Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Guardian columnist insinuates that Michael Jackson was a paedophile; Charles Thomson explodes the myths behind the 1993 case

The Guardian was today forced to disable the 'comments' function on an editorial about Michael Jackson after hundreds of readers voiced their disgust at the irresponsible factual inaccuracies that it contained.

Tanya Gold's bemusing rant about Michael Jackson provoked outrage as she lambasted the King of Pop, claiming that he couldn't write hits, wasn't a great dancer and that his innovation of the music video was meaningless.

Most shocking, however, was her strong insinuation that Jackson was a paedophile, which supported with a number of incorrect 'facts'.

Gold's editorial wrongly claimed that during Jackson's 1993 child abuse storm, Jordan Chandler had accurately described the star's genitals to police officers.

This is a fiction.

The myth that Chandler accurately described Jackson's genitals is one that has been perpetuated by hack writers for over one and a half decades.

In 2007 Jacques Peretti - also a Guardian contributor - faced a barrage of OFCOM complaints after his pseudo-documentary 'Michael Jackson - What Really Happened' also rehashed this myth.

It is well documented that Jordan Chandler did not accurately describe Michael Jackson's genitals. Among other inaccuracies, he claimed that Jackson was circumcised, whilst police photographs proved that he was not.

Here is Chandler's drawing of Jackson's penis, which he gave to police officers 1993:

Damning, I'm sure you will agree.

Chandler's failure to corroborate his allegations - including his inability to accurately describe Jackson's genitals - was the reason Jackson never faced charges in 1993.

The white media would have you believe that the reason Jackson never faced trial in 1993 was because he paid off the boy's family.

This is also bogus.

The investigation into Jackson's conduct began in 1993 and lasted long into 1994. During this prolonged period - long before the financial settlement was reached - Jackson was never arrested and he was never charged. This was due to a complete lack of corroborative evidence. DA Tom Sneddon took his 'case' against Jackson to three separate grand juries - all three refused to let him bring charges against the star.

But the media won't tell you that.

Ergo, the media's widespread claim that Jackson bought his way out of a criminal trial is a myth - he was never going to stand criminal trial in the first place. When Jackson settled with the Chandler family, he was not being prosecuted. He was being sued.

To claim that Jackson settled the case at all is also a myth, although that's not the way the mainstream media tells it.

Jackson never paid the Chandlers a cent in the 1994 financial settlement. It was the the star's insurance company which covered the costs, not the Jackson himself. Furthermore, documents prove that the settlement was arranged against the star's wishes.

Court documents which came to light in 2005 stated: "The settlement agreement was for global claims of negligence and the lawsuit was defended by Mr Jackson's insurance carrier. The insurance carrier negotiated and paid the settlement over the protests of Mr Jackson and his personal legal counsel."

All of this, Tanya Gold fails to include in her editorial.

It seems to have escaped Tanya Gold's notice that Jackson was acquitted and vindicated in his 2005 trial - a trial that included testimony about the 1993 case. As such, Jackson died an innocent man, and no person has the right to insinuate otherwise.

Interestingly, Gold - who never attended a single day of Jackson's trial - seems to believe that she knows better than the 12 jurors who sat through every nanosecond of testimony.

Such breathtaking arrogance is a problem that dogged Jackson for much of his career. The media has a habit of hiring clueless laypersons to offer 'expert analysis' on subjects they don't understand and Jackson fell prey to this trend more than his fair share of times.

The problem hit fever pitch during Jackson's trial. On weekday evenings in spring/summer 2005, shows like 'Richard and Judy' would regularly invite assorted columnists to offer 'expert opinion' on the star's trial. Presumably, none of these journalists had actually attended Jackson's trial, given that it was often in session in Santa Maria at the very moment that they were discussing it on 'Richard and Judy'.

Gold is another in a long line of non-experts masquerading as an expert. Her 'facts' have no basis in reality. She claims that Chandler accurately described Jackson's genitals - he didn't. She claims that Jackson bought off the boy's family - he didn't.

Gold's pathetic editorial is indicative of the systemic failure of the British media to report accurately on black celebrities. Rather than physically check whether Chandler accurately described Jackson's private parts, Gold vaguely recalls hearing some other hack claiming that he did and assumes that this is proof enough. And if it isn't - who cares? You can't libel the dead anyway.

Another half hour of online research - which isn't too much to expect from a professional journalist - would have produced further evidence that the 1993 allegations were a crock.

In the wake of the 1993 scandal journalist Mary A Fischer penned an article entitled 'Was Michael Jackson Framed?' The investigation appeared in GQ magazine and contained compelling evidence that the star had been set-up, including transcripts of tape recorded telephone calls in which the boy's father, Evan Chandler, was heard discussing his plans to extort money from Michael Jackson.

In 2004 Geraldine Hughes, legal secretary to Jordan Chandler's lawyer during the 1993 allegations, wrote a book called 'Redemption'. In the book Hughes detailed how she had witnessed, from the inside, the boy's father and his lawyer masterminding the plot to extort money from Michael Jackson, or destroy him if he didn't comply.

During Jackson's 2005 trial Jordan Chandler was called by the prosecution, but failed to show up to court. Instead his mother, June Chandler, took the stand. During her testimony she admitted that Jordan had legally divorced both of his parents and no longer spoke to either of them.

During a subsequent Q+A at Harvard University, Jackson's lawyer Thomas Mesereau revealed that the reason Chandler divorced his parents was allegedly because he was incensed that they had forced him to lie to the police and in doing so had destroyed his friendship with Jackson.

Mesereau also stated that had Chandler taken the stand, the defence had numerous witnesses lined up who were willing to testify that Chandler repeatedly told them he was never molested by Jackson and that his parents, particularly his father, had concocted the entire story.

The evidence that Jackson abused Jordy Chandler is zero. That is why the star was never arrested and never charged. Conversely, the evidence that Jackson was innocent is overwhelming.

Tanya Gold, like many journalists, would do well to research her subjects in future, rather than arrogantly concluding that her own ill-informed assumptions trump the proven facts. Of course, every columnist has the right to his or her opinion. However, what they do not have is the right to misrepresent facts - and they certainly do not have the right to label innocent men paedophiles.

Put simply - it is irresponsible. In the digital age, the Guardian has a worldwide internet readership. This means that a potential audience of millions could happen upon Tanya Gold's nonsense editorial, consume it and retain her bogus factual information. Similarly, Jacques Peretti's 2007 show was watched by millions and has been repeated incessantly ever since.

Writers - be they journalists or columnists - have a responsibility to their audiences. This is why research is of the upmost importance.

Tanya Gold has failed in her responsibilities. Readers put trust in journalists, particularly broadsheet journalists. Gold's editorial was teeming with factual inaccuracies.

Rarely have I seen such irresponsibility, particularly in a newspaper such as the Guardian.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Walking the red carpet with the men who stare at goats

It's not every day that you walk past George Clooney and it's even rarer that you do so on the red carpet at a film premiere. But as of this week I can consider both boxes ticked.

On Thursday night Clooney's latest offering debuted in Leicester Square on day two of the Times BFI London Film Festival. The Times Gala screening of 'The Men Who Stare at Goats' was the hottest ticket in town and I was lucky enough to have a pair.

Based on Jon Ronson's non-fiction book of the same name, the film tells the tale of the US government's preoccupation with teaching factions of its military to master psychic abilities.

The gala was a glitzy affair. Photographers and TV crews lined one side of the red carpet and screaming fans lined the other. Ticketholders were ushered through Leicester Square's famous garden (closed to the public for the evening) and into the middle of the hysteria. Surrounded by flashbulbs, autograph pads and dangerous looking security guards it was a surreal experience to walk past the cast and crew as they gave live interviews. Somewhere in the world I have now shared a screen with George Clooney, however briefly.

At 7pm Clooney took the stage with director Grant Heslov, producer Paul Lister, author Jon Ronson and screenwriter Peter Straughan. The actor addressed the audience, which included John Hurt, Neve Campbell, Damian Lewis and 'Shaun of the Dead' director Edgar Wright, who is rumoured to be directing a film adaptation of Ronson's first book 'Them: Adventures with Extremists'.

"As well as being a wonderful book," Clooney told the crowd, "this screenplay was considered one of the best screenplays not to be made into a movie for a long period of time."

Starring Ewan McGregor as a fledgling reporter fleeing a failed marriage, the film is not a particularly faithful adaptation of Ronson's book. However, this was to be expected. Journalism tends not to translate well to the silver screen. Writing a book like 'The Men Who Stare At Goats' would have been a long and arduous task involving months, if not years, of painstaking research. As a narrative arc, a journalist leafing endlessly through piles of documents is unlikely to set the box office on fire.

Perhaps the biggest deviation from the book is that McGregor's character, Bob Wilton, is desperate to enter Iraq and become a war correspondent, whereas Ronson actively avoided the country. The first time I met Jon Ronson was when I invited him to deliver a guest lecture at my university, during which he spoke about his reasons for not going to Iraq. "This was 2003," he said. "The insurgency was just beginning. My son was five years old."

On his travels Wilton encounters Lyn Cassady, a former psychic spy. In a show-stealing performance from George Clooney, Cassady wears the maniacal grin of a man constantly on the verge of a breakdown. Hilarious and unnerving in equal measure, Clooney plays Cassady with the naivety and conviction of Buzz Lightyear in his first outing; a man utterly convinced of his own psychic abilities in the face of what seems like overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Cassady is an amalgamation of several psychic spies who feature in Ronson's book and while he is a fictional character the stories he tells of soldiers trying to become invisible, walk through walls and kill animals just by staring at them are true and lifted directly from Ronson's original text.

Elsewhere, Jeff Bridges is endearing as Bill Django, a hippie soldier modelled closely on Jim Channon, the Lieutenant Colonel behind the 'First Earth Battalion Manual', a tome urging soldiers to win wars through peace and love rather than combat. The juxtaposition of Django's wide-eyed enthusiasm with the rigidity of his seniors is a constant source of humour.

Kevin Spacey also appears as slimy soldier Larry Hooper, a sour-faced perpetual bonfire pisser. The only central character not based on a real person, Hooper is a thorn in the side of Cassady and Django and viewers will relish watching him get his comeuppance.

'The Men Who Stare at Goats' is a fast-paced, Coen-esque feature that expertly delivers action, pathos and pure comedy. Quality source material, a snappy script, strong direction and a fantastic cast come together to create what is surely one of this year's must see films. Eliciting belly laughs for the entirety of its 90 minute running time, it was certainly a hit with Thursday night's audience.

The Men Who Stare at Goats is released nationwide on Friday 6th November.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Friedman: Jackson wasn't a great songwriter and stole other people's music

Gossip columnist Roger Friedman today launched a bemusing attack on Michael Jackson.

While Jackson was alive Friedman was considered by many to be the most accurate source of information on the star. However, since the King of Pop's death Friedman's sources seem to have deserted him.

For months Friedman touted the upcoming 'This Is It' soundtrack as a live album. Last week it was revealed that the set was actually a greatest hits album, but Friedman has neglected to mention this on his website.

He has now launched a bizarre assault on the King of Pop, stating that he was 'not a great songwriter' and baselessly claiming that he 'often took credit for material that wasn't his'.

The remarks would be offensive if they weren't so hilarious.

Jackson was a phenomenal songwriter. During his adult career he wrote the majority of his own hits, including 'Billie Jean', 'Beat It', 'Wanna Be Startin Somethin', 'Bad', 'The Way You Make Me Feel', 'Dirty Diana', 'Smooth Criminal', 'Don't Stop Til You Get Enough', 'Black or White', 'Heal The World' and many, many more. Not to mention the vast majority of the material on 'Jacksons' albums such as 'Destiny' and 'Triumph'.

As for Friedman's allegation that Jackson took credit for other people's material - it is entirely without merit. It is true that Jackson was repeatedly sued by chancers who implausibly claimed that he had pinched their songs, but I cannot recall a single instance in which he did not win. Jackson meticulously documented his creative process, archiving demos and even dictaphone tapes into which he would sing and scat songs as they came to him.

Friedman's comments were included in an article about the fall-out over 'This Is It', the demo Sony has put out to coincide with the release of 'Michael Jackson's This Is It', their documentary about Jackson's concert preparations. Since it hit radio stations on Monday morning, songwriter Paul Anka has claimed that the track was actually a collaboration between Jackson and himself.

In his article Friedman says Anka was a victim of 'theft' by Jackson, neglecting to mention that Jackson has been dead for four months and therefore clearly had no involvement in the decision to release the song exclusively under his own name. Indeed, it was already released once during Jackson's lifetime with both of their names on it.

Friedman also neglects to mention that the 1983 collaboration between Jackson and Anka was actually based on one of Jackson's own demos, a 1980 track titled 'This Is It', meaning that Jackson was the principal songwriter anyway.

It remains unclear whether the song released to airwaves this week was even the Anka collaboration at all - it could be Jackson's original 1980 demo. Either way, Friedman appears to have taken what was arguably a mistake on the part of the Jackson estate and concluded that it somehow proves Jackson was a habitual song thief. Talk about adding two and two and coming up with fifty six.

In 2006 Friedman was humiliated when his email account was hacked, exposing his bad practice. Leaked correspondence showed that he had conspired with Mariah Carey's manager to sabotage Madonna's tour by writing negative reviews of her concerts. In one instance he falsely claimed that Madonna had been booed offstage at a concert he hadn't even attended.

Friedman was fired from Fox News earlier this year for reviewing a pirate DVD of 'Wolverine'.

Is the Jackson estate paying Paul Anka for nothing?

Much has been made during the last few days of the fact that the new Michael Jackson single was actually a collaborative effort with Paul Anka. The 'My Way' singer claims that he and Jackson worked together on the song in 1983 with a working title of 'I Never Heard'. The single was released by an obscure artist called Safire in 1991 with Jackson and Anka listed as co-writers.

But all may not be as it seems.

Information held by the American Copyright Association suggests that in 1980 Jackson wrote and recorded a demo called 'This Is It'. The ACA lists the track as follows:

So it would seem that although Jackson and Anka may have tweaked the song at a later date, there was an existing demo which was exclusively written and recorded by Michael Jackson.

The question is, is the new single Jackson's solo demo or is it his Anka collaboration?

It seems to me to be the former.

Listen carefully to the new single. Several lines seem not to have any lyrics, Jackson instead scatting gibberish - placeholder vocals - to plot out the melody of the song. However, the 1991 Safire release - co-written by Jackson and Anka - boasts completed lyrics.

Has the Jackson estate just agreed to pay Paul Anka 50% of the profits for a demo in which he had no involvement?

Monday, 12 October 2009

The Media Circus

I seem to have become the darling of the Essex media industry in recent weeks following the publication of the Guardian Student Media Awards shortlist.

Consequently, I spent the majority of my graduation afternoon being marched from one photoshoot to another. After the obligatory professional picture for grandparents and the such like I was whisked off to be snapped by Southend College's photographer. I was then taken to a small room where I was interviewed for a promotional video.

After that I was snapped by the Echo, then by the Yellow Advertiser, then again by the Echo.

The Yellow Advertiser ran a rather flattering piece which can be read here, although I should point out that I have never written for a publication called 'War Poetics'. I have, however, written several times for the American black music journal 'Wax Poetics'.

The Echo ran a smaller piece with a rather unflattering, blurred photograph that made me look like a character from Steve Oedekerk's 'Thumb' films. As such, here is an exclusive behind the scenes shot from my 40 second photoshoot with the Echo, which will hopefully prove that I do not actually resemble a thumb with googly eyes.

Until next time!