Author’s note: Please be advised that some parts of this article contain graphic descriptions of alleged sexual abuse of minors, where it is necessary to address those claims.
I’m a perfectionist. I’m never totally satisfied. I always wish the world could be a better place. Hopefully, that’s what I do with my music—bring happiness to people, bring some joy and peace into their lives. —Michael Jackson
The story of Michael Jackson’s child abuse trial in 2005 is one of the most complex and controversial in recent memory, from both legal and ethical perspectives. In preparing to write this article, I read the court transcripts—which total nearly eight thousand pages—in their entirety. I watched all of the major films and documentaries about Jackson (so far as I know), including Living with Michael Jackson, Man in the Mirror, and Leaving Neverland. I spent hundreds of hours scouring the internet and public archives, listening carefully to what both Jackson’s supporters and accusers have had to say.
Jackson was publicly accused of child abuse twice while he was still alive. In 1993, the Chandler family hired criminal attorneys and considered pursuing a criminal case against him but quickly dropped it and filed a civil case that was settled out of court. In 2003, the Arvizo family filed a criminal complaint, and the subsequent case went to trial in 2005. Jackson was fully acquitted, but four years after his death in 2009, James Safechuck and Wade Robson publicly accused him of molesting them in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Both filed civil suits against Jackson’s estate, and both suits were thrown out. In this article, we’ll examine these incidents in chronological order.
Michael Jackson was an incredible entertainer. He set and broke dozens of records during his career, produced the best-selling album of all time (Thriller, 1982—at least 100 million copies sold worldwide to date), set thirty-nine Guinness World Records, and won forty Billboard Awards, thirteen Grammys, and twenty-six American Music Awards. Even after his death, his achievements continue to rack up. He has the highest posthumous earnings of any celebrity: As of 2018, he had earned $2.1 billion since his death.1
Few people—even those who don’t like his music—would dispute that Jackson was a brilliant entertainer. But although most people know how passionate and skilled he was, his achievements have been overshadowed in recent decades by allegations that he sexually abused numerous young boys between 1988 and 2003. These allegations have become so commonplace and pervasive that many people speak of Jackson as if he were obviously guilty. As Jackson said at the outset of his trial, “Lies run sprints, but the truth runs marathons. The truth will win this marathon in court.” It ultimately did, but public opinion often fails to keep pace with the facts.
On March 3, 2019, the allegations against Jackson once again became a hot topic when director Dan Reed released a four-hour “documentary” titled Leaving Neverland. “Documentary” is in scare quotes because little about Leaving Neverland is factual, and Reed knows it.2 The film presents no new evidence or witnesses but relies entirely on testimony from only two alleged victims, both of whom have changed their stories many times over the years—a fact Reed declines to mention.
Jackson, of course, did himself no favors. He was eccentric, eclectic, and, at times, just plain weird. He often behaved unwisely, but lacking wisdom is not a criminal offense, and there is almost no evidence to suggest—much less prove—that he ever harmed a child. On the other hand, there is a great deal of evidence showing that many people had motives to knowingly make false claims to the contrary.
Michael Jackson received justice, but only in the legal sense, when he was acquitted in 2005. For all intents and purposes, his career and personal life both were over after that. He suffered tremendous emotional trauma as a result of the trial and the years of sensationalized, irrationally biased, and sometimes flagrantly dishonest media coverage.3 He fell deeply into debt, developed a serious drug problem, and struggled to compose music for the rest of his life. The legal system had exonerated him, but the public had not—and still hasn’t, by and large.
Jackson’s memory and his living relatives deserve justice in the fullest sense. Other publications and media outlets sometimes have told his story accurately, but not loudly, frequently, or rigorously enough to drown out the lies. This article is an effort to tell the truth about a great—and greatly misunderstood—man. . . .Anyone willing to take the time to assess Michael Jackson’s case carefully and objectively will learn that he was no child molester. The facts simply don’t support that horrific accusation. Click To Tweet