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 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

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?