Michael Jackson Conspiracy
Aphrodite Jones finds trouble wherever she goes. Her first book saw her take on the FBI and her most famous work resulted in a legal battle with Fox. Her latest offering sees her take on her biggest nemesis yet; the media.
June 2008, Deadline Magazine
As a child, Aphrodite Jones felt suffocated by her mother's 'eccentric' behaviour - but today, she credits it with her career. It was during the many hours she spent locked in her bedroom, she says, that she discovered her talent for writing.
“During my childhood I spent a lot of time alone in my room writing,” she says. “I was punished all the time. My mother was extremely eccentric and punished me for the silliest things, like hanging a coat on the wrong hook. I spent a lot of time locked away in my room. With nothing else to do, writing became a natural outlet for me. I guess it was inevitable that I would eventually find some way of getting paid for it.”
Jones is now one of America’s biggest true crime writers. With seven New York Times bestsellers to her name, she is an authority on America's most high profile trials and frequently covers them for Fox News.
Her latest book centres around what has been dubbed the 'trial of the century'. 'Michael Jackson Conspiracy' purports to tell the real story behind the King of Pop's 2005 child molestation trial. According to Jones, the book lifts the lid on the media's concentrated efforts to secure a guilty verdict through biased reporting.
The fallout has been enormous; forced to self-publish, Jones has found herself unable to promote her book. Print media won't interview her. TV shows won't book her - and those who have recorded interviews have failed to air them. The project has been an intense uphill struggle, she says, but her career was built on her determination.
At 17 Jones lost her mother to a heart attack and at 21 she lost her father the same way. By that time she had already left home to study at UCLA, where she specialised in English with a view to becoming a writer.
After completing her studies, Jones worked as a nationally syndicated feature writer but grew weary of what she calls ‘fluff journalism'. She moved to Kentucky and began a career as the news director of two local radio stations.
It was during her time there that Jones began covering the story of Mark Putnam, the first FBI agent ever to stand trial for homicide. Appalled by the lack of national coverage for what she describes as a 'historical event', Jones left town in search of a literary agent. Within a week she landed a deal but would soon discover that writing a book was far more difficult than she had ever imagined.
“I didn’t realise what a huge task it would be,” she says. “But sometimes I think being in the blind is a good thing. If I’d known before I started what a struggle it was going to be then I never would have taken it on.”
Researching the book, Jones encountered a wall of silence from the FBI, who refused to release any information or court transcripts. But after hounding the Kentucky Police Department for weeks on end she was eventually given the name of a local FBI agent, who would help her crack the story.
Jones’s luck was short-lived, though, for upon its release she says the book - ‘The FBI Killer’ - became the subject of an FBI smear campaign. The organisation branded the work a fabrication, but Jones insists that there was nothing in the book that could not be proved. “Then they tried to claim that I’d paid PR people to give my book good reviews!” exclaims Jones. “Nothing could be further from the truth… I had no money!”
To date, says Jones, she doesn't know how she managed to take on the FBI and emerge at the other end with a finished book.
“I went out there with no rulebook," she says. "I just had to go with my gut. The lady who was murdered was considered a mountain lady… a hillbilly. People seemed to think her death wasn’t important because she lived out in the sticks. I did it for her and I dedicated the book to her when it was finished.”
Jones is perhaps most famous for her third book, ‘All She Wanted’, a painstakingly researched account of the life and death of Teena Brandon, a young transgender man who was brutally raped and murdered in 1993. Intrigued by the local law enforcement’s refusal to treat the murder as a hate crime, Jones flew out to cover the trial. The resulting book sold over 250,000 copies.
“I like to think that the book had an impact all over the world,” says Jones. “I got, and still get, lots of letters and emails from the gay community thanking me for breaking that taboo. We fear difference for no reason; there’s a reason to fear terrorism or to fear violence, but there’s no reason to fear somebody who leads an alternative lifestyle.”
So captivated was the public that plans were made to adapt the book into a Hollywood movie starring Drew Barrymore under Diane Keaton’s direction. The plan, says Jones, was to make the film under the same title as her book. However, Fox Searchlight later made the film without her permission, calling it ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, resulting in a legal battle between Jones and Fox. Fox settled, but Jones is legally barred from disclosing how much she received.
Insisting that there are no sour grapes, Jones says she was pleased to see the story presented to a worldwide audience. “I think more people are aware of the story because of Hilary Swank’s involvement. I don’t think the film would have won the academy award with Drew Barrymore and Diane Keaton. I try to look at the bigger picture.”
Since then Jones has written six more true crime books. “When I’m looking for the subject of my next book it can’t just be a crime," she says. "It has to be unique and interesting. I like to expose new elements of our society.”
With the release of her eighth, ‘Michael Jackson Conspiracy’, Jones certainly has a lot to say about society. One of only two authors to be granted a daily seat inside the courtroom, she rages against the media machine, exposing what she believes was an aggressive campaign to manufacture a guilty verdict through slanted reporting.
Jones admits to having initially been taken in by the negative coverage. Busy covering other high profile trials in the build up to the Jackson case, she relied on fellow journalists for her background information.
“The attitude that the media was pedaling was that he must be guilty because he was on trial; there is no smoke without fire. Everybody was so busy looking for smoke and fire that they completely ignored anything exculpatory. Their minds were already set.
“Their aim was to imply guilt because that’s what people want to read; salacious gossip about Michael Jackson’s life. It is the nature of the beast.”
Throughout the trial Jones remained convinced of Jackson’s guilt because, she says, she was viewing everything ‘out of context’.
“I was watching through the eyes of somebody who had already been told he was guilty. I had fallen victim to this concerted effort by the media to present Jackson as guilty.”
Her moment of clarity, she says, came on the day of the verdict, when she was asked live on-air by Bill O’Reilly whether she thought the jury had made the right decision. In that moment, she explains, she realised that there had been no evidence of any wrongdoing.
“As I was thinking, Bill pushed me for an answer,” she says. “I told him yes, that they had definitely made the right decision.”
Three months later Jones was granted exclusive access to all evidence and transcripts from the trial. After spending several days in Santa Barbara photocopying documents, it took her six months to read the trial transcripts and another six months to complete the book. When she finished, says Jones, she came to believe‘conspiracy’ extended far beyond the news media which had covered the trial.
A seven-time New York Times bestselling author, Jones found herself unable to secure a publisher.
“I won’t name names,” she says, “but I will say that across the board, each company told me point blank that they wouldn’t print anything pro-Jackson. I was eventually forced to publish it myself in partnership with iUniverse.”
Jones was also unsuccessful in her attempts to get the book stocked in any high street stores, she says, receiving the same frosty, anti-Jackson message. She was forced to market the book herself, touring book fairs and independent stores, and selling via her website.
The ‘conspiracy’ seemed to extend further still, as Jones describes a ‘hesitation’ on the part of the media to cover her book in the way it usually did. A taped appearance on ‘The O’Reilly Factor’ was pulled from the show without explanation. When Jackson fans campaigned for the interview to be aired, it was cut down to only three minutes and Jones was talked over throughout the entire slot.
Jackson’s treatment at the hands of the media, says Jones, is symptomatic of a much larger societal problem.
“I find it disturbing that right now the biggest story in the world is Britney Spears’s mental state," she says. "We have war, genocide, famine, nations falling apart… but we have come to a point where the media resorts to manufacturing the downfall of celebrities to boost their own ratings.
“There’s this ghoulish sense of everyday people taking pleasure in witnessing the downfall of celebrities; this morbid sense of glee at seeing those better off than ourselves being punished for their success.”
Jackson became a target, says Jones, because his downfall would have been one of the biggest money earners in media history.
“If Michael Jackson had been found guilty it would have created an entire cottage industry for the media. It would generate a story a day: Who’s visiting? Who’s not visiting? Can we interview his cellmates? Can we profile his prison wardens? Is he in solitary confinement? Can we get pictures of him in his cell?
"The possibilities were endless. The media has literally generated billions of dollars by writing slanderous articles about Michael Jackson and it stood to generate billions more from a guilty verdict.”
Unwilling to let the subject drop without a fight, Jones describes her next project as ‘to some extent, a TV version of the book.’ She is in the early stages of producing a series of TV documentaries about high profile court cases, she says, exposing the motives that dictated what the media did and did not tell the public.
But does she think anything can truly be done to end the media’s obsession with biased reporting and celebrity tittle-tattle?
“No,” she says. “I don’t think the situation will ever be corrected now. There is too much money involved – too much temptation for producers to resort to cheap tactics. But I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m not finished with this yet…”
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