Michael Jackson, a vulnerable child and the media

The person truly at the centre of these allegations is not Jackson himself, but a child
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The Independent Online

It's easy to mock America's Bible Belt, and the reaction of one religious website to the issue of a warrant for Michael Jackson's arrest seems ripe for cynical comment. The Anointed.net site immediately published a prayer for the troubled entertainer, and urged its worldwide congregation to take part in declaiming it.

Actually, though, it's rather a sensible prayer, and contains a line which even the most irreligious among us might feel tempted to whisper. "Father," Anointed.net pleads, "I pray the truth come out so clearly no one will be left in confusion."

Amen to that, surely. It is 10 years since Jordy Chandler's accusations of paedophilia were silenced with a massive pay-off. In the intervening period, Jackson has married twice and had three children, two by artificial insemination with his second wife, and a third by an unnamed surrogate mother. He has continued as well, as he told Martin Bashir in a controversial television interview, to spend what he describes as innocent nights sleeping with young boys.

One of these boys, who met Jackson as he was struggling with cancer, and moved into Jackson's ranch, Neverland, after he had gone into remission, is now willing to testify that Jackson abused him a few months ago. His evidence came to light during sessions with a therapist, who was compelled under the law to alert the police. The child in question's family say there is no possibility this time that a cash sum will silence them. This is backed up by the fact that they have launched only a criminal and not a civil case against the singer.

They are sensible indeed to take this course. For Jordy Chandler, wealth does not seem to have led to contentment. How could anyone ever have supposed that it could?

We don't know the facts because of the gagging clause that he accepted, so we can only make make idle speculation such as: does he have it on his conscience that he obtained cash said to total around $20m fraudulently? Perhaps, more seriously, does he feel guilt that his family's decision to seek money rather than justice could have left other children as vulnerable as he was? Possibly, due to the gagging order he accepted and feels he must abide by, has he been unable to gain the kind of therapy that he needs? Whatever the truth is, the example his brush with Jackson has set is not one that any sane family would follow.

Mr Chandler, now 23, is reported to have fallen out with his family, and to have become estranged from his mother and step-father very soon after the case was settled. He is said to find it difficult to form personal relationships. And he apparently finds it impossible to motivate himself, and failed in his wish to get a place at university. He is periodically hounded by avid Michael Jackson fans, and went into hiding as these new allegations came out. His uncle, over the last decade, has continued to insist that the serious allegations his nephew made against Jackson were true. For him, the entire course of his accusations ended in unhappiness and débâcle.

As the wise minister of Anointed.net says, this parlous state of affairs cannot be repeated. Little is known yet of the evidence the state will bring against Jackson, although the plea for further accusers to come forward might suggest that the prosecution is not yet entirely solid. For this case to continue though, and for another child not to be doomed to the same sort of notoriety as Mr Chandler, it simply has to be.

The Santa Barbara District Attorney, Tom Sneddon, certainly seems confident about his latest prosecution. He is so bullish, in fact, that some sections of the media are suggesting that his smiling appearances before the press suggest a satisfaction that is too personal. Mr Sneddon, who has been Santa Barbara DA since 1982, is said to have been deeply frustrated when Mr Chandler, who was 13 at the time, refused to testify. Since then California law has been changed so that a minor can no longer refuse to take the stand, as Chandler and two others did.

But if anyone has harboured feelings of personal resentment after the Chandler case, it appears to have been Mr Jackson. He complained in a television interview that he had been humiliated when the DA ordered that he should be photographed naked as evidence that Mr Chandler had offered an accurate description of the musician.

Mr Jackson, in a typically eccentric response to such serious allegations, has also announced his suspicion that the charges against him have been trumped up as a spoiler in the week that his new album is released. Mr Sneddon, understandably, is wholly dismissive of this accusation, and points out that the Santa Barbara District Attorney's office is entirely ignorant of music-industry release timetables.

Yet while it so far appears to be Mr Jackson, not Mr Sneddon, who holds a personal animus, there are still worries about the high-profile, media-friendly pursuit of the case so far. One would imagine that with a minor at the centre of the case, it would be investigated as quietly at possible.

But aerial pictures of the raid earlier this week on Neverland, suggest that the investigation is being conducted with all possible fanfare. The sight of around 40 vehicles lined up outside the ranch does not bode well for the subtle approach. As for the release of the news that Mr Jackson's people have been in negotiations about his arrest being conducted without handcuffing, and the hourly updates on the progress of Jackson's moves towards turning himself in, these too suggest that everyone involved in this case is keen for the media to be fed every detail.

Naturally, there will be saturation interest in this case. Michael Jackson's bizarre lifestyle has provided garish media fodder for many years now. But the person truly at the centre of these allegations is not Jackson himself, but a vulnerable child. He was exposed to the controversy that now threatens to engulf him by the actions of Jackson, who at the very least seems to be guilty of refusing to give up entertaining children in his bedroom when he knew what people were saying about such activities.

There have even been reports that the child in question's visits to the therapist, who urged his family to contact the police, were prompted by playground taunts. Other children who knew of his visits to Jackson, it is alleged, taunted him about the kind of intimate relationship they thought he could have had with the singer. If this is true, it suggests that this child's identity will soon be common knowledge. Whether there are procedures in place that can adequately protect the identities of children effectively forced to give evidence remains to be seen. But the signs are not good, as there has already been widespread speculation in the press about the identity of the child, and there have certainly been clues that might lead to his identification at a later date.

The DA's office, to its credit, has remained tight-lipped in the face of press attempts to flush out the name of Mr Jackson's accuser. The world's media, and internet users as well, should ponder long and hard on the damage they may do if they expose this child to unwanted publicity. This child and his family are taking a brave and important step. Whatever the outcome, he deserves to be able to return to a normal life when this case has ended.