Sunday 30 June 2013

The Mirror, the People, and the settlement that never was...

It's a funny thing. Ever since the high-profile Michael Jackson death trial started going pear-shaped for promoter AEG Live, a lot of newspapers which carry prominent and lucrative advertising for its events have become more intent on smearing Michael Jackson than ever.

Leading the way has been The Mirror in the UK. A few weeks ago, contemporaneous emails presented at trial showed that AEG boss Randy Phillips had 'slapped' Michael Jackson because he was scared about attending a press conference. Slapped him and screamed at him 'so loud the walls shook'.

The shocking revelation was widely ignored by the press. Several days after the evidence was heard in open court, only one outlet had summoned the courage to publish it. AP did not include the testimony in its daily missive from the courtroom. The wire's reporter claimed on twitter he had been out of the courtroom sending emails when the testimony occurred.

It was only when fans started making noise about the 'cover-up' on sites like Twitter that other media companies grudgingly published the comments. AEG-sponsored newspapers like the Mirror, though, bizarrely tried to paint Michael Jackson as the bad guy. According to the first line of the Mirror's story, Jackson 'needed to be slapped'. Interestingly, the Mirror was a lot faster to publish a story last year accusing Janet Jackson of slapping a minor. A story which turned out to be a lie.

This weekend - days after Jackson's son took the stand and testified that he saw Phillips in his home while his father was not there, behaving 'aggressively' towards Jackson's doctor - the Mirror's Sunday edition, called the People, is at it again. It has published a highly misleading story about some 'FBI files' which allegedly show Michael Jackson was witnessed molesting children by multiple Neverland employees. The 'FBI files' also detail a supposed settlement with a young accuser in 1992 - before the Jordy Chandler case.

In reality, the story is a nonsense; a birds nest of mangled and misstated accusations which are neither 'new' nor 'exclusive', despite the People's repeated claims that they are. In fact, the documents are not 'FBI files' at all. This is a flat-out lie. Moreover, the claims have all been in the public domain for a very long time, some having been discredited two decades ago.

Of course, most readers won't bother to fact-check the story. Why would they? The newspaper is supposed to do that before publishing it. Sadly, it seems other media outlets can't be bothered either. Britain's Mail newspaper has already rehashed the story, evidently making no attempt to investigate its veracity before doing so.

I could go into a whole lot of detail about the claims made by the People - and the various lazy journalists who will copy and paste its story hundreds, or perhaps thousands of times onto their own websites and into their own newspapers in the coming days. But what is the point? The info is already in the public domain.

Those who hate Jackson will adopt the People's story as evidence for their case. Those with an interest in hearing both sides of Jackson's case will already know that these claims were debunked a long time ago. Nobody else will even bother to research the story. The People's readers buy the newspaper because they like and trust it. They, as intended, will believe this story and will not question it.

Briefly, however, for the record:

1) The 'FBI files' are not FBI files. They are transcripts of interviews compiled by a tabloid journalist who paid his sources - including one who, it seems, might not have actually existed.They were acquired by a PI who worked for Jackson's defence team. A decade later, he was prosecuted for tapping phones. The FBI seized all of his files, of which these tabloid interviews formed a miniscule part. The documents are therefore in the possession of the FBI - but they are not FBI files. If I order a Pizza Hut margherita to my home, that doesn't make it a 'Charles Thomson pizza'.

2) The allegations of Jackson being caught by multiple employees do not, as the People infers, come from a host of different documents. They all come from one document - a transcript of an interview with a couple called the LeMarques, who worked at Neverland in the late 80s and early 90s. The People intentionally does not state that all of these uncorroborated accusations come from just one of the documents, instead purposely misleading readers and suggesting that they're taken from a cache of evidence.

The LeMarques never contacted police about the abuse they claimed to have witnessed, instead opting to negotiate deals with tabloid newspapers - including the Mirror. Their claims were investigated by cops probing Jackson, who found the couple had agreed to add increasingly graphic details to their interviews for more and more money. Investigators concluded in the 90s that the pair had no credibility and possessed no evidence of any genuine abuse. They were called on out of desperation to testify in Jackson's 2005 trial after prosecutors watched their case begin to disintegrate, but were destroyed under cross-examination. Jurors rejected their testimony and acquitted Jackson, unanimously.

3) The supposed 'settlement' in 1992 was detailed to a tabloid reporter, for money, by a serial tipster called Taylea Shea. She never showed the reporter a document - she simply 'read it out' over the phone. A police investigation into the claim found that the boy named in the settlement did not exist, there was no record of any settlement ever being paid, and Taylea Shea disappeared into thin air. It became apparent she had used several aliases and nobody knew who she really was. She was never heard of again.

This leaves one element of the People's story standing; that Jackson 'allegedly' - what a convenient little word that is - paid $35million to two-dozen young accusers. The newspaper presents no evidence to corroborate this claim. Just a note in the tabloid reporter's documents, which the People intentionally misrepresents as an 'FBI file'.

Contrary to the People's claim, investigators knew about and investigated these files as part of their probe into Jackson in 2003/4, in which they were assisted by the FBI. Despite all of their resources, neither the Californian police nor the FBI was ever able to locate any evidence that any child besides Jordan Chandler or Jason Francia ever received a settlement.