Ahead of Sunday Night’s upcoming investigation into the child sexual abuse allegations against late pop icon Michael Jackson, reporter Matt Doran writes exclusively for news.com.au about what he discovered investigating the story.
Michael Jackson is either the most maligned genius to have ever moonwalked the earth, or one of the most depraved, cunning paedophiles we have ever known.
Ten years since the singer was entombed, the world remains savagely divided: should we let the superstar rest, or is it time that we finally listened to the five little boys, now men, who say they were routinely molested by the man the world revered?
This is about more than how history will view Michael Jackson. This is about something more fundamental. It’s about how we effectively turned our back on a group of children who spoke out against their idol, the most powerful entertainer on earth. And whether we think it’s OK to keep our backs turned.
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There’s a touch of the #Metoo movement about what is causing people to look differently at the man who produced Thriller, the greatest-selling album of all time. Someone close to the Jackson camp described it to me as a hurricane, about to make landfall.
Was this the systemic, co-ordinated molestation of children, in plain sight no less, at Jackson’s sprawling, lavish ranch in California? And when we should have been beating down the gates with rage, and disgust, and horror, were we instead applauding? Literally clapping our hands, making Jackson a bigger star, and making it that much harder for the next alleged victim?
My investigation into Michael Jackson, and the machine behind him, has taken me around the world, and has forever changed the way I will remember the man I stood in awe of during his concert in Melbourne on November 22, 1998.
The system says Jackson is innocent — not one allegation brought against him has ever been proven in court. Justice would have us believe that we can’t accept as fact these little boy’s claims that Michael fed them wine, calling it Jesus Juice, and then pressed himself up against them in his bed, for days and weeks on end. The claims that Michael performed oral sex on them, and worse, and that he would regularly bathe naked with them in his jacuzzi.
Strikingly similar accounts from different victim. Could it all have been confected?
It is unthinkable, but, sure, not impossible.
But how did they somehow all come up with the same nickname Michael gave them, his special ‘rubba rubba’ friends? As in two bodies rubbing together. One of them belonging to an adult male, the other, an unrelated, prepubescent child. Was it luck that one of the boys was able to tell police in vivid and accurate detail about the unique marking on Michael’s genitalia. A fluke.
The jurors in the 2005 trial were engrossed by Michael Jackson — they smiled at him daily in the dock, and attended a celebration party at Neverland after they found him not guilty. The reality, I believe, is this: if you’d stripped the celebrity and fame away from the defendant in that dock, he might have been convicted. Any ordinary man with dolls in his bed, a collection of softcore child porn (Michael’s fingerprints were found on one of the books) and facing these ghastly allegations would be unlikely to see another day of freedom.
The problem was, of course, the boys wouldn’t or couldn’t testify when it mattered. Jackson’s first accuser was paid $20 million in the early ‘90s to stay silent. Twenty. Million. Dollars. Santa Barbara district attorney Ron Zonen has lost a lot of sleep over how things might have been different if that case went to trial. Things that might not have happened. Children who might have been protected.
Michael was obsessed with children. He loved them, we wanted to be loved by them, he wanted to teach them love, and all that comes with it. Leaked Neverland video you’ll see in our program on Sunday Night will take your breath away: Framed images of toddlers and infants and the child stars who shared his bed.
The narrative we all bought into was that these were the actions of a prodigy who was himself denied a childhood. Michael Jackson the eccentric. The wounded soul, creating for himself at Neverland the utopia he’d yearned for as a kid. Ask one member of Michael’s family and you’ll hear Joe Jackson, the patriarch, described as a violent tyrant. Little Michael would quiver and vomit and even faint in his presence, for fear of the beatings. Ask another, and you’ll hear Joe described as the beating heart of the Jackson dynasty. A hard taskmaster, sure, but always with the family’s best interests in mind. People have made accusations Michael was himself sexually abused when he toured the mid-west as the tiny lead singer of the Jackson 5.
However damaged he was, the accusations still besieging Michael in his grave are too monstrous to be somehow explained away. If the allegations are to be believed, he was at the heart of a child procurement operation with a level of sophistication we’d never seen before.
On Sunday Night, you will meet a woman named Melanie Bagnall. She worked security at Neverland for almost three years. She and Michael became friends. He even asked her to become an around-the-clock nanny for Brandy, one of his Orang-utans. She would drive it to and from Neverland along the freeway in a baby seat, drivers looking on agape as the beast ran its tongue along the window. She would braid Brandy’s hair.
Melanie is a woman tormented. Some of the things she tells me in our interview, she has never spoken about before. She’s carried the heavy memories with her in silence for almost thirty years. Melanie spent time in Michael’s bedroom. She was there when police strip searched him, inspecting his genitalia. She stood guard outside the bedrooms. She saw the hidden listening devices. Melanie says she once saw Michael cupping the genitals of an 11- year-old boy — a boy she believes Michael went on to abuse for months.
You will see Melanie break down as she describes the guilt she’s lived with for not having done more. In one of the most powerful television moments I can remember, she speaks directly to the victims. It’s an apology you won’t soon forget.
I’ve made fast enemies of the Jackson family with this story. Jermaine walked out of our interview, La Toya had it written into a contract that she would walk out too if I asked even a single question about Michael’s alleged paedophilia, and Tito paused the interview to ask why I wasn’t asking more questions about his own career.
You will also see a heated Conrad Murray — the doctor who gave Michael the surgical grade anaesthetic that killed him — demand from me an apology that was not forthcoming. Murray was just another in a long, long list of people who did anything to make a living from Jackson, or to live their life in the reflected glow of an undoubted musical genius. However you choose to remember Michael Jackson, on Sunday Night, you will see him as you’ve never seen him before.
— Sunday Night’s 80-minute special investigation, The Truth about Michael Jackson, airs on Seven at 8.30pm Sunday.