On June 25, 2009 the worldwide medias announced the sudden death of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. Not having grown up worshipping his music, I hardly remember this day that was not so peculiar in my young life. Besides the baby-dangling incident, the polemics regarding his alleged pedophilia and the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death, I didn’t know much about the man, the extent of his artistic legacy and even less his humanitarian work. In the years following his death, he remained a mysterious character whose I listened to the most emblematic hits on the radio. My curiosity was piqued much later, around the celebrations of its 60th anniversary. I came to appreciate both the person and the artist, without considering myself as a fan of his music or digging deep into the allegation. In my mind, he had been acquitted and there was no particular reason to question court decisions… until January 25, 2019 as Leaving Neverland dropped as a bombshell at the Sundance Festival. Despite being a strong advocate of the presumption of innocence, I was willing to believe that the allegations were credible and the documentary devastating given its wide approval by the first viewers and critics. However, I was quickly stunned by the lack of skeptical questioning in the media and even more by the vileness of many arguments against Michael Jackson on social networks : on his appearance, his mental state, his eccentricities,… I noticed a wave of articles nicknaming him (Wacko) Jacko, also widely used on social networks. From the first time I heard it, I got the impression that it referred to an animal without knowing that it indeed takes its root from the story of an acrobatic monkey named Jacco Maccacco who was exhibited during animal fights at Westminster in the early 1820’s. I discovered that Jacko had been commonly used to name various monkeys since the 19th century: pet monkeys (i.e. the monkey accompanying the Franklin expedition to Antarctic in 1845), monkeys in urban legends (i.e. the Jacko hoax in the 1880s’) , monkeys in children’s tales (i.e. Jumpo & Jacko Kynkytail: the funny monkey boys in the 1910s’), monkeys in children’s games (i.e. the vintage doll Jacko the monkey by Chad Valley in the 1960’s). Thus, the reminiscence of press articles referring Michael Jackson to Jacko took a strange resonance in my mind. Pure coincidence?
Commenting the presence of his chimpanzee Bubbles on his first solo tour in 1987, a tabloid titled „Chump’s tea party“. Hard not to see any reference to the Chimp’s tea parties organized by the London Zoo until the 1960s. From the first concert, the Bad tour was qualified by a tabloid as “the weirdest show on earth”; another one commented it “[was] going ape”, precising how much money Japan was spending “to see Jacko”. Michael Jackson’s rivalry with fellow artist Prince was described as a “gorilla warfare”, featuring the (very innocent) insertion of Bubbles between the two. When Michael Jackson sent an open letter urging the press to “walk two moons in his moccasins before judging him”, the British tabloid The Sun – the first one to use the nickname Wacko Jacko – purposely added spelling mistakes. Numerous press covers reduced him to some circus animal over the years: “Michael Jackson’s flying circus” (1987); “A day in the park with Jacko” (2003); “Daddy’s clowning” (2009). It’s his fault! He shouldn’t be that eccentric! came as a justification : after all, no one forced him to have a monkey as a pet, sleep in an oxygen chamber or retreat in some fantasy world! Michael Jackson may have had his own responsibility in his public perception to some degree, one should wonder to what extent the eccentricities of his fellow artists (Elvis Presley, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Elton John, etc…) were submitted to the same kind of media treatment. Whatever the circumstances behind the oxygene chamber story were, could Michael Jackson have known that this famous photo of him would be the starting point of multiple fake news feeding the “Wacko Jacko” narrative over three decades?
Already in the late 1980s’, the media pushed the narrative of a bizarre creature whose “abnormality” – especially his physical evolution – could only be explained by madness. Thus, the British magazine News Musical Express portrays him in 1991 as a dangerous beast disfigured by plastic surgery. Instruction on the cage: „Do not feed the Wacko“… As his skin got lighter, the medias began to speculate that he was bleaching himself in order to eradicate his ethnic origins: since he already had changed the shape of his nose, he was surely ashamed of his Black heritage, right? If Michael Jackson admitted in a 1992 private conversation that he did not want to look like his father (who called him „big nose“ when he was young), he always made it clear he was proud to be born as a Black-American. His musical inspirations were Black-American artists (James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Motown music); the overwhelming majority of his musical staff was composed of Black Americans; most actors in his music videos were Black Americans. Remember the time, directed by the late John Singleton, even portrays Egyptian royalty with an entire cast composed of Black people. When Michael Jackson revealed in 1993 that he was suffering from a skin disorder called vitiligo, his claims were received with skepticism. There could be only one explanation to his drastic physical transformation: plastic surgery. The skin disorder was officially confirmed by various pictures, the autopsy report and the testimony of multiple witnesses during the AEG trial. Many other factors were largely ignored : the lupus diagnosis, an autoimmune disease causing facial redness, lung inflammation, insomnia, premature hair loss, and extreme sensitivity to the sun; a pyrotechnic incident on the set of a Pepsi commercial in 1984 that left him with severe burns on his skull; the collapse of a bridge on which he was dancing during a charity show in 1999, which triggered his addiction to painkillers because of serious back problems; regular weight losses due to the intense pressure on tour; the use of various artifices (umbrella, mask, glove, wigs, heavy makeup,…) in order to combine artistic expression with practical dissimulation. As for the media, a lot of them interpreted these transformations as the physical manifestation of a dangerous mental unbalance, if not an indication of an underlying monstrosity.
Long before any allegation, the medias also developed an all-out obsession on his sexuality : on his virginal man-child side, surely the sign of some sexual impotence ; his androgynous appearance, surely a give away of some hidden sexual orientation ; on his so called bestial attitude, surely a manifestation of some primitive sexuality. Comment by the Sun in an article titled No animals, no plastic, just raw sex : „Jumpy, flashy Jacko stroke his thighs suggestively as he belted out his hit numbers“…This obsession was largely relayed by the main media outlets whose journalists asked questions showing a rare level of indecency, very well illustrated by the attitude of Oprah Winfrey who asked him out of the blue in 1993 – because she “just wanna know” – whether he was still a virgin and years later questioned – all smile – his ex-wife Lisa-Marie Presley: “was it a consummated marriage?”. What about the (disgusted) face expression of journalist Diane Sawyer asking Lisa Marie Presley why on earth she had married Michael Jackson, not even hiding the true reasons behind her disbelief at the answers: “In love?”; “Sexual attraction, sexual attraction?”; “What about the way he looks?”; “So there were like romantic nights?”. Or the jokes of Howard Stern & co who dared asking her how she had not been disturbed by his appearance and whether she had been sexually satisfied during their marriage : “What is it that’s different about Michael Jackson’s penis that distinguishes it? Is it a vagina not a penis?”. Barely wasn’t „Jacko“ publicly blamed for being a parvenu who had stolen the crown by seducing the King’s daughter. Comment by Dee Presley (Elvis’ stepmother) expressing her concern for the „future of the Presley dynasty“ in an appearance on Diane Dimond’s Hard Copy (while having no contact with the Presleys for years): “I would like to tell Michael that there was only one King…and that was Elvis Presley”. Despite her confirmation interview after interview that her feelings were real, that there was no marriage arrangement, that she would never have married to cover anything, Lisa Marie Presley faced similar comments deshumanizing her ex-husband. Trashy behaviors worth of the lynch mob in the Elephant Man whom he confided in an 1987 interview that he felt an affinity with. Like John Merrick screaming at the crowd “I am not an animal: I am a human being”, he tried (in vain) to reassert his humanity in a 1997 interview: “You should not say he is an animal! You should not say: he’s Jacko. I’m not a Jacko: I’m Jackson!”
„Wacko Jacko“ had an Achilles Heel: his relationship with children. More than 2000 journalists – most of them working on behalf of tabloids – were accredited to follow day after day the twists of the Arvizo trial in 2005. If it was supposed to unearth the alleged dark side of the King of Pop, it was “one the most shameful episodes in journalistic history” as demonstrated by investigative journalist Charles Thompson. Shameful by the unethical methods of journalist Martin Bashir who abused Michael Jackson’s trust in order to obtain explosive revelations for his documentary. Shameful by the propensity of the media to spread the claims of the prosecution witnesses without pointing out their inconsistencies and the absurdity of the timeline despite the cross-examination. Shameful by the indulgence of the media towards the prosecutor Tom Sneddon – aka „Mad Dog“ – who ordered searches in places not covered by the warrants during the surprise raids at Neverland. Taking note of the presence of heterosexual erotic magazines in Michael Jackson’s room (combined with the absence of child pornography), he tried to prove their criminal use by the presence of the accuser’s fingerprint on them. It was without counting on the inquisitiveness of one Grand Jury member who dared asking as the child was given the magazine: “But, shouldn’t that boy be wearing gloves?”. Even less on the defense attorney Tom Mesereau who proved that the magazine in question had been published months after the last visit of the accuser at Neverland. Shameful also by the attitude of numerous (mostly white) journalists who had declared Michael Jackson guilty and barely hid their disappointment once he was acquitted by a popular jury after 5 months of a pretty absurd trial. Barely hours after showing – all smile – the inside of his future cell, Court TV anchorwoman Nancy Grace immediately jumped on the celebrity factor at the announcement of the verdict, only to have that argument refuted by the jurors in an interview on ABC morning the day after. Comment on the Arvizo case by Associated Press Correspondent Linda Deutsch, one of the rare journalists to have covered the case fairly: „A debacle that should never have been trialed„.
Nevermind, “Jacko” must have been guilty in another case, if not in that one. From a Black man to a circus animal, from a crazy monkey to a primitive beast, why not a monster harming little children behind closed doors? After all, he had agreed to settle the CIVIL trial of the Chandler case in 1994. It was omitted that the father of the child had initially proposed an arrangement behind closed doors : if Michael Jackson did not pay the amount requested, he would face public allegations. When he refused to pay, the blackmail was put into execution. That the singer settled after months of a judicial fight during which he tried to postpone the CIVIL trial in order to preserve his right to testify for the first time within the framework of a CRIMINAL trial: the settlement was concluded in order to prevent the prosecution from having access to the defense arguments in case of any future CRIMINAL trial. That in the USA, the overwhelming majority of CIVIL lawsuits end up in an amicable settlement without constituting an admission of guilt: Michael Jackson could have lose much more under constant bad publicity generated by several years of procedure. That independently of the settlement, two Grand Jury were summoned by the same prosecutor Tom Sneddon : neither of them indicted Michael Jackson based on the deposition of the child, the depositions of hundreds witnesses, the lack of incriminating evidences from the Neverland raid and the photos taken by the police during the strip body search (including pictures of the genitals). That the settlement did not prevent the Chandler family from going on with the criminal proceedings or testifying in any criminal case against him. Once the money from the CIVIL settlement was obtained, the family showed no interest in sending Michael Jackson to jail. When the prosecutor ordered Jordan Chandler to testify at the Arvizo trial, the latter replied that he would fight it by all possible legal mean. To this day, he still hasn’t come forward in support of the current accusers despite the #MeToo era. Peter Pan or Pervert? That is the question whose answer was anticipated by the medias regardless of the wobbliness of both cases. As a result, almost three-quarters of American respondents were convinced of Michael Jackson’s guilt in a poll taking place after his acquittal. It had to take his death on June 25th 2009 for Martin Bashir to finally admit that he had never seen any wrongdoing, for Diane Sawyer to wonder whether there was any medical reasons behind his eccentric accessories, for Oprah Winfrey to lament (a hand on her heart) a considerable loss. „If he dies, sympathize“ sang Michael Jackson in Tabloid Junkie…
The mourning time did not stop the tabloids from speculating on his death, publishing his autopsy photos and spreading even more fake news. The FBI files released in 2013 led to no compromising discovery ? Nevermind, the files show that “Jacko” abused 24 children according to Sunday people; 35 millions of dollar was spent to silence dozens of boys according to the Daily Mail; the police found images of child pornography and animal torture according to Radar Online. Alive or dead, Michael Jackson was also the target of numerous extortion attempts (about fifty a year according to his friend David Nordhal): a man demanding a paternity test in 2014 ; a woman claiming he was the biological father of her baby in 2015; another person claiming he saw his ghost. In the middle of these numerous claims, the breaking news of a double civil complaint in 2013 for child sexual abuse had no big echo, especially given the fact that the justice threw out each of both complaints twice. This was before the Me Too wave would shake the small world of Hollywood in 2018 with the fall of producer Harvey Weinstein and several sexual predators whose actions had been passed over for decades by the show business and the medias. Over was the time when Barbara Walters could publicly blame former child star Corey Feldman for „damaging an entire industry“ as he tried in 2013 to warn (in vain) that pedophilia was the #1 problem in Hollywood, that he was surrounded by sharks all his childhood… and that his former friend Michael Jackson was the only one who had never taken advantage of him. Surfing on the MeToo wave, Dan Reed’s Leaving Neverland premiered the same day as Ursula McFarlane’s Untouchable on Harvey Weinstein at the Sundance festival, Weinstein having allegedly abused one of his hundred alleged victims at the same festival in 1999 and Untouchable highlighting the role of the corporate medias in protecting him . Twitter world went wild as a carefully selected audience shared their shock after the screening: “powerful”, “disturbing”, “devastating”. “You haven’t seen the movie” was the common (if not identical) answer to the skeptics. A standing ovation was given to the director and the two accusers, James Safechuck and Wade Robson: „You’re going to do more good to this world than Michael fucking Jackson“ commented a reporter at the press conference.
Not surprisingly, the same medias that had „convicted“ Michael Jackson during the previous cases took the allegations for granted. We had told you “Jacko” was guilty! The influential Oprah Winfrey – who had praised Michael Jackson before the first allegations, sharply criticized him during the Arvizo case, paid a vibrant tribute to him after his death and praised him while interviewing all his closed ones – celebrated her birthday watching Leaving Neverland on David Geffen’s yacht and dedicated a special after its broadcast by HBO : “It’s time to say goodbye to Michael Jackson one last time” did she instruct in her magazine. There was a succession of calls for boycott in radio stations in several countries (Canada, New Zealand,…), Starbuck, Louis Vuitton, Spotify, etc. On Twitter, Michael Jackson fans – who knew the content of the allegations from legal documents since 2013 – tried to make the medias and the public aware of the existence of major inconsistencies in the testimonies. While standing by the presumption of innocence, I decided to wait for my own viewing of the documentary to confirm my first intuition based on the reading of the legal documents. What a shock to discover a totally one-sided documentary featuring 4 hours of raw testimonies with no perspective, endless drone shots filling the total absence of investigative work, shocking graphic description of sexual acts, well-chosen TV excerpts to “explain” both previous cases, all smile accusers contradicting their own testimonies and a final half-hour of pure pathos. Special mention to Wade Robson for comparing Michael Jackson’s hair to a brillo pad…I watched with equal dismay the overwhelming majority of journalists blatantly ignoring the calls by ordinary citizens to factcheck the allegations (what they are supposed to be paid for) instead of taking them for granted. Since Leaving Neverland defends the thesis that Michael Jackson was a manipulator who had groomed the world with his „Peter Pan“ image, his supporters could only be a mass of fanatics still under his spell: paid bots, truthers, stans, trolls, psychos, “piece of s***”, “off the wall”. It was ignoring that the tenacity of his closed ones and fans to defend his presumption of innocence had nothing to do with any blind cult of personality and that taking a stand against Leaving Neverland went far beyond defending the honor of one single man. Not to mention the diversity of people who stood up against the media approval of the „documentary“ regardless of age, nationality, skin color, profession, victim status or the depth of the connection to Michael Jackson…
If some people were willing to research both sides, I remained sometimes speechless while reading the comments and realizing the bad faith of many Leaving Neverland supporters, some crying over “harassment” after giving their public opinion on Michael Jackson. A (blue tick) Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer answering „Cute that Facebook is the source of your research“ to a person posting the link to the FBI files. A (blue tick) award-winning anti-rape activist denigrating the same documents, tweeting that „the FBI is made of people who lie, so“ but denouncing weeks later a “still racist entity […] that hasn’t faced the reality of its legacy”. So the FBI is still a racist entity in 2019 but lied to protect the most famous Black man in America decades ago, dear W.W ? A (blue tick) writer expressing anger at former child star Macaulay Culkin who testified in favor of Michael Jackson at the Arvizo trial. Angry for what, A.C. ? Not being molested ? Strange arguments to justify his guilt: “Michael Jackson pinches his lips while talking about children. I am disgusted”; “Unless I get solid proof of Michael f****** grown adult women, I’m not buying it. Bring me evidences”; I don’t care what the courts said. Michael Jackson was a child molester and he got away with it”. Various tweets reinterpreting the lyrics of his songs, not even bothering whether he wrote them or not: “Was Michael Jackson singing Ben to a rat or a little boy?”; “Man in the Mirror is terrifying when you realize that it’s him begging himself to stop, resolving to do so and knowing it only got worse”; “Jacko admitted being a paedo. He even said this himself many times. He was a bad man. He dedicated an entire album to being bad and even called it Bad. If that’s not proof, I don’t know what is”. Other dubious comments : “Isn’t it weird that the lighter Michael Jackson’s skin got, the darker his crimes became?”; “Hard to believe that a dark in the glow skeleton who dressed like Napoleon and lived in an abandoned amusement park with other people’s children and a feral chimp could have such dark side” ; “Stills blows my mind anyone thinks MJ fathered children”. Or people calling him (Wacko) Jacko for the fun to call him (Wacko) Jacko: “One thing I will absolutely NOT do is mention Michael Jackson without referring to him multiple times as Wacko Jacko”.
My dismay reached its peak when both Twitter user @MJJrepository and biographer Mike Smallcombe unearthed evidences proving a major inconsistency in the claim of each accuser. In Leaving Neverland, Wade Robson claims to have been molested for the first time as his family left him under the care of Michael Jackson at Neverland in order to travel to the Grand Canyon for five days. This claim is contradicted by his own mother’s testimonies since she confirmed both in her 1993 and 2016 depositions that her entire family was part of the Grand Canyon trip. In his legal documents, in his BBC interview and in the “documentary”, James Safechuck claims to have been abused over a period of four years, from 10 to 14 years (1988 – 1992). It was proven – building permits, aerial photos and vintage videos as evidences – that the Neverland train station in which he claims to have been abused regularly from the early time was actually built…in 1994! Reaction of the director Dan Reed who rushed to defend his protege with the worst bad-faith argument I had ever seen : „Yeah, there seems to be no doubt about the station date. The date they have wrong is the end of abuse“…The same Dan Reed had claimed a few days earlier that Michael Jackson was only interested in prepubescent boys under 14 as a response to Aaron Carter defending him because he wasn’t abused as he hung out with him at the age of 15…The same Dan Reed had also claimed in numerous interviews that he had found no single inconsistency after 18 month of research. The same Dan Reed also allegedly got busted a few days after the „trainstationgate“ with a troll account dedicated to trash Michael Jackson: @therealmjstory. As he changed the photo profile of his official account, he apparently uploaded the photo profile of the troll account before realizing his mistake a few minutes later. Although @therealmjstory vehemently denied being Dan Reed in disguise, the quick evolution of the account left few doubt in my mind. Not to mention that Dan Reed obviously responded from this account to decline an invitation to debate on Leaving Neverland with senior columnist John Ziegler. The account in question got suspended for violation of the Twitter rules in a matter of days…
Rare were the media to relay these information and denounce the attitude of the director after giving such a complacent promotion to its “documentary”. It was without counting on a handful of indomitable journalists who had refused to follow the trend blindly, starting with senior columnist John Ziegler who was the first American journalist to point out red flags after watching the documentary and analyzing legal documents: “the Wade Robson story is a complete joke in a ridiculously one-sided movie”. He was also the one to interview Brandi Jackson (Michael Jackson’s niece) and sound engineer Kevin Lipsey who both hold key information contradicting Wade Robson’s narrative while the main media outlets refused to let them tell their version. On the British side, journalist Piers Morgan was the first one to put (an obviously annoyed) Dan Reed under tough questioning and criticize his fellow journalists for their lack of challenging. In France, the media didn’t behave much better. Let’s remind that M6 didn’t lose any time to buy the rights of Leaving Neverland in order to broadcast this “documentaire-évènement” under the (sensationalist) title of Michael Jackson: the voices of the victims. It took a lot of criticisms on social networks and about 70 complaints to the High Council for Broadcasting to bring M6 to respect the presumption of innocence by picking up a more neutral title. Not to mention the complacent attitude of the journalists in the French TV show Cavous, especially the comment by the columnist analyzing the movie in front of Dan Reed : “To sum it up, we hadn’t realized that Bambi had a pecker”. Apart from overtly pro Jackson journalists (Charles Thompson, Mike Smallcombe, Olivier Cachin, Ika Ferrer Gotic…), few random journalists bothered to question the credibility of Leaving Neverland although it was blatantly one-sided, got pretty low audience shares and was generally not endorsed by random viewers despite its pushy promotion by the medias and numerous blue ticks. As for Oprah Winfrey, she maintained her full support to the documentary : if any victim had to justify the timeline of the abuse, none would ever be considered credible. After all, it doesn’t matter whether it happened on a Thursday or a Friday, right? Was it supposed to be the contribution of Leaving Neverland to the #MeToo era : to allow any alleged victim to be believed in any circumstances even in the most inexplicable ones, while offering the opportunity to Oprah Winfrey to position herself as the protector of alleged victims of sexual abuse (despite her former closeness with Harvey Weinstein)? Confronted with harsh criticism on social networks, she has since dedicated a special to the documentary “When they see us” about the Central Park 5 case…five young Black-Americans falsely convicted for the rape of a New-Yorker jogger as the result of the relentlessness of a zealous prosecutor, the police and the media. Meanwhile, we’re still waiting for the national broadcast (and the TV special) of Ursula McFarlane’s Untouchable six months after its premiere at the Sundance festival.
Nothing was spared to Michael Jackson with all due respect to all people jumping on the celebrity factor and rushing to condemn him without even trying understand his complexity. Doesn’t it matter that being raised in such a sheltering environment as the biggest child celebrity, he might have developed serious struggles to adjust his public behavior to societal norms ? Doesn’t it matter that the overwhelming majority of those who actually knew him – many of them as children – confirm they keep unforgettable memories of him without one shred of reprehensible behavior ? Doesn’t it matter that many accounts confirm the genuineness of his generosity from an early age, the number of hospitals he visited, the amount of time he dedicated to sick children, the money he spent to help the others ? Doesn’t it matter that in 2019 his humanity is still shred into pieces by racist, sexist, transphobic or simply mean comments because the “Wacko Jacko” narrative has been allowed for decades? Regarding the allegations, these are the conclusions of a lawyer after an analysis of all the cases in March 2019: „You can never ensure 100% that a man is innocent or guilty. But one thing is sure : if a jury was seized of the case today, he would acquit Michael Jackson once again„. As for me, I may not assert that I believe 100% in his innocence (contrary to those who assert they are so sure of his guilt) but I have seen enough in 6 months to convince myself of the own monstrosity of people that keep degrading the humanity of a dead man whose brother Marlon had made a wish for ten years earlier: „We would never understand what he endured. Not being able to walk across a street without a crowd around him, being judged, ridiculed. Maybe now Michael, they will leave you alone!“.
„It’s better to risk saving a guilty person than convicting an innocent one“
written by Marie Rousseau / translation by @Dom10155252
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