have anything even remotely substantial, other than the claims of one family which were proven false in court. The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) conducted an investigation and concluded claims of child abuse to be ‘unfounded’. The FBI investigated Jackson for 10 years at great length and great expense without Jackson’s knowledge, only to find nothing. Jackson’s entire life was put out in the public sphere and his privacy, something he had vehemently guarded, was laid bare, including his interest in heterosexual, adult-female pornography.
Jackson went through the entire legal process and everything in between and came out the otherside with a not guilty verdict and his life and public persona in tatters – Again, a far cry from the damning evidence coming to light in cases connected with the ‘Me Too’ movement.
The Director of the film, Dan Reed, supported by the social media prosecutors expects more ‘victims’ to come forward as he lavishes in the public ‘hype’ his fantasy piece is receiving. Yet one would have assumed he’d have found these victims, that of course supposing that he’d researched the topic at length and such ‘victims’ existed. What he fails to mention is that in 1993, over 200 witnesses including 40 children who had spent time around Jackson were interviewed and all stated clearly that no abuse had taken place. Included in those witness statements were both Robson and Safechuck. More people have come forward however, but not in the way Reed had hoped. They come in the form of friends, family and former children who visited Neverland and spent time with Jackson and all have reaffirmed Jackson’s innocence.
On the one hand, there’s the exhaustive arguments of guilt based on opinion and on the other there’s the arguments of guilt based on the notion from tweets and facebook posts that Jackson was ‘weird, so it must be true.’ Ironic, seeing as we’ve found ourselves in an age where being different or being quirky is celebrated, unless of course, you’re Michael Jackson. In the social media courts, Jackson’s alternative nature is condemned in direct parallel to individuality and freedom to be who you are being celebrated. Being different is not a crime and being different did not make Jackson guilty of paedophilia.
For the anti-Jackson tabloid media’s part in the social media onslaught, the Leaving Neverland film seems have spurned a plethora of ‘experts’ in both sexual abuse and Michael Jackson. Ignoring the facts, previous actions of both Robson and Safechuck, the FBI investigation, the 2005 court transcripts, the lawsuits against the Estate and countless other measures which throw the entire premise of Leaving Neverland into the fiction category, journalists have taken great pleasure in rushing to twitter and facebook to express their ‘shock’ and ‘outrage’, whilst reappropriating stories of councillors being on hand at Sundance Film Festival to help with traumatic responses to the film – A salacious PR spin, to help bolster the ‘shocking’ narrative and create a twisted hype around the film’s spring viewing in households across the UK and the U.S where, for reference, councillors will NOT be provided. That theatrical PR production was reserved exclusively for journalists!
And the click-bait headlines for the media are their payday. A guilty verdict in 2005 would have resulted in decades of Jackson headlines, the fall of his world and the price for exclusive photographs of Jackson’s incarceration would have likely been close to the six figure sum. But that was not to be and so the media found their first payday in 2009 on Jackson’s death, where it benefited them to push Jackson stories around his greatness and his legacy. Yet 10 years on, the Jackson headlines have been reduced to yearly updates on how his Estate is flourishing and that’s just not generating any scandal for these journalists. So with the arrival of Leaving Neverland, it was time to dust off the old debunked Jackson stories, give them a fresh new title and push them out on social media and let the parasites have their feed. The irresponsibility from the media is plain to see for those who look beyond a one-sided story and only a small percentage are choosing to question the film’s content, verses those on social media who are running with ‘It’s on tv and two people said it, so it must be true.’
It’s interesting that so few of those who have so religiously brought into the film’s singular narrative have not questioned why Robson and Safechuck have not launched any further, individual, criminal lawsuits outside of their civil suit against Jackson’s Estate and companies. Operation Yewtree was one of the most explosive and revealing police investigations into child sexual abuse the UK has ever seen and it unearth a host of people who were culpable in aiding the sexual abuse of children at the hands of their predators. If we’re to believe the claims of Robson and Safechuck, there would have to be, without doubt, many many other people involved, who were around Jackson and privy to his inner world. In the lawsuit, Robson lists Ms. Staikos, MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures – other than Ms Staikos, Robson was suing companies, for money. If he truly felt he had a case wouldn’t he sue the host of people that were operating and running these companies, Neverland staff, security guards, drivers and others who would have facilitate his ‘times’ with Jackson in individual lawsuits? But there are no such lawsuits, because none would gather the media attention or the financial rewards that accusing Jackson himself could garner. We’re being asked to believe that this situation starts and ends with Jackson and Jackson alone – another one of the many reasons as to why, these allegations do not even remotely add up.
Through Jackson’s social media trial, the detailings of his life have not been explored in a fair context, despite journalists claiming to be ‘exposing’ elements of Jackson’s world through clickbait articles. The title of the articles are what starts the discussions, not its content and it’s this that begins the social media judging. It’s fair to suggest that the majority of people will not have heard of Robson prior to the allegations and almost nobody outside of the Jackson fan community will be familiar with Safechuck. Yet their stories are being supported under the guise of ‘believing the victim.’ – This is fine, when the victim is presenting their story without there being evidence to directly contradict their statements or dismiss their claims. And watching them on screen should not suddenly make them more credible or free from requiring to answer why the facts dismiss their new claims. You don’t watch Game of Thrones and decide Dragons are real and are living among us. We have facts and evidence that prove they don’t!
For some bizarre reason, it seems that the social media trend is to almost want Jackson to be guilty. Another allegation is another string in the bow of pushing Jackson’s guilt with complete disregard for everything that’s come before. People just flat out believe it. In contrast, Jackson had more allegations of fathering multiple children and paternity lawsuits against him than there has ever been child abuse allegations. But to present Jackson as a straight black man who liked to have relations with women, aka the real Michael Jackson, would not get the clicks, shares and retweets that defaming his image in the most despicable manner will. Social media thrives on a sordid Jackson scandal and people feed on it, like an addiction, defying logic, law and reasoning in favour of mass population, because everyone seems to love to find themselves with an opinion on Michael Jackson, irrespective of how ignorant and uneducated it is.
For the media, like vultures they continue to pick at the already decimated carcass that are these allegation. This story is done. It’s been done for a long time and the evidence and facts prove it’s done. For Robson, his story with Jackson was done the day he took the stand and told the truth under oath in 2005 – that Jackson didn’t sexual abuse him and never had. The only part of Robson (and Safechuck’s) story that does still require further examination is the frankly disturbing remarks both men have made about visualising or imagining their own children being sexually abused. Let’s hope the DCFS, FBI, DA, the media and social media approach this with the same level of scrutiny and extremity that they have done the Jackson allegations for the past 26 years.
As for Leaving Neverland, the Sundance screening was just the beginning of Jackson’s trial by social media. Following both Channel 4 and HBO’s decision to screen it on TV in the spring, the battle lines will once again be drawn, the same arguments will be played out again and again and people will deem themselves qualified to proclaim Jackson’s guilt because, in their eyes a four hour, one sided film now makes them an expert on Michael Jackson. Jackson fans across the globe are thankfully arming themselves with links, documents and knowledge to be sure the social media defense continues its strong case, as it has done thus far, because to these people the truth is what is important. No fan of Jackson is here to support the abuse of children! Many are parents themselves and as a collective they would not excuse abuse because they ‘like the music’. The facts are clear, Jackson was not a child molester and his fans are continuing to spread that across social media in a factual way, to combat the baseless accusations against him.
What is evident in the today’s society and as we’ve witnessed in Jackson’s latest trial in death, albeit by social media, is that social media has developed itself into a place where people make their statements with little-to-no substance and then fiercely defend it in the face of facts to the contrary. Freedom of speech does not equal freedom from consequence and we as a society should be taking more care to regard how social media seems to freely try somebody who is innocent, both actually and factually.
Follow Pez Jax on Twitter – @pezjax