I should begin by saying that the release of Michael Jackson's FBI file was not motivated by any desire to damage his legacy or smear his name. Many of Jackson's fans are understandably distrustful of the establishment which repeatedly pursued the star on trumped up charges, but the release of Jackson's FBI file is no conspiracy. Jackson's file was requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and I was one of those who requested it.
The FOIA allows members of the public to request classified or unattainable information held by any public body. The act is designed to uphold democracy by allowing citizens to scrutinise anything from local government budget reports to dossiers on UFO sightings. Requests can only be turned down for a handful of reasons, including privacy issues and national security.
When I requested Michael Jackson's FBI file, I wasn't even sure he had one. If he did, I had no idea what I would find in it. In Sammy Davis Jr's I found nothing but countless investigations into death threats sent to the singer. In James Brown's, however, I found an explosive re-telling of his infamous 1988 'car chase', which showed the authorities in a very poor light and contained numerous accusations of police brutality.
The FBI released roughly 300 pages on Jackson, constituting less than half of his overall file. The reason behind the withholding of the other half is yet to be made public, but it most likely consists of information on Jackson's dealings with still living figures of interest to the bureau - civil rights activists like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, and the various Middle Eastern businessmen and royals Michael Jackson befriended.
The released half of Jackson's FBI file supports the star's innocence entirely. Perhaps most notably, a lengthy report shows that when Jackson's Neverland Ranch was raided in 2003, the FBI went over every computer seized from the property with a fine toothcomb looking for any incriminating files or internet activity. Jackson's file contained individual summaries of the FBI's findings for each of the 16 computers. Scrawled in capital letters across each of those 16 reports - 'NOTHING'.
But not many media outlets included that nugget. In fact, numerous outlets - including the Daily Mail - inaccurately reported that the file did not include the bureau's findings.
On a more general level, the files reveal that it was not only the Los Angeles Police force which pursued Jackson for more than a decade and failed to produce one iota of information to connect the star to any crime - it was the FBI too. That Jackson's life was dissected and his bevahiour was investigated for more than 10 years by two major law enforcement agencies and not one piece of evidence was ever produced to indicate his guilt speaks volumes.
On the whole, the media didn't quite tell it that way, though.
The FBI file included numerous allegations reported to the bureau which, of course, the media at large bogusly reported as the bureau's own findings. So here is a breakdown of what the media told you existed in Jackson's FBI file, and what the file actually contained.
MYTH: Michael Jackson was investigated for possession of child pornography.
FACT: The FBI file includes analysis conducted on a videotape 'connected to Jackson' in order to ascertain whether or not it included child pornography. Some media outlets erroneously claimed that the tape had been seized from Neverland. In fact, the tape was seized by customs at West Palm Bach and there is no indication that it ever belonged to Jackson. The file states only that the tape was 'connected with Jackson' and the connection appears solely to be that the programme recorded onto the cassette had Jackson's name in the title.
The FBI file does not contain any indication that the tape included child pornography at all and certainly does not contain any indication that the tape was ever in the possession of Michael Jackson.
But that's not a particularly media-friendly story; a videotape that didn't belong to Michael Jackson was analyzed and didn't have child porn on it. So the media told their own story instead, working on the assumption that nobody would read the files to verify the facts for themselves.
MYTH: The FBI file reveals that Jackson was investigated in 1985 for molesting two Mexican boys.
FACT: An FBI officer recorded an allegation that the bureau had previously investigated Jackson in 1985 for the molestation of two Mexican boys. This allegation was made by an unnamed writer who said the story had been told to him during research for a book. However, the FBI files contain no information whatsoever about any 1985 investigation into Michael Jackson.
Countless media outlets reported this story as the FBI's own finding when in fact it was merely a baseless allegation made to the bureau by an anonymous source. The FBI found no merit to the allegation:
... but the majority of media outlets failed to mention this important fact. A simple oversight, I'm sure...
MYTH: The FBI found a couple in the Phillippines who witnessed acts of molestation at Neverland.
FACT: This couple - Mark and Faye Quindoy - had worked at Jackson's Neverland Ranch between 1989 and 1991, but left in a dispute over pay. Between 1991 and 1993 neither ever made any complaint that Jackson behaved inappropriately around any child. However, after the 1993 allegations broke, the Quindoys began selling interviews about Jackson's alleged improper behaviour.
The pair's claims were suspect from the outset. They had left Neverland in 1991 in a pay dispute but were now telling tabloids that the reason behind their departure was that they were appalled by Jackson's behaviour around children - a provable fiction. Besides, if they had been so shocked and appalled by Jackson's behaviour, why had they not contacted the authorities?
Mark Quindoy's story changed repeatedly; the more money he was paid for his story, the more appalling the alleged molestation became. The prosecutors in the 1993 Jackson case sent two officers to Manila to interview the couple, but the officers concluded that 'their testimony was worthless and the credibility of their claims was highly questionable'.
MYTH: The FBI found that Jackson had engaged in phone sex with a British boy.
FACT: This story comes courtesy of The Sun.
The FBI file briefly references a newspaper story in which a man called Terry George claimed that Jackson, aged 19, had engaged in phonesex with him when he was just 13.
The Sun was rather proud that this story was referenced in the FBI file because it was the Sun which published it in the first place. As such, the newspaper was quick to toot its own horn with an 'FBI investigates Jackson over Sun's investigation' type fanfare.
In fact, the FBI did not investigate the claim and to date no evidence has been produced to support Terry George's story.
In its story about the FBI file, the Sun repeatedly referred to the phonecall between Jackson and Terry George as a matter of fact, even though no evidence has ever been produced to prove that the conversation ever took place.
George is a man of dubious character to say the least, currently owning a string of smutty phonesex companies. His story doesn't seem to add up, either. Despite Jackson's supposed inappropriate behaviour, George's website carries a photograph of himself with the star more than five years after the phonecall allegedly happened. The two still look like firm friends.
In subsequent interviews George has described how he lost touch with Jackson and resorted to behaviour which could be described as stalking - calling the Jackson all the time, hanging around outside his hotels, trying to bluff his way past Jackson's security. More than anything, George's interview with the Sun seemed like an act of jealous revenge by an embittered former acquaintance. Either way, the FBI found no merit to George's claim.