We know the truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart.

Talking with Charles Thomson about Recent Divisive Events in the MJ Community


A while back, Extreme Michael Jackson was fortunate enough to be able to talk with Michael Jackson expert Charles Thomson. For those unaware of recent divisive events in the MJ community, Mr. Thomson has received an unfortunate hazing from bloggers who

have somehow decided he is involved in various conspiracies involving Michael Jackson.  There has been a flurry of unjustified misinformation based on diddly squat.

Some of Charles’ audience has decided he is a fanatical, delusional MJ fan defending a monster; others have decided he is not fan enough. The truth is that Charles never represented himself as either- his job as a journalist is to remain objective, have his own opinion when appropriate, and to uncover the facts about whatever stories he is working on.  Since music writing is his niche, he ended up writing about Jackson. Since the facts all point to Jackson’s innocence in the awful scandals he endured, Charles wrote about that. Since Charles is a professional journalist whose job it is to uncover deeper layers of information, he was involved with making Jackson’s FBI files public. Those files clarified further how distorted the media made the facts, and point further to the complete absolution of all charges against Michael Jackson. For some reason, Charles has become the victim of malicious accusations regardless of the laudable services he has done in the name of truth.

Since I did not fully understand exactly what has been going on, or why, I decided to talk with Charles and find out. The interview is extremely long: as ever, Charles is  generous with his time and expertise.  I am going to run the interview as a series, answering one or two questions at a time.

Following today’s question, I have pasted the list of questions so you can all anticipate what is to come.

Our previous interview was at this link:

http://extrememichaeljackson.wordpress.com/2010/05/11/lorette-c-luzajic-talks-with-michael-jackson-expert-charles-thomson/

What I think about Charles Thomson is hardly relevant, but since some of you have asked where I stand on what I see as a non-issue, and where I stand on MJ- as if that is hard to figure out- here is my statement:

I am a lifelong fan of Michael Jackson. I love interesting people and am fascinated by eccentrics, and I am an artist and writer and so I am drawn to unusual and creative people. Jackson is not my only hero, not by a long shot, but my admiration is unwavering- he is one of the greatest artists of all time, an absolutely unique person, grossly misunderstood, with an inexplicable ability to heal people around him and a heart of gold. I love him with all my heart. Yet part of my fascination is with public response: some people have died for him, some recoil, some are inspired, some are terrified. I see MJ as fated to have a mythological role, and part of that mythos is the tragic part. Tragic and broken in his own life- no one this unusual is entirely stable- and also tragic in that his magic and sorrow reveals the best and worst of human nature. Michael shows us a lot more about human nature than he showed about himself.

For these reasons, I do not believe in censoring anyone’s responses, even if I vehemently disagree. I believe in free speech in all areas, including this one. That does not mean I support people’s whims to spread lies: it does mean that I support people’s right to an opinion I may find reprehensible, or merely implausible.

As for Charles Thomson, he is a man I have never met, for those who were asking if we are old friends conspiring together. I certainly hope that we meet one day. I discovered Charles through my vast readings about Michael, and was impressed to say the least. He courageously spoke against the very presses that hire him, not always the best move for a young man hoping for a long career, but a move filled with integrity.  Charles is an extremely gifted writer with a commitment to facts. As a writer, I am envious of his professional skills and his dignified handling of animosity.

Do I agree with Charles on each and every detail? I trust Charles’ facts simply because I see how committed he is to honest reporting, even at great personal expense. But as for matters of opinion, not always. I’ve never met anyone yet with whom I always agree on every opinion. From what little I know, we have very different personality temperaments and different tastes in entertainment. Nonetheless, I am quite certain we would get on famously if we are ever given the chance to meet in a more personal setting. I expect we would not run out of things to talk about over a couple of pints or a fine cappuccino. I am grateful for the virtual world which has led me to this very gifted and inspiring writer.

Moving along now, let’s begin.

Charles, you’re a young writer who blasted rather quickly from school into the public eye after garnering some prestigious attention for your work on James Brown. Then you found yourself in the role of Michael Jackson expert. Was this unexpected? How did this affect the direction and state of your career?

First and foremost, I didn’t leave school and walk right into the public eye. After leaving school at age 16, I went to college for two years where I studied journalism among other subjects. From college I went to university, where I spent another three years in journalism training, graduating with honours in 2009. (NB from Lorette: Please be advised that by “school” I was referring not to high school but to college/university. It seems that Brits do not refer to higher ed as school.)

It is worth pointing out that none of this training is prerequisite for a career in British journalism. The industry qualification is issued by the National Council for Training Journalists (NCTJ) and if you enrol in a fast track course, you can qualify as a journalist in six months, whereas by studying the topic at college and university I trained for four years.

I first started contributing to newspapers at age 16 or 17, during my college years. It was a requirement of the journalism course I was enrolled in – we would interview local figures or cover local events and then write stories for the local press. During my early years at university I contributed to more local newspapers on a regular basis and by age 19 I was doing freelance work for an American music journal. By age 21 I was contributing to national newspapers and magazines.

My work as a Michael Jackson ‘expert’ was unexpected, to say the least. As I told you in a previous interview, I got a tip-off in March 2009 from an insider who gave me information on when and where Michael Jackson would fly into the UK to announce his comeback shows at the O2. The source asked me to leak the details as they felt it would create some positive PR around the concert announcements. I passed the information on to The Sun, which seemed the sensible thing to do – if you want publicity, you might as well go to the country’s biggest newspaper. The Sun realised that I was quite plugged in when it came to Michael Jackson, so they decided to keep using me.

My work with the Sun has drawn much criticism from Michael Jackson’s fans but I’m not quite sure why. At the first sign of impropriety I wrote a long and damning article, condemning them for their skewed reporting on Evan Chandler’s suicide. Before that, they’d never been anything but ethical in their dealings with me. It’s not like I’m some tabloid shill or paid Sun apologist. When I wrote that article about the Sun scrapping my research on Evan Chandler and replacing it with inaccurate information, I jeopardised any future work with the newspaper and have barely done anything for them since.

Regarding how my work on Michael Jackson has affected the state of my career, it hasn’t made me rich. It has boosted my profile, but only because the fans discovered my blogs and started posting them all over the internet. Before the fans discovered me, I was blogging about Michael Jackson in almost total obscurity. I got paid for my work with the Sun, but the hoopla surrounding Michael Jackson’s concerts and then his death only lasted from around March until October, and they didn’t consult me for every Jackson story they wrote – not by a long shot. It wasn’t a long term gig and my services were required only occasionally.

The majority of my work on Michael Jackson, particularly concerning the allegations and the trial, has been totally pro bono. I don’t get paid for my Huffington Post articles and obviously I write my own blog for free. But I don’t mind doing a certain amount of pro bono work. I consider journalism to be a vocation. I think it is a necessary job, especially in an era when many journalists are tethered by corporate ownership. So if I think a story is important, I will write it for free if need be. That goes for writing 5000 word essays about the media’s horrendous coverage of Michael Jackson’s trial, or covering important issues for my local newspapers. I’m currently covering a story in my town about local government trying to bulldoze children’s playing fields and build houses on them.

My work on Michael Jackson has made me a bit of an internet celebrity, which has brought just as many problems as it has benefits. But it hasn’t made me rich or won me a lucrative job in the media industry. I’m the same person living in the same house and doing the same stuff on a day to day basis – my name just generates more hits on Google.

Next time:

As a journalist, you were instrumental in getting Michael Jackson’s FBI records released to the public. Tell me about that process. What did those records reveal?

stay tuned for these questions during this serial:

Charles, you’re a young writer who blasted rather quickly from school into the public eye after garnering some prestigious attention for your work on James Brown. Then you found yourself in the role of Michael Jackson expert. Was this unexpected? How did this affect the direction and state of your career?

As a journalist, you were instrumental in getting Michael Jackson’s FBI records released to the public. Tell me about that process. What did those records reveal?

In an earlier interview with me, you stated that you believe in Michael Jackson’s innocence, not because you like his music, but because that’s what the evidence shows. The importance of this distinction might seem rather obvious, yet it is a distinction overlooked by Jackson’s fans and foes alike. Can you comment on that?

You wrote an excellent piece for the Huffington Post about how the tabloid lynching of Jackson is one of the media’s most shameful episodes in history. And you’ve consistently conveyed fact based journalism and analysis that champions Michael Jackson as innocent, doing much to vindicate that innocence to detractors. This has exposed many prejudiced hatemongers or the woefully misinformed for what they are. Yet recently, you have been attacked on some rather absurd premises. Can you tell me about that?

Regarding the photograph with Randy T- is Randy also a villain in this saga?

You were also accused of being someone you weren’t. Tell me about that.

Your previous interview on my blog received mostly wonderful support. But not entirely. I was asked why I’d run an interview with you on my blog, since you allegedly had not been a supporter before Jackson’s death. I mentioned that you are barely out of school and probably were not yet working during the trials. Am I wrong? Was there a time when you were giving Jackson negative press, and changed your mind?

There seems to be a phenomenon happening where some fans or bloggers or writers feel they have a monopoly on Michael’s legacy. While for the most part, I feel an extraordinary kinship and love as part of Michael’s fandom, there are some unfortunate divisions. Why can’t we all just get along?

You’ve been criticized for expressing that there were some artistic choices Jackson made that didn’t appeal to you. Can you comment?

For me, pretending a hero is beyond reproach, or pretending that every song or performance must appeal to every audience, means a danger of losing our critical faculty. Michael Jackson himself was far more critical of his work than even his toughest detractors. Can you comment on that?

I also feel it is dangerous to sweep things under the rug in order to sanitize someone’s reputation. We can’t get over stigmas and taboos about, for example, drug addiction, until we are able to honestly discuss such struggles. I’ve been criticized for referring to Jackson’s substance struggles, which is ironic given my own historical struggles and losses. Doesn’t it diminish Michael’s very humanity if we just leave important parts of the puzzle blank? In a sense, denying Jackson’s various struggles means denying his pain, the pain our society caused him.

You’ve also received support throughout this time. Tell me about that.

How did you handle the whole episode? How did it make you feel? What lessons have you learned?

What does this episode say about the dangers of fanaticism?

How will you proceed from this day forward?

We are talking with Michael Jackson expert Charles Thomson about some recent, peculiar events in the fan community. To recap, Thomson is a music journalist who frequently writes about black music. His award winning work on musicians like James Brown and Michael Jackson is widely read. He has written extensively in defense of Michael Jackson’s innocence, but has recently come under fire for his alleged secret agenda. In this lengthy serial interview, I tried to find out how things got so out of hand. One moment, Charles was a devoted, brilliant writer…the next, he was being accused, exposed, and jabbed for some absurd motivations. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on, so I decided to ask.

Read the first part of the interview (yesterday) here: http://extrememichaeljackson.wordpress.com/2010/09/29/talking-with-charles-thomson-about-recent-divisive-events-in-the-mj-community/

As a journalist, you were instrumental in getting Michael Jackson’s FBI records released to the public. Tell me about that process. What did those records reveal?

The files were released under a piece of legislation called the ‘Freedom of Information Act’. The act is designed to maintain openness and transparency in government by allowing members of the public to request information which is, for one reason or another, not public. The FBI, as a government body, is required by law to respond to FOIA requests.

While a person is alive, their FBI file is unavailable because to release it would breach privacy laws. You can get around this rule but only by getting the subject of the file to sign a privacy waiver agreement. However, once a person is deceased you can request their file and the FBI is required by law to release it unless it breaches national security. The files are often redacted, however, because they include reference to particular FBI agents or information on people who are still alive.

I was one of several people who requested Michael Jackson’s FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act, which I did because I was curious to see if it contained any additional information on the government’s repeated interferences in his life. I wasn’t sure he’d even have an FBI file so I was shocked to learn that he did and that it was 600 pages long.

Overall, I was distinctly unimpressed by the FBI’s handling of the request. Initially this was because the FBI took so long handling my request. In the UK, bodies are required by law to answer FOIA requests within 20 working days. However, I filed my request with the FBI in summer 2009 and it wasn’t released until December.

I was also unimpressed by the way in which the FBI released the documents, which I’ve never seen them do in any other case. They announced to the world’s press that the documents would be uploaded on a certain date at a certain time, which sparked a worldwide rush to download the documents and be the first to write a story about them. Meanwhile, as one of the original requesters of the file, I was not given any advance notice or priority.

The result was that the media, all racing to be the first with the story, skim-read the files and published wildly inaccurate stories about them on a global basis. I saw newspapers which claimed that the FBI had supposedly seized a videotape from Jackson and found child porn on it. The files actually said that the tape, seized from an unknown person at Palm Beach customs, was simply ‘connected to Jackson’ – and that connection appeared merely to be that somebody had written his name on the cassette’s sticky label. As for child porn, there was no record of any being found.

Other newspapers said that the FBI had investigated allegations that Jackson molested two Mexican boys in the 1980s. This was patently untrue. The FBI merely noted a phone call in which somebody claimed that they’d heard a story that the FBI had investigated such a claim. The documents further note that the FBI “searched indices, both manual and automated for any reference to the above mentioned investigation. No references were found.” In other words, somebody telephoned the FBI and made a bogus allegation. The FBI noted that allegation and found no merit to it, but the media misrepresented the allegation as the FBI’s own conclusion.

The inaccuracies in the media’s reporting on Jackson’s FBI files were countless and they went all over the world. The files supported Jackson’s innocence, showing that after ten years of investigation by both the LAPD and the FBI, neither organisation had ever been able to find one piece of evidence connecting Jackson to any crime. The release of the files should have been positive PR for Michael Jackson but the media’s ridiculously poor reporting had the opposite effect.

This is why I was so irritated by the way in which the FBI handled the release of the documents. If I had been given some kind of advance copy because I was one of those who actually requested the file, I could have read them properly and filed an accurate report, which would have been copied and pasted by lazy media outlets the world over. By releasing the documents to a global mob of salivating reporters the FBI ensured that the files were not read properly before news outlets started filing reports on them. So instead of repeating accurate claims about the FBI files, media outlets – on a global basis – were recycling distortion and misinformation.

My other gripe with the FBI was that they omitted around half of Jackson’s file and never offered any explanation as to why. My understanding is that government bodies are required by law to give an explanation as to why any information has been held back when answering an FOIA request. I never saw any record of the FBI giving any such explanation.
In an earlier interview with me, you stated that you believe in Michael Jackson’s innocence, not because you like his music, but because that’s what the evidence shows. The importance of this distinction might seem rather obvious, yet it is a distinction overlooked by Jackson’s fans and foes alike. Can you comment on that?

Michael Jackson is a divisive subject. He has some very overzealous fans and some very overzealous detractors, both of whom have attacked me for pretty much the same reason. The detractors have attacked me because they think it is impossible to believe in Michael Jackson’s innocence unless you’re an insane fan. They’ve palmed me off as a ‘floon’, a word they use to describe Jackson’s ardent supporters. But I don’t even like all of Jackson’s albums or tours and I’m certainly no apologist for his mistakes.

Unfortunately, the fact that I don’t like all of Michael Jackson’s albums or tours and don’t airbrush over his mistakes has drawn the ire of some of his fans, too. They don’t seem to be able to distinguish between a fan and a journalist and, displaying logic that is strangely similar to Jackson’s detractors, they seem to think it’s impossible to believe in Michael Jackson’s innocence unless you’re a devout fan.

I’ve said in the past – notably in my previous interview with you – that I don’t like a lot of Jackson’s later musical output or performances. Consequently, these fans have lambasted me as a ‘hypocrite’ and a traitor. Quite what my opinion on Jackson’s HIStory Tour or Invincible album has to do with my views on his trial, I’m not sure, but for some fans there is definitely a perceived connection. I can’t understand the logic that by believing Jackson is innocent and at the same time not liking some of his albums I am a hypocrite. The two, as far as I am concerned, are irrelevant to one another. It’s like calling somebody a hypocrite because they love apples and hate pears.

Next time: You wrote an excellent piece for the Huffington Post about how the tabloid lynching of Jackson is one of the media’s most shameful episodes in history. And you’ve consistently conveyed fact based journalism and analysis that champions Michael Jackson as innocent, doing much to prove that innocence to his detractors. This has exposed many prejudiced hate-mongers and the woefully misinformed for what they are. Yet recently, you have been attacked on some rather absurd premises. Can you tell me about that?

I discovered a few months ago that somebody had been impersonating me on TMZ. Worried that they’d start impersonating me elsewhere, and knowing that twitter is famous for such cases, I decided to set up a twitter account. Within a few days I had roughly 200 followers and was enjoying interacting with the fans and answering their questions.

During one discussion the subject of Michael Jackson’s drug dependencies came up. I suddenly found myself bombarded with angry and abusive tweets insisting that Jackson had never been addicted to any substance and the whole story was an evil media conspiracy. I pointed out that several of Jackson’s relatives have said in interviews since his death that they knew he was addicted to drugs and had tried to stage interventions. The fans simply claimed that these relatives were part of the conspiracy.

That incident caused some of Jackson’s fan to turn against me. My comments have been blown up since then; the product of several months’ worth of Chinese whispers. I recently saw somebody claiming they’d seen me write on twitter that I was planning a negative article about Jackson’s drug addictions – a total fabrication. The incident has been exaggerated to a ridiculous extent.

At roughly the same time, I travelled to Los Angeles for a week and while I was there I met the author J Randy Taraborrelli, who quoted my work in the latest edition of his Michael Jackson biography. We went out for dinner and while we were there we got some pictures taken. Both Randy and I posted the pictures on our facebook pages.

A while later I found out that somebody had written a blog accusing Randy and I of being involved in a Sony conspiracy to murder Michael Jackson. I emailed the blogger asking them to remove the entry because it was false. The blogger simply replied, ‘But I have a photo of you and Taraborrelli. What am I supposed to do with that?’, as though the photo was some sort of big secret. The blogger was taking an open and acknowledged friendship between myself and Randy and claiming that it was somehow secretive or suspicious.

The twitter incident combined with the animosity some fans felt towards Randy – and therefore towards me by association – created a backlash against me and my work, spurred on in no small part by the constant assertions by conspiracy theorist bloggers that I was somehow involved in a thus far unfathomable (at least to me) plot by Sony to murder Michael Jackson by writing blogs about him after his death.

I have never worked for Sony. Ever. The allegation is absurd and it is entirely without any evidential basis. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped a number of vulnerable fans from being taken in by the claims.

The fall-out from these Sony allegations has been extremely distressing for me. I received numerous obscene and threatening messages via email and facebook. The blogger’s followers started spying on my social networking accounts and publishing details of who I was talking to and what I’d been writing.

This intrusion into my private life, as well as the hate mail, prompted me to privatise all of my social networking accounts. The blogger even tried to usethat against me, claiming that the privatisation of my accounts proved Sony had ordered me to stop interacting with the fans!

I soon came under attack from a second blogger who actually attempted to blackmail me. The blogger found my page on a website I’d joined at college that offered support for gay teens, then emailed me threatening to ‘expose’ me unless I gave them information on Sony’s involvement in Michael Jackson’s death. This was information I didn’t have, which resulted in the blogger outing me as gay.

That second blogger also unearthed an old account I had on a Michael Jackson related forum, where I made – I would estimate – in excess of 10,000 posts over approximately 5 years. The blogger selectively posted a handful of comments I’d made on the forum (many quite similar to comments I’d made in our last interview; points about not liking Jackson’s latter musical output and complaining that he didn’t help himself in terms of bad press by constantly painting a target on his back). This sparked fury among some of the more obsessive fans.

This all links into what I was saying earlier about how some fans can’t conceive of somebody believing in Jackson’s innocence but also disagreeing with some of his decisions. The stance these fans take is that you either totally support every single thing Michael Jackson has ever done or you’re a traitor and a hypocrite.

In your question you used the word ‘absurd’, and I think that’s a very accurate word to describe what has happened to me over the last few months. The allegations being levelled at me are beyond absurd. There is no evidence in existence that will tie me to Sony and I can state that with 100% certainty because I have never worked for them. Ever. I’ve never worked for Sony, I’ve never met John Branca, I’ve never been a ‘paid blogger’ for anybody and I certainly wasn’t involved in Michael Jackson’s death. Anybody claiming to have evidence supporting any of these allegations is a liar and/or a fantasist.

Sometimes, as I read the blogs making these allegations, I do still get angry at how these people can write total nonsense about me and there is nothing I can really do about it. However, I don’t get too worked up because as I browse their other content – nasty comments about Jackson’s grieving relatives, allegations that ‘This Is It’ is all body doubles and even claims that Jackson may have faked his own death – I understand that nobody of sound mind would take any notice of them.

What does make me angry is when I see vulnerable fans looking to these blogs for answers and taking them seriously. Whenever I look underneath one of those blogs and see somebody commenting, ‘Thanks – I didn’t know Charles was a hired Sony blogger. I won’t support him anymore’, that makes my blood boil. These bloggers are taking advantage of vulnerable people – and those vulnerable people are bigger victims in this situation than I am.

Read more:

http://extrememichaeljackson.wordpress.com/2010/10/02/interview-with-charles-thomson-part-3/

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