A Note on Sources

It’s difficult to acknowledge people you can’t name. That’s why none of us—neither readers nor writers—likes to rely on anonymous sources. It all comes down to a question of trade-offs. Is the access and the information worth sacrificing the reader’s knowledge of exactly who is saying what? I decided that, in a few cases, it was.

Two of my most valuable sources insisted upon absolute confidentiality. They would not allow me even to quote them anonymously or to identify them as sources in any way. One of them, a person I’m going to refer to as Anonymous Source 1 (AS1 hereafter), was absolutely essential to me in tracking the movements and activities of Michael Jackson (MJ hereafter) during a period of time that stretched from his acquittal at his criminal trial in Santa Barbara during June 2005 to his long stay at the Cascio family home in the late summer and early autumn of 2007. This individual also told me a great deal about MJ’s relationships with family members and other personal details. The second person, Anonymous Source 2 (AS2 hereafter) was key to understanding MJ’s legal, financial, and business affairs. I dealt with the insistence of these two sources on total anonymity by making a decision that I would not use anything significant or potentially controversial that they told me unless I could find at least one other independent source that substantially verified what they were saying. Both of these individuals (but AS2 especially) were quite good about directing me to where I could obtain such verification, which was often in the public record. I also used them to confirm or deny things I’d heard from other sources. The only instances in which I relied solely upon these two particular anonymous sources had to do with context and atmosphere—where and when something took place. I did of course pay close attention to what the two of them—AS1 in particular—told me about MJ’s emotional condition and state of mind.

Two of my other sources allowed me to quote them, but not by name. I’m going to refer to them in my notes as Confidential Source 1 (CS1) and Confidential Source 2 (CS2). Each of these two persons worked with and for MJ, off and on, for a lengthy period of time: more than twenty years in one case and nearly fifteen in the other. One was an attorney, the other worked both with and for MJ. I identify them in this way when they are quoted. CS2 was someone I felt certain would agree eventually to be quoted by name, but this person died before I finished the book. Since it was never renegotiated, I have kept my promise not to identify or quote this individual by name.

In addition, there were two people who advised me midway through the course of multiple interviews that they did not want to be quoted by name. My practice in this regard is that I will not identify a source by name from the point in time when such a request is made and I agree to it, but that I remain free to quote anything they said prior to that time, and to attribute it to them. That is how I dealt with the requests of these two sources, each of whom is quoted by name in some instances and anonymously in others.

On top of all this, I also made what amounted to unilateral decisions not to quote a couple of other people by name. In one case, I made use of remarks uttered by an advisor of Katherine Jackson’s during the course of what could conceivably be called a business meeting. This individual (who also has a long association with Joe Jackson) knew I was writing a book about Michael Jackson, and never said his words were off the record, but he also never explicitly told me that what he said was for attribution. I elected to quote him a handful of times in the book, but not to use his name. Also, what this person told me about MJ’s siblings probably left as deep an impression as anything else I heard or read. In the other case, a producer with whom I was involved in a business relationship having nothing to do with this book or its subject matter told me about eating Thanksgiving dinner with Jordan Chandler’s stepmother and two half-brothers in 2009, and how they had reacted when he spoke MJ’s name. Weeks later, he told me he didn’t want to be quoted. I agreed only not to quote him by name.

The most painful of the confidentiality demands made upon me were those I heard as the book was being prepared for publication. Nearly all of these came from sources in show business who had provided a snippet of information or the recollection of a glancing encounter with MJ. In the summer of 2012, one after another were telling me that they had shared this story or that one simply for my edification, not because they imagined I would use it in the book, and either pleaded or demanded that I not. Their reasons often seemed absurd to me, but most often came down to either a concern that they had violated a confidence by telling me something they shouldn’t have or that they would be dragged into the swamp of legal claims as various people angled for a piece of the MJ action. Generally, I refused to take things out of the book (though several times I gave in even on that point), but conceded that I would not quote these sources by name. What really hurt was removing the two funniest MJ-related stories I ever heard from the book.

It will be obvious that I spoke directly with members of the Chandler family; I’ll explain that situation in my chapter notes when we come to that section of the book.

I didn’t quote Katherine Jackson’s business partner and close advisor Howard Mann by name in this book, even though I consider him to be a significant source. Mann has been terribly vilified on the Internet. Whatever anyone writes or reports about Mann, though, there is no question that from late 2009 until the present he has been one of Mrs. Jackson’s two closest advisors and that because of this relationship knows as much as anyone about what has taken place within the Jackson family since MJ’s death, and a good deal, as well, about what took place during MJ’s life. That said, I’m still not sure how unfair the accusations against Mann have been. I often found him to be forthright and earnest. I also found him to be less than accurate on occasion and relied on four separate individuals affiliated with Katherine Jackson to fact-check his assertions for anything exaggerated or erroneous. One I can’t name. The other three were Marc Schaffel and Mrs. Jackson’s attorneys Perry Sanders and Sandra Ribera.

I should note that I permitted Sandy Ribera to read the entire first-draft manuscript of this book before publication. I recognize that this is unusual, but felt I owed it both to Katherine Jackson and to my readers. Sandy replied with two long “comments and corrections” e-mails that did point out some slight but not insignificant errors, and offered her view of how things operate within the Jackson family. She also took the opportunity to argue passionately against the negative portrait of Katherine Jackson others had put forth, and had some effect; I either deleted or softened several descriptions of Mrs. Jackson’s complicity in the financial exploitation of her son. I retained most of that material, however, because the evidence of its accuracy was too strong to discount.

I think Katherine knows that I liked her the moment I met her; she really is a lovely woman, both funnier and more vulnerable than I anticipated. I came to believe, and still do, that she is not a devious person. There is a kind of dishonesty that takes the form of denial, however, and the evidence continues to tell me MJ’s mother is guilty of that, at least in certain regards.

Sandy Ribera also shared with me her insights and the observations she made while attending the trial of Conrad Murray, and those were helpful.

I should disclose that Perry Sanders is a friend of mine and that I made the introductions that resulted in him being hired as Katherine Jackson’s attorney. He did share certain information with me “to make sure you don’t get off track,” but it was all given in confidence with the agreement that I would need to obtain it independently from another source to use it in this book. Katherine Jackson’s former attorney Adam Streisand also told me things that contributed to my understanding of the dynamics of the Jackson family.

Howard Mann told me one story that I know to be mostly true and that I feel should be told, even though it was omitted from the main body of this book: In the fall of 2009, Mann made a deal to acquire the trove of Jackson family memorabilia, videotapes, photographs, and music recordings that Henry Vaccaro called “The Michael Jackson Secret Vault.” Among those items was what had long been the most speculated about piece of physical evidence ever possessed by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s office. This was a box of “salacious materials” that would become the object of a frenzied hunt in the weeks after Michael’s death. When the British tabloids discovered that these “materials” were now in Mann’s possession, they began a bidding war that, according to Howard, resulted ultimately in an offer of seven figures. (I know there was a bidding war, but doubt the amount offered ever approached a million dollars.) Whatever amount of money it was that the British tabloids offered, it’s a fact that instead of selling these objects he conveyed the box and its contents to the Hayvenhurst compound and presented it to Katherine Jackson. It was an attempt at forging a relationship with a woman he had never met. “I told Mrs. Jackson I didn’t think it would be right or smart to sell this stuff to a tabloid that would trash her son’s reputation,” Mann explained to me, “and that I was giving it to her to do with as she saw fit.” Katherine opened the box, looked inside, closed her eyes for a moment, then thanked Mann profusely for his kindness and consideration. “It was very good of Howard,” Mrs. Jackson said months later, after he had become her business partner and personal advisor.

Mann told me that the box of “materials” had been packed by Marc Schaffel and delivered to Michael Jackson back in 2002. “Michael asked me to send some of the movies I’d made,” Schaffel explained when I asked him about this. The “exotic” sex toys in the box, more than the gay porn films, were what the tabloids had coveted. “I threw that stuff in to make him laugh,” said Schaffel. No, he didn’t believe Michael was gay, Marc said: “At least I never saw any sign of it.” Michael often commented that he found this or that woman attractive, admiring the curve of her hips or the shape of her posterior, but Schaffel never knew him to engage in anything more than a brief and superficial flirtation with any female. He certainly never slept with one during the years Marc spent with him. So why did Michael want him to send that box of gay porn films? I wondered. “He was curious,” Schaffel said. “Michael was interested in everything. He looked at straight films, gay films, tranny films—you name it. He wanted to see it all. I took it as him trying to know about things he wasn’t experiencing in his own life.”

Another disclosure: I briefly worked with Mann on an (apparently) aborted documentary about the Michael Jackson estate (tentatively titled Stealing Michael Jackson) and in that capacity was able to view footage and obtain transcripts of interviews with Joe Jackson, Katherine Jackson, Brian Oxman, Raymone Bain, and Dick Gregory, among others, that inform certain sections of this book.

After that first documentary was shelved, Mann began to develop a different documentary about Michael Jackson, tentatively titled Luv U More. Through him, I was made aware of a trove of tape-recorded interviews with Michael that were conducted in the late 1980s. Mann obtained these recordings from the husband of a former Neverland Ranch employee who claims Michael gave them to him. These recordings, now in Mann’s possession, are just as compelling as the ones that Rabbi Shmuley Boteach compiled. I can’t quote directly from them, but must admit that I was influenced by the harsh things Michael had to say about his family, especially with regard to their financial exploitation of him. Even his mother was not spared. It’s the only occasion I know of in which Michael has made critical remarks about Katherine. Those tapes were a secondary but significant source of information that contributed to what I wrote about Michael’s life prior to the accusations made against him by Jordan Chandler in 1993. They also illustrated to me how changed Michael was by the sexual abuse charges leveled at him.

The amount of information—and misinformation—available about Michael Jackson is staggering. As those who examine my bibliography will observe, I couldn’t keep myself from exploring it. How to attribute reports in this Internet age is problematic. I wasn’t always sure whether an article had appeared in print before it was posted online. There were several times, with Los Angeles Times stories, for example, where I discovered that the online version of an article was running under a different headline than the one on the same article I had clipped from the actual newspaper. Also, I was at times uncertain about how much of a story posted online by one of the American television networks (or by the BBC) had appeared on air, or if it had been expanded in the Internet version. I’ve cited my sources taking into account how the reader might locate them, if interested, and also how the material appeared first or in most detail, but if I’ve erred in that respect, I apologize.

The postings on various Michael Jackson fan sites were also a significant source of information for me. To those who arch their eyebrows I will point out that quite often the only “reporters” to whom Michael and those around him allowed access were people running these fan sites, and that members of Michael’s staff and household often passed on information about his movements and activities to these fan sites with his full knowledge and consent. I’m still amazed by the accuracy of the “Michael Jackson Timeline” on allmichaeljackson.com, something that was compiled in real time, as Michael lived through the days, weeks, and months the timeline encompasses. AS1 was among those who passed along information about Michael to fan sites.

I have rendered some of the chapter notes that follow in a narrative fashion, because in my mind they are part of the story. I will, however, attach a list of specific citations to each chapter section. Where a source is from the Internet, radio or television, or a press release/other public relations communication, it will be indicated in the source list with (I), (RT), or (PR), respectively.

I’ll acknowledge and thank further sources as I come to the relevant chapters, and in some cases explain my relationships with them. One person I want to single out in advance, though, is Tom Mesereau, an honest and decent man who I believe tried sincerely and scrupulously to answer every question I put to him in the course of at least twenty separate conversations. I’m not sure I can make that unqualified statement about any of my other sources. Tom was also tremendously helpful, making introductions, sharing information that I would never have discovered without him, even providing me with a sympathetic ear when I was frustrated by the conflicting stories I was hearing from various people who had been in Michael Jackson’s life. The truth is that every single person I spoke to or communicated with or even attempted to interview while researching this book was attacked or criticized by others among my sources—except Mesereau. His reputation and his reputation alone was not impugned by a single person. Pretty remarkable, I think. I’m particularly grateful to Tom for the DVD of the Los Angeles Bar Association’s “Frozen in Time” symposium on the sexual abuse allegations made against Michael Jackson that he sent me. I thank him also for directing my attention to the two excellent essays that Charles Thomson wrote for the Huffington Post about the biased media coverage of Michael Jackson’s criminal trial. To this day there is no more ardent or persuasive defender of Michael’s reputation than Tom Mesereau.

I want to thank Morgan Entrekin for supporting my decision to expand an overgrown magazine article into a book, and for his patience in giving me time to complete it. I enjoyed the benefit of two talented editors working with me on this book. Brando Skyhorse, a talented author in his own right, was generous enough to put his own work aside to focus on mine up to the point of producing a workable draft of Untouchable. Amy Hundley took over from there and did a prodigious amount of the work to bring this book to the finish line. Brando and Amy consistently provided me with the sort of sound advice I need a lot more than I like to admit. For being good angels on both my shoulders, I am grateful to them both.

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