If you value your safety don’t get between a Jackson and a bucket of money. This old adage has been proven time and again – the Jackson family get dollar signs in their eyes and trample over people (sometimes even themselves) to grab some easy cash. From a chain of Jackson-themed restaurants to proposals for Jackson museums and everything in between, prospective partners have seen the family disappear once they have upfront cash in their pockets.
I shouldn’t have been surprised then to see yet another cynical grab for cash by members of the Jackson clan, yet surprisingly I was. Three of Michael Jackson’s nephews have commenced an action against American Media, Inc., publishers of tabloid website Radar Online.
Taj, TJ and Taryll Jackson, sons of Tito Jackson and members of the band 3T, contend they were libeled in a series of articles, allegedly accusing the three of salacious misconduct and of being accessories to Michael Jackson’s crimes.
In the first story, titled Paedo Proof? Never-Before-Seen Cop Reports Expose Michael Jackson’s Sick Secrets, Radar Online reported that:
One private investigator with direct knowledge of the raids said: “The detectives’ report cites Michael even used sexy photos of his own nephews, who were in the band 3T , in their underwear to excite young boys.”
RadarOnline’s claim was based on a report by the Santa Barbara County Sherrif’s Department, in which Detective Craig Bonner noted of a collection of photos featuring 3T found in Jackson’s office: “Although the photos contained appear to be commercially produced, they do depict young males in limited clothing and various provocative poses. Based on my training, this type of material can be used as part of a “grooming” process by which people (those seeking to molest children) are able to lower the inhibitions of their intended victims and facilitate the molestation of said victims.”
The libel complaint claims, “many Radar readers and members of the public will have reasonably understood from this that we knowingly allowed ourselves to be photographed in salacious, lascivious poses and that we knew or should have known that our photos would be, or at least could be, used “to excite young boys”.
This photo shoot is controversial. When Michael Jackson collaborated with his nephews on their 1995 single titled Why, the three brothers and their uncle attended a photo shoot to do cover and promotional shots to accompany the release of the CD. In December 2003, a reporter from Star Magazine saw the result and noted:
In a series of photos, Michael and TJ, who was 17 at the time of the shoot, stand tightly together as TJ progressively loses more and more of his clothing — to the point where he’s wearing just a pair of socks and undershorts, which he proceeds to pull down, exposing his pubic hair. “There was a stylist there, but the shoot was basically directed by Michael,” a source tells Star. “At one point, he began ripping up TJ’s shirt while he was still wearing it. The vibe was weird, but no one would say anything to Michael, that’s for sure.”
It’s true that Star Magazine is a tabloid, nevertheless we have some examples of the photos taken on that day. One shows an image precisely as Star described it — TJ wearing just a pair of socks and undershorts, which he proceeds to pull down, exposing his pubic hair.
While this photo is “salacious and provocative”, the only people suggesting that images from a professional shoot for the promotion of a CD could be used to “excite young boys” are those familiar with the actions of pedophiles and how they groom their victims. Nobody, not even Radar Online, is suggesting that 3T posed for these photos knowing they could be used to lower the inhibitions of young boys.
In the second story, Jacko Betrayed! Sex Perv Singer’s Family Turned Against Him In Abuse Probe, the complaint alleges that a section which discusses a member of Jackson’s family as receiving an overseas vacation and a car to “shut up” about alleged abuse is directed at them, as they are “the only family members referred to in the article”.
This section is not about Taj, TJ and Taryll. This story dates back to the 90s and refers to Jeremy Jackson, another Jackson nephew, who was allegedly “spirited off to an island” to buy his silence, after which he refused to tell police anything “bad” about Michael Jackson.
The 3T complaint against Radar Online contains several amusing elements, the first being that “Michael Jackson can no longer defend himself or sue for libel.”
This is the high moral ground that Michael Jackson stayed well away from, for the most part. Of the tens of thousands of libelous articles written about Jackson during his lifetime, Jackson took action only twice. Once in 1992 against UK tabloid the Daily Mirror, for their headline claiming Jackson had been left “hideously disfigured” by cosmetic surgery; and once against journalist Victor Gutierrez, who claimed he had a videotape of Jackson performing fellatio on a young boy. Jackson won both times. Otherwise, Jackson allowed articles covertly and overtly calling him child molester, cheat, liar, and drug addict to go unchallenged.
Another is the nephew’s claim that their personal and professional damages amount to 35 million dollars each. While 3T initially had some success in a few European countries in the nineties, their professional career since then has been unnotable. One single which peaked at number seven in Belgium in 2004 aside, their musical career has stalled. Their last outing was cable TV reality program, The Jacksons: Next Generation; their next is an appearance at a 1,750 seat theater in the Netherlands in September 2016. Asking for an obscene amount of money as recompense for a hit on earnings that were never there is overkill, even to this untrained eye.
The third is the nephew’s own admission that nobody should take Radar Online seriously. Their claim includes statements that explain Radar Online publishes “false, embarrassing and hurtful gossip about famous people”; that the tabloid makes “money for American Media by embarrassing and humiliating famous people with false, lurid and sensational gossip about their private lives”; and that such “bogus and hurtful stories are typically accompanied by blaring headlines designed to create the false impression that the stories themselves are even more shocking and sensational than they really are.”
The claim admits that the stories Radar Online publishes are not only false but that those false stories are designed to make a profit. This distinction is important, as you will see.
Can 3T even prevail in this suit? That’s highly unlikely.
According to The Digital Media Law Project, elements of a defamation claim are:
- publication of a statement of fact
- that is false,*
- has a natural tendency to injure or which causes “special damage,” and
- the defendant’s fault in publishing the statement amounted to at least negligence.
All five elements must be satisfied for a plaintiff to be libeled. If you noted the asterisk next to number 2, you may have deduced there is a catch for 3T and you would be right. As the three brothers are public figures, defamation law states they must prove that the statements are false. If they can, they must then prove that Radar Online knew the statements were false, or that Radar Online acted with reckless disregard for the statement’s truth or falsity. They must prove malice.
On malice, we go once again to The Digital Media Law Project:
“…the actual malice standard is not measured by what a reasonable person would have published or investigated prior to publication. Instead, the plaintiff must produce clear and convincing evidence that the defendant actually knew the information was false or entertained serious doubts as to the truth of his publication. In making this determination, a court will look for evidence of the defendant’s state of mind at the time of publication and will likely examine the steps he took in researching, editing, and fact checking his work. It is generally not sufficient, however, for a plaintiff to merely show that the defendant didn’t like her, failed to contact her for comment, knew she had denied the information, relied on a single biased source, or failed to correct the statement after publication.
Not surprisingly, this is a very difficult standard for a plaintiff to establish. Indeed, in only a handful of cases over the last decades have plaintiffs been successful in establishing the requisite actual malice to prove defamation.”
The three brothers acknowledge the difficult reality of convincing a judge and jury of malice on Radar Online’s part when they preface their suit with the analysis that Radar are in the business of publishing false gossip about celebrities. Radar Online and many other tabloid media outlets publish these stories not out of malice, but to meet the needs of their readers who crave ever more sensational stories. In other words for clicks and eyeballs, not for veracity or for the love of high journalism.
In any case, for libel to be proven readers must reasonably understand that defamatory statements are directed at the libeled party — it is unclear in the Radar Online story that 3T were being referred to and which members of Jackson’s family were interviewed. Any possible misunderstanding is reduced by the inclusion of the paragraph, “Jackson had always taken a special interest in his nephews,” and just below that, “The boys always denied they had been abused.”
It’s unlikely the nephew’s libel suit will survive demurrer but despite its shortcomings, there is a small chance this case may survive and progress to discovery. This is where it becomes exciting for Michael Jackson researchers.
Discovery will enable Radar Online’s lawyers to issue subpoena duces tecum to the Los Angeles Police Department and Santa Barbara County Sherrif’s Department, compelling them to release documents from the 1993 investigation of Michael Jackson’s molestation of boys. The files contain a multitude of previously unseen reports, interviews, and evidence.
It will be inevitable that much of this material will find it’s way into motions put to the court and questions put to witnesses (should the case go to trial). Information which may be presented will fill many gaps in knowledge of the behavior of players in the 1993 investigations and will give Jackson writers the opportunity to complete previously unfinished stories. New information will provide fresh avenues for research. For example, Jackson watchers will be keen to know if a family member had actually said “Jackson had for years tried to hide his predilection for prepubescent boys,” and if true which Jackson family member that was. We are looking forward to it.
With this suit unlikely to succeed, it appears this is either a quest for cheap publicity for a fading pop group or an attempt to wheedle a cash settlement from Radar Online, or both. Stand well clear of that bucket.
Update 25th September 2016
That bucket of money doesn’t look so secure for 3T…
ANSWER OF DEFENDANT RADAR ONLINE, LLC TO PLAINTIFFS’ UNVERIFIED COMPLAINT
Jacko Betrayed! Sex Perv Singer’s Family Turned Against Him In Abuse Probe, Radar Online June 24, 2016
Paedo Proof? Never-Before-Seen Cop Reports Expose Michael Jackson’s Sick Secrets, Radar Online June 20, 2016
3T Civil Complaint For Libel, Superior Court of Los Angeles, Case Number BC628510
Did Michael Go Too Far With His Nephews?, Star Magazine, December 10, 2003
Defamation in California, avvo.com, January 9 2011
Defamation Per Se: Be Prepared to Plead (and Prove!) Actual Damages, Andrew Bossory, American Bar Association, June 3 2014