Think Twice is an Audible podcast released in April 2023 about the legacy of Michael Jackson. Over its 10-episode series, Think Twice focuses on the theme of why we the public are still listening to Michael Jackson, despite the sex abuse allegations against him.
The Think Twice narrative is that there must be something unique about Jackson in his ability to defy cancellation, and the podcast aims to help us understand why he’s different from other celebrities who have been cancelled after being accused of sex abuse.
In our own 4-part rebuttal, we focus on how Think Twice doesn’t measure up to journalistic standards in its presumption of guilt, without fairly presenting the evidence..
In this first part of our rebuttal, we make the argument that Think Twice is a case study in confirmation bias. In parts 2 and 3, we'll cover specific examples of bias and misinformation in the podcast, and the final episode looks at alternative narratives and wraps up why you should be cautious before accepting the arguments of Think Twice.
Episode image from Michael Jackson Silhouette
Think Twice podcast on Audible
It's Been a Minute interview with the hosts of Think Twice
Jay Smooth says in this NPR interview that it was Leaving Neverland that convinced him of Jackson’s guilt. Before the documentary Smooth indicates that he was in the “we may never know” camp. So it sounds like the basis for Smooth and Neyfakh's own judgment that Jackson was guilty was watching Leaving Neverland. Before this documentary, they just didn’t know.
Leaving Neverland documentary on HBO
Deception Science episode from our Season 1
In our deception science episode from Season 1, we talked about the expert consensus that we all are terrible at lie detection, but we all think we’re good at it. The experts tell us none of us are the exception to the rule; we can all be fooled, and we all should fact check. Yet the hosts of Think Twice indicate they believe Jackson was guilty based on stories they heard in a one-sided documentary that did not reveal any verification process. They didn't disclose any independent fact-checking on their own before making a guilty judgment.
Oprah told her audience not to spend their time dwelling on whether the allegations in Leaving Neverland were true or not true, because there was a powerful message that was larger than Michael Jackson that could help many other victims of child sex abuse. Let’s use the story to help others, she says, don’t focus on evidence. No fact checking.
New York Times article that includes quotes about Harvey Weinstein story reporters:
"They spent months sifting through documents, uncovering secret payouts and nondisclosure agreements, and worked tirelessly to persuade his accusers to speak publicly."
The Washington Post article that includes quotes about Weinstein scandal reporters arduous efforts to verify stories:
“The Weinstein story would have to be broken with evidence: on the record accounts, ideally, but also the overwhelming force of written, legal, and financial proof,” the reporters concluded.
This contrasts with the Leaving Neverland claims, in which no prominent journalist took the time to fact-check the accusers lawsuits or made other efforts to verify claims.
Sources noting how NPR is polled as one of the least biased news sources:
"Our purpose is to pursue the truth. Diligent verification is critical. We take great care to ensure that statements of fact in our journalism are both correct and in context. In our reporting, we rigorously challenge both the claims we encounter and the assumptions we bring. We devote our resources and our skills to presenting the fullest version of the truth we can deliver, placing the highest value on information we have gathered and verified ourselves."
Despite the fact that the Think Twice hosts were interviewed on the NPR show, It's Been a Minute, there was no regard on the part of the NPR host Brittany Luce to explore the issue of fact-checking the Leaving Neverland accusers' stories. They all seemed to agree that the allegations were hard to deny after hearing their stories.
Summary of the UVA false rape case, whereby Rolling Stone Magazine retracted their story about a gang rape on campus, and lost a lawsuit for libel. Columbia School of Journalism was asked to do an outside investigation, and found many lapses in ethical standards and fact-checking by the Rolling Stone journalist who authored the story.
Steve Coll was dean of the Columbia Journalism School at the time of the story and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist himself. He headed up the outside investigation in the Rolling Stone UVA rape article.
In his interview with PBS, he says the following about the failures in journalism in this case:
"It was a collective failure and an avoidable failure."
"It is this habit in journalism of reporters assuming they know what the story is and then looking for a case to illustrate their assumptions. That can be a very dangerous endeavor. It can sometimes be the basis for successful narrative journalism, if the reporter goes in with an open mind and really discovers on the reporting trail what the truth of the matter is.
But, in other cases, here is certainly a cautionary tale of someone coming in with assumptions that are very deeply embedded. You can hear them in the statements that she [the Rolling Stone journalist] made to you when the story came out, and then really closes her ears to facts that contradict the assumptions she already holds."
How the media failed in the Enron Scandal:
How the media failed in the case of Richard Jewell
Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking Fast and Slow, makes the case not trust our quick judgments (System 1) when making high stakes decisions--don't take shortcuts, because complicated issues require a lot of mental work and research. He advises careful checking to test if we are using System 1 thinking for judgments that should be using System 2 thinking. System 1 is highly susceptible to confirmation bias.
"Gladwell adapts Levine’s theory to form the phrase 'default to truth,' which becomes a refrain he evokes throughout the book to designate when people—for better or for worse—choose to believe in the honesty of the stranger they are trying to understand."
For details about the deceptiveness I found in the Leaving Neverland accusers, their families and the director, you can listen to episodes 12-18 of Season 1 of this podcast, and check out the source list for those episodes which are also on this website.
The Journalist’s Resource is an organization and website that’s run by Harvard’s Shorenstein School of Public Policy. Its mission is to get more quality information into the media stream, by relying more on evidence and research. Here’s a quote from the website about confirmation bias.