It’s fitting that Michael Jackson’s 2005 trial ended with a woman releasing white doves — one for each count on which he was acquitted. Doves are a traditional part of magic shows, and Jackson’s trial may have been his greatest trick of all. We discuss why in the latest “Shoot This Now” podcast, available on Apple or right here:
On every episode of “Shoot This Now,” we talk about true stories that should be made into TV shows and movies. We decided to talk about the trial this week in part because I covered it from beginning to end for The Associated Press.
It’s curious that in an era of peak TV where seemingly every major news story becomes a movie or limited series, the Jackson trial seems to be untouchable. Perhaps it’s because of the upsetting nature of the accusations, but that hasn’t kept HBO’s “Leaving Neverland” from becoming a cultural fixation. And it didn’t keep FX’s “The People v. OJ Simpson” from becoming a massive success with critics and audiences.
It’s especially strange because there’s such a clear angle here: How so many people exploited the trial for their own gain, while Jackson escaped conviction. Jackson’s fame was so vast, even in his waning years, that many believed just a few specks of his magic dust would be enough to transform their own careers.
It’s true that some of Jackson’s secrets were exposed: The world learned his odd habit of drinking wine out of Coke cans, the passwords to the doors at Neverland, and even his porn predilections.
But the new Dan Reed documentary “Leaving Neverland” argues that Jackson managed to keep his biggest secrets secret. Wade Robson describes in the documentary how Jackson persuaded him to lie on the stand about being molested. And the news media (myself included) sometimes paid attention to his pajama-and-epaulette ensembles instead of everything Jackson wanted to hide.
Jackson’s family has denied that he committed any wrongdoing, and called “Leaving Neverland” an unfair and one-sided account, and said Robson’s testimony that Jackson never molested him undercuts the detailed accusations he makes in the documentary.
But Robson said in “Leaving Neverland” that Jackson persuaded him to lie in part by playing on his sympathies. Robson feared for Jackson’s life if he went to prison, and with good reason. As we noted in the podcast, Jackson was about six-feet tall and 120 pounds at the time of the trial, often checking into a local hospital for a persistent back injury and other health problems.
Jackson’s attorney, Thomas Mesereau, was a master of legal arts, guiding witnesses who were barely in their teens into contradicting themselves on the stand. He said Jackson was not a predator, but the victim of a setup, and that the young accuser’s mother was a serial grifter trying to make him look guilty.
Bizarrely, her name, through marriage, was Janet Jackson.
She had a history of people accusing her of using her children to make money, and did herself no favors with testimony that was both evasive and abrasive.
Was there anyone to root for? Certainly Robson, especially knowing what we know now. But also at least one of the prosecutors, for reasons we explain in the podcast. And Janet Jackson — not the accuser’s mother, but the original Janet Jackson, Michael’s sister, who put herself on the line to defend her brother soon after weathering her own Super Bowl scandal — one she didn’t deserve.
Will the trial ever get the “People v. OJ Simpson” treatment it deserves? FX did not immediately get back to us. The details of the Jackson case may be too repugnant or depressing — but so were the crimes at the center of “The People v. OJ Simpson.”
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