Let the Smear Campaign Begin
On September 3, 2004, Dateline NBC aired a report entitled "Inside the Michael Jackson Case." The program was clearly designed to lead the public to believe that Michael Jackson is guilty of child molestation allegations that were launched against him ten years ago by a 13-year-old boy named Jordan Chandler. To illustrate just how deceptive the media can be, this article will aim to refute the numerous claims that were made throughout the report.
To examine the validity of the information presented on Dateline, we must take a look at the people who were interviewed for the special: an anonymous source who provided Dateline with details about a secret payoff; Ernie Rizzo, the self-proclaimed Private Investigator for Jackson's first accuser; Jim Thomas, the former Sheriff of the Santa Barbara Police Department; Robert Wegner, a disgruntled ex-employee of Jackson's; Norma Salinas, the token foreign lady who "saw things" and most importantly, Victor Gutierrez, the producer of the special who clearly has an axe to grind.
Mr. Anonymous Source and the secret "payoff"
Perhaps the most shocking detail that materialized from the Dateline special is the allegation that Jackson paid off a second boy in the early nineties to stave off accusations of child molestation. The story hit the Associated Press and spread within hours; even respected journalists were reporting that Jackson had paid $2 million to the son of an ex-employee. All of this led me to believe that Dateline must have obtained documents to support their claims. How else could the story become such big news? Incidentally, I was mistaken. Here is what was said on Dateline regarding this alleged payoff:
"Dateline has learned that Michael Jackson paid [the son of his former employee] more than $2 million and the money came with a now familiar agreement: The terms of the settlement could never be discussed publicly."
That's it! No documentation, no source for the information, no evidence of the document's existence - we just know that Dateline has "learned" about it. Well, I'm glad they cleared that one up.
Let's assume for a moment that there actually is a document that proves Jackson paid somebody to prevent him or her from going forward with child molestation allegations. Shouldn't charges be brought against the person who initiated the agreement, as the document would prove for a fact that he or she extorted money from Jackson?
Extortion is defined as: "the obtaining of money or property of another by inducing his consent through wrongful use of fear, force, or authority of office; blackmail, ransom, and threat of force are included under this definition."
If charges are not filed against the person who allegedly received the money, this tells us one of two things: either law enforcement officials have allowed somebody to get away with extortion or no such document exists.
There is evidence indicating that the latter is true. Ten years ago, a similar story was leaked to the media by Ernie Rizzo, a Private Investigator who falsely stated that he worked for Jackson's accuser - more about him later. For now, let's examine the claims he made in 1993 and how they are similar to the claims that are being reported today.
According to an article from Variety that was printed in 1993: "A written agreement claiming singer Michael Jackson paid $600,000 to have child abuse allegations lodged against him kept quiet surfaced Friday." The article states that the document was given to the media by Ernie Rizzo who believed there was a "50-50 chance it's real." A Private Investigator could not determine the authenticity of a document? The fact that this story died a quick death lends credence to the contention that the document was fake. At the time, Jackson's Private Investigator Anthony Pellicano dismissed the document as a "phony" and nobody ever heard about it again.
Fast forward to ten years later. Suddenly, Dateline reports that in the nineties, Jackson paid a former employee to prevent his or her son from going forward with child molestation allegations. Sound familiar? It's quite a coincidence, especially when you consider the fact that Ernie Rizzo was interviewed for the Dateline special.
Of course, whoever provided Dateline with this information decided to remain anonymous. Gee, I have no idea why they opted to conceal their identity. Could it have something to do with the fact that if this document does not exist, Jackson could file a lawsuit against the person who claimed to have seen it?
A day after the Dateline special aired, Jackson released a statement where he questioned the "timing and motive of this report." In the statement, Jackson acknowledged that he
"settled with certain individuals because I was concerned about my family and the media scrutiny that would have ensued if I fought the matter in court... I would never harm a child." This is obviously in reference to the lawsuit that was brought against him by the Chandlers in 1993, as theirs is the only lawsuit that has ever been filed against Michael Jackson for child sexual abuse. The media, however, have interpreted this statement as an admission from Jackson that Dateline's report about a second accuser being paid off is true. Ah, more accurate reporting and logical inferences from the media. Read the damn statement, Jackson says no such thing.
As for this alleged payoff, until I see documented evidence of its existence, I will not waste any more time addressing it.
Ernie Rizzo, the alleged Private Investigator
Although Ernie Rizzo and Mr. Anonymous Source are most likely the same person, I decided to give Rizzo his own section. He earned it. On Dateline, Rizzo discussed in detail Jackson's alleged relationship with Jordan Chandler, the boy who accused him of sexual abuse in 1993. Rizzo also claimed to have seen love letters sent to the boy from Jackson.
Considering the vast amount of information that he shared with Dateline about the 1993 case, one can assume that Rizzo worked very closely with Jordan Chandler and his family, right?
Although Rizzo swears he was hired by the Chandlers in 1993, he was not involved in the case according to Evan Chandler's attorney Richard Hirsch. In 1993, Hirsch made it clear that Rizzo "does not speak for (and is not) employed by the father." (Source) Is that so? Of course, Dateline conveniently left this little fact out of their objective and balanced report.
This wouldn't be the last time Rizzo would falsely represent himself as a Private Investigator in a high-profile case. In August 2004, Rizzo told reporters that he was instructed by William Kennedy Smith to "tell the press what he knows" about rape allegations that were recently launched against Smith. According to an article from the Metro West Daily News, the alleged victim's Private Investigator Paul Ciolini referred to Rizzo as a "'lunatic' who is acting on his own to get publicity and has no real connection to Smith or the case." (Source)
Why is it that none of Rizzo's clients seem to remember having hired him? "You'll be told by everyone you talk to that 'Rizzo does not represent us,'" Rizzo told the Chicago Tribune in 1993. "It's like Mission Impossible `Should you choose to take this assignment we will disavow any knowledge of you.'" (Source)
Oh, so Rizzo is a "top secret"agent who just happens to blab about all of his "top secret" clients on national television? My apologies to Rizzo, perhaps he is a legitimate source afterall.
Jim Thomas, the DAs right hand man
What Michael Jackson smear campaign would be complete without retired Sheriff Jim Thomas' obligatory "we had another victim" speech? Thomas has been claiming for years that the son of one of Jackson's former employees also made accusations against the pop star.
Based on the details that Jim Thomas has provided about this alleged second accuser, the boy in question appears to be the son of Jackson's former maid Blanca Francia.
In the early nineties, Jackson discovered that Francia and several other employees had been stealing from him and selling his belongings to tabloids. The employees were inevitably fired. (Source) When the child molestation allegations were made against Jackson in 1993, these employees ran to the media with claims of having witnessed inappropriate behaviour on Jackson's part. Francia jumped on the bandwagon, appearing on Hard Copy and telling Diane Dimond that she had seen Jackson in compromising positions with her 12-year-old son. Hard Copy paid Francia $20,000 for this information. (Source)
It wasn't long before authorities were questioning Francia and her son to determine whether or not there was any validity to the woman's claims. Contrary to what she had told Diane Dimond, however, Francia told investigators that "the child has repeatedly denied being abused in any way by the pop music star." Still, authorities continued to question the boy and even tried to send him to a therapist. Under deposition, Francia said that she "felt uncomfortable" with the way authorities had been interrogating her son. (Source: USA Today, Feb. 7, 1994)
Thomas said on Dateline that the young man eventually admitted to being touched inappropriately by Jackson, which would classify as a misdemeanor crime. If we are to believe Thomas' version of events, this boy initially denied abuse on Michael Jackson's part but finally came forward with accusations after being relentlessly pursued by authorities. There is also the possibility that Jim Thomas was just flat out lying when he claimed that the boy had made accusations; Thomas is, afterall, admittedly good friends with the District Attorney. Either way, the entire story is questionable at best, especially since Thomas is the only person who has ever confirmed that there was a second accuser.
The boy never testified against Jackson because, according to Thomas, he was too embarassed. Huh? I thought he was paid off. Anyway, his mother ended up testifying in front of the grand jury in 1994 but no charges were brought against Jackson. One jury member told CNN that no damaging evidence was heard, indicating that Francia did not reveal anything incriminating while under oath.
Speaking of claims made while under oath: in a depsotion, Francia admitted that she had lied during her interview with Hard Copy. (Source) It's nice to know that the Sheriff has put so much faith in such a credible person.
The rest of Jim Thomas' claims had me scratching my head. Check out this part of the transcript:
Former Santa Barbara sheriff Jim Thomas confirms that when they served that search warrant back in 1993, investigators didn't find everything they were looking for.
Thomas: "Well, there were some things that were missing."
Mankiewicz: "Was it your sense or the sense of other investigators that Neverland had been gone over, sanitized before the search warrant was actually served?"
Thomas: "That was an opinion that I received from some investigators that were there."
Mankiewicz: "Somebody had tipped off Jackson and his people."
Thomas: "Apparently so."
Or maybe there wasn't anything incriminating there to begin with, genius.
But this, ladies and gentlemen, is quite possibly the dumbest argument I've ever heard used to support the belief that Michael Jackson is guilty. And I used to read the Court TV message boards so, believe me, I've heard everything:
After talking to witnesses, investigators ultimately did turn up those eight to 10 names of children they suspected might help corroborate the 13-year-old boy's story. But Thomas says most did not help authorities.
Thomas: "Many of them said that they had spent time with Michael Jackson. They had spent time in his bedroom, but that nothing had happened. Some wouldn't talk to us at all."
Thomas says almost all of the children denied they had been molested.
So the fact that nobody corroborated Jordan Chandler's story proves that he was telling the truth? That makes a whole lot of sense.
Thomas apparently believes that Michael Jackson bought the silence of all of these children. How ironic when you consider the fact that Jim Thomas is the poster boy for paying people off. Yeah, I said it. It was only a few years ago that Thomas himself was embroiled in a little scandal involving secret payoffs (Source). When news leaked that Thomas had reached a civil settlement with three Santa Maria residents who had sued him for unreasonable search and seizure, false arrest/false imprisonment, excessive force, retaliation for exercise of speech and petition rights, conspiracy to violate civil rights, violation of First Amendment right of association, malicious prosecution, negligence, battery and conspiracy, many tax payers were outraged. (Source: The Santa Maria Times, Mar. 5, 2002)
I hate to break it to the good people of Santa Barbara, but according to my sources (and I'm not going to name them - HA!) Jim Thomas has been involved in numerous civil settlements - scratch that, let's call them "payoffs." Do you know how your tax dollars are being spent?
Speaking of money, it'd be interesting to know just how much Jim Thomas gets paid everytime he appears on television and spews nonsense about Michael Jackson.
Robert Wegner, the disgruntled ex-employee
Hey look, it's another familiar face that has frequented tabloid shows for the past decade. Robert Wegner is Michael Jackson's former head of security who claims to have witnessed "hundreds" of boys enter the pop star's bedroom. When asked why he did not testify to his claims in front of the grand jury in 1994, Wegner responded: "I got injured... and hurt my back... and they convinced LAPD that I could not come to the grand jury hearing." (Source: American Morning, Nov. 28, 2003) Yes, he must have been a pretty important witness if authorities told him not to bother testifying because of his bad back.
Not to be outdone by his fellow disgruntled ex-employees who were cashing in on their connection to Jackson, Wegner wrote a book about his experience working at Neverland. He swears he only wrote the book to "protect children" so perhaps it's unfair to compare him to the likes of Blanca Francia. He further stated that, "if I had testified, there wouldn't have been a book." (Source: American Morning, Nov. 28, 2003) If he was so concerned about protecting children, why did Wegner allow a back injury to prevent him from testifying to his claims in court? That's right, Robert, your plight to save the children might have been more effective if you had actually taken your story to the police.
While most of his interview with Dateline consisted of rehashed rumours, Wegner did provid viewers with one new salacious story: he claimed that he was asked by Jackson's Private Investigator in 1993 to get rid of the visitor contracts from Neverland. Oddly enough, he allegedly got rid of this information during the raid of Neverland while police officers were present. Jim Thomas said Wegner's actions were not illegal because the visitor contracts were not on the search warrant. Well, here's my question: if authorities felt the visitor contracts contained incriminating information, couldn't they have found a way to get the documents turned over to them at a later date?
In an attempt to appear objective, host Joh Mankiewicz pretended to play devil's advocate by saying to Wegner: "I can almost hear Mr. Jackson's representatives now in response to what you're saying, which is 'This guy wrote a book, this guy wants to make money off Mr. Jackson just like all those other people did.’"
In response, Wegner said: "This was a self-published book. I have not hardly made any money."
Oh, so he's broke. I'll let you draw your own conclusions about that little revelation.
Norma Salinas: the token foreign lady who "saw things"
Introduced to the world as the nanny of the boy who accused Michael Jackson of sexual abuse, Norma Salinas made her television debut on Dateline. Described as an "undocumented worker who doesn't speak English," Salinas told the host that Jackson and the boy acted "like a couple" and that the boy's father is also to blame for what allegedly happened to his son. "They should both be in jail together. Michael, for what he did to the boy and the boy's father for what he did to his son."
That's fair enough. Any reasonable person who believed that a child had been molested would surely want to see justice served. Of course, Salinas "never went to the police" with her claims but that doesn't make her expressions of outrage over the fact that Jackson was not charged any less credible. Are you noticing a pattern yet?
The Consulting Producer with an axe to grind
In order to present a reliable and fair report, those involved in putting the information together must not have any type of bias against the subject that they are covering. While it was obvious to me that the Dateline report was heavily slanted in favour of the accuser's version of events, it remained to be seen why the producers would go out of their way to portray Jackson in such a negative light - that was until I saw the credits.
One of the consulting producers of the Dateline special is none other than Victor Gutierrez, a notorious figure among Michael Jackson fans.
Gutierrez is the author of a book entitled Michael Jackson was my Lover, which contained graphic details about Jackson's alleged relationship with Jordan Chandler. (Source) Because many believed that the book glamourized pedophilia, it was banned from the United States.
In 1996, Gutierrez struck again when he appeared on Hard Copy claiming to have seen a videotape of Michael Jackson molesting his nephew Jeremy Jackson. In response to the allegation, Jeremy's mother Margaret Maldonado stated: "The story was an outrageous lie. Not one part of it was true. I’d never met [Gutierrez]. There was no tape. Michel never paid me for my silence. He had never molested Jeremy." (Source: Jackson Family Values, 1998)
Jackson sued Gutierrez and was awarded $2.7 million in damages when it was proven that no such tape existed. (Source) Gutierrez then fled from the United States and to this day has not paid Jackson the money. After returning to the United States, he was hired by NBC as a consulting producer. Gutierrez's involvement in the Dateline special suggests that the program was not a fair representation of what really happened in the 1993 case.
On the contrary, many pertinent facts about the case were virtually ignored by the producers of Dateline. For example, an audiotape of a revealing conversation that took place between Evan Chandler and Dave Schwartz (the boy's stepfather) was not mentioned. On the tape, Chandler can be heard saying: "I am prepared to move against Michael Jackson... Everything's going according to a certain plan that isn't just mine... and if I go through with this, I win big-time. I will get everything I want and... Michael's career will be over." (Source) Shortly after this conversation took place, Evan Chandler's son accused Michael Jackson of sexual abuse.
Dateline also failed to mention that according to Chandler, his son came out with the sexual abuse allegations while under the influence of a psychiatric drug called sodium amytal. (Source) Because of the drug's mind-altering effects, sodium amytal tainted testimonies are inadmissible in court. (Source) Did the producers merely overlook this information or was it purposely ignored?
Only one fact suggesting Jackson's innocence was mentioned in passing by the narrator but it arguably discredits everything else that was reported during the special:
But despite the evidence they had, authorities didn't file any charges and didn't arrest Jackson.
Why weren't charges brought against Jackson if authorities had such a strong case? Why is it that none of the witnesses and none of the evidence presented on the Dateline special made it into the grand jury proceedings, which, according to one juror, did not produce any damaging evidence? (Source: Showbiz Today, May 2, 1994)
Does this mean that Ernie Rizzo (the PI who lied about his involvement in the case), Jim Thomas (the District Attorney's long-time friend), Robert Wegner (the ex-employee who never testified because his back hurt), Norma Salinas (the nanny who saw things but never went to the police) and Victor Gutierrez (the man who was successfully sued by Michael Jackson but refused to pay him and fled the country instead) lied to us?
I am shocked.
Unfortunately, the Dateline special will be accompanied by a follow up report that will feature an interview with Jordan Chandler's uncle. I predict more lies, half-truths and defamatory comments about Mr. Jackson.
Or maybe I've just become too skeptical of the media and their motives. I wonder why.
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