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Action Item: KCBS-TV in Los Angeles

Willa:  Greetings! I hope you’re all enjoying a wonderful start to the new year.

I strongly believe that 2015 could be a pivotal year for Michael Jackson and his legacy. On the one hand, it seems that the hysteria surrounding him is starting to subside, and that the mainstream press may finally be ready to consider the actual facts behind the allegations against him. And once you look at the facts, it seems obvious to me that he’s innocent. So this could be the year when the false allegations against him are finally put to rest, and his name is cleared of the scandal that has dogged his reputation for more than 20 years. That is my vision and my hope for what could happen this year.

But this could also be the year when the Wade Robson and James Safechuck allegations set off a whole new round of hysteria. So far, the more respected media outlets have been reluctant to carry the Robson / Safechuck story, but there have been some extremely graphic, sensationalistic, and lurid tabloid articles. Those kinds of stories could become much more common if the case goes to trial, and 2015 could bring a repeat of what happened following the 1993 allegations and 2005 trial.

So I believe 2015 could be a major turning point for Michael Jackson’s legacy, for good or ill. And which direction things go may depend on us, his fans and supporters. As Michael Jackson says in This Is It,

People are always saying, “Oh, they’ll take care of it. The government will do it. Don’t worry, they’ll …” They who? It starts with us. It’s us, or else it will never be done.

And he was right. Whether it’s changing public attitudes about the destruction of the environment, or changing public attitudes about him, it’s up to us – the people who care enough to bring about that change. “It starts with us … or else it will never be done.”

So in this post and the next one, we’re going to do something a little different. We’re going to ask you to participate in two specific action items that we think could play a major role in changing public perceptions of Michael Jackson. And we’re beginning with KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, which is also known as KCBS or CBS2.

Here’s a little history …

On May 3, 1994, KCBS-TV broadcast a short news segment in which a reporter asked Evan Chandler if he had sedated his son with sodium Amytal, a psychiatric drug that has been implicated in producing false memories, especially if patients under its influence are asked leading or suggestive questions. Mary Fischer included a description of that broadcast in her October 1994 article for GQ magazine:

A newsman at KCBS-TV, in L.A., reported on May 3 of this year that Chandler had used the drug [sodium Amytal] on his son, but the dentist claimed he did so only to pull his son’s tooth and that while under the drug’s influence, the boy came out with allegations.

Ian Halperin describes Chandler’s response to the KCBS reporter a little differently in his book, Unmasked: the Final Years of Michael Jackson. According to Halperin, Chandler neither confirmed nor denied the use of sodium Amytal, but did say that Jordan made the allegations while under the influence of “a drug,” without specifying which one.

While Fischer and Halperin disagree about whether Chandler confirmed the use of sodium Amytal specifically, they both state that he told the KCBS-TV reporter Jordan made the allegations while under sedation. That’s crucially important. And actually, I find it significant that Halperin’s version differs slightly from Fischer’s. It suggests that he’s providing an independent description of the KCBS broadcast, rather than simply repeating her article.

It’s also interesting that while Fischer and Halperin both report on what the father said, neither gives an exact quote. That is unusual. I became curious about this in 2011 while working on the “Rereading Michael Jackson” article, in part because I wanted to quote Chandler’s exact words if I could. So I started digging around, looking for actual video footage of the KCBS broadcast, but I couldn’t find any video clips on YouTube or other places like that, or even a transcript or other print quotations anywhere on the web. (I did stumble across some interesting information, however, that I haven’t been able to confirm: I’ve read that the KCBS reporter was Harvey Levin, who later went on to start a celebrity news outlet called TMZ …)

Importantly, while searching for information about the KCBS report, I found a note about it on an advocacy site for victims of sexual abuse – a site that treated Michael Jackson with utter contempt. They were addressing the Chandler case and said that, if Evan Chandler really did tell KCBS that Jordan made the allegations while under sedation, then those allegations are obviously questionable. However, they went on to say they didn’t believe Chandler had said that, and they didn’t believe the KCBS news segment even existed.

That made a big impression on me and started me thinking that this was a lot more important than simply getting a quote. If even an advocacy group with strong biases against Michael Jackson would consider the KCBS report as important evidence that the allegations are suspect, then I really needed to find it.

And actually, Diane Dimond says something similar in her book, Be Careful Who You Love:

Questions about whether or not Dr. Chandler “planted” the molestation in Jordie’s subconscious while the boy was under the influence of the anesthesia first surfaced in a story that ran in GQ magazine in October 1995 written by Mary Fischer….

Had Fischer’s claims been correct, Jordie’s allegations would have to be viewed as unreliable, if not highly questionable.

And I think Dimond’s right. If it can be shown that Jordan agreed to the allegations while under sedation, they “would have to be viewed as unreliable, if not highly questionable.” It therefore seemed very important to try to track down that video footage.

I began with the KCBS website and found a phone number for obtaining old news segments. However, when I called I was connected to a contractor who provides a video archive service to KCBS, and he said the footage they have doesn’t go back nearly that far.

Then I called the KCBS front desk and talked to the receptionist, who passed me on to someone who said I needed to talk to someone else. I got the runaround for quite a while and was disconnected twice, as well as being sent to a couple of full voicemail boxes where I couldn’t leave a message, so had to hang up and start all over. It was very discouraging but I was persistent, and by the end the receptionist was pretty tired of me. In fact, at one point she told me that maybe the people at KCBS just didn’t want to talk to me, which was probably true …

I finally ended up talking with Allan, the KCBS video librarian. (He wouldn’t tell me his last name, and neither would the receptionist when I asked her later, but he did spell his first name for me.) He was the person I needed to talk to, but we didn’t get off to a very good start. He began by giving me a long lecture about how expensive it is to preserve old footage and how TV stations simply don’t have the resources to store everything, and that I was being very naive to expect they’d still have something from 1994.

However, he finally agreed to go look … and was very surprised to find that, yes, they do have a two-minute video segment dated May 3, 1994, with a note that it’s about Michael Jackson and drugs (a rather misleading label). Wow! It seems we’d found it! I was pretty excited about that, but then he told me he couldn’t release a copy without authorization from the assistant news director, a Mr. Paul Button. He gave me Mr. Button’s email address and I sent him a couple of emails, but never heard back from him.

A few weeks later I was talking with a friend and fellow Michael Jackson scholar who teaches at a university in Los Angeles, and told her what was going on. She was intrigued and became involved also. She talked to Allan and he told her the segment was on Beta, and the tape was still sitting right there on his desk. (To be honest, that kind of alarmed me. I had a mental image of Allan accidentally spilling coffee all over it. It would be terrible if, after all those years of sitting lost and forgotten in the archives, it was finally discovered only to be damaged or destroyed.) He directed her to Mr. Button also, so she called him and left a message, but he never called her back. She also tried visiting the KCBS offices in person, but was unable to arrange a meeting.

So then my friend, who is much more media savvy than I am, did a little research and found out about Thought Equity Motion, an independent contractor who handles licensing agreements for CBS. She put me in touch with them, saying they’d told her that “If they have it offline they can send a screener of it for $25.00. If they have it online then they will email a low-resolution copy of it.” That was such exciting news! We really thought that, one way or the other, we were about to get a copy of it.

But then it turned out that CBS, meaning the parent company, didn’t have the rights to it. KCBS-TV is a CBS affiliate but they are also an independent entity, and they retain the rights to any segments that aren’t picked up for national broadcast. This segment wasn’t carried nationally, so CBS doesn’t own the rights to it. KCBS does. That means we were back to dealing with Allan and the elusive Mr. Button. Darn.

Things seemed to be at an impasse, but then I realized that Mary Fischer or Ian Halperin must have seen it so they might have a copy. I emailed Mary Fischer, and she sent back a brief note saying, “I have seen the footage but do not have a copy.” I then emailed Ian Halperin but didn’t get a response.

Since then I’ve tried various other ways of either getting a copy of the segment or having it rebroadcast. For example, I’ve contacted other news outlets and encouraged them to investigate the story, but that hasn’t worked either.

So now we’re turning to you.

We are asking you to contact KCBS-TV, and politely and respectfully inform them that they have an important news story sitting in their own archives. Maybe together we can encourage KCBS-TV to rebroadcast the Chandler footage that has been buried for so long.

To reach them, you can call their news hotline at 818-655-2290, or you can go here and submit your request online, or you can write them a letter at this address:

CBS Studio City Broadcast Center
4200 Radford Avenue
Studio City, CA 91604

If you would like to try contacting specific individuals at KCBS, you can call the station’s news department at 818-655-2299. Here’s a link that provides contact information for the station, and I notice that Mr. Button is still listed as the Assistant News Director – however, trying to talk with him directly seems to have a low probability of success.

If you do contact the station, here are some talking points you may want to consider:

  • We know the tape is there. My friend and I both talked to their video librarian, and he confirmed it was in their archives – at least, it was in late 2011.
  • This story is local and timely, especially in light of the Wade Robson and James Safechuck case, which is now before a Los Angeles judge. Here’s an article from MyNewsLA with the latest information.
  • This story is important. If it’s true that Jordan Chandler agreed to the allegations while under sedation, it casts significant doubt on those allegations, especially given the way the father conducted the questioning.

This last point is especially significant. According to Evan Chandler’s own written chronology of events, which he gave to police, he questioned his son in a very coercive and manipulative way.

First, he asked leading questions and made sexually explicit comments that could have planted false images in the boy’s mind, especially if he were still under sedation. For example, he says he asked Jordan, “Did Michael Jackson ever touch your penis?” and told him, “I know about the kissing and the jerking off and the blow jobs.” These are precisely the acts Jordan will tell the psychiatrist when he goes to see him a month later.

Chandler also admits he lied to his son, saying he “falsely told” Jordan that “I had bugged his bedroom and I knew everything anyway.” This is not true. He had not wiretapped his son’s bedroom, and he was only imagining what might have happened if Michael Jackson were a child molester – imaginings that he explicitly and vividly shared with his son that day in his dental office.

And finally, he threatened to destroy Michael Jackson – “to take him (Jackson) down” – if Jordan didn’t agree with him that the accusations were true. This is very disturbing, and completely inappropriate when trying to uncover the truth about suspected abuse, especially when talking with a child.

We understand that some of you may feel uncomfortable about contacting a television station, and we don’t want to put anyone in an awkward situation. To be honest, I’m pretty uneasy about this myself since I haven’t seen the footage – I’ve only read the descriptions of it by Mary Fischer and Ian Halperin. So if this is something you do not wish to do, we perfectly understand. However, if you do feel comfortable calling KCBS-TV, or sending them a letter, or submitting a written message to their online hotline, we believe this could truly make a difference.

Whatever you decide, we thank you sincerely for joining us here at Dancing with the Elephant, and we wish you a very happy 2015!