For Michael Jackson fan, covering trial is her duty

Column One

For Michael Jackson fan, covering trial is her duty

Michael Jackson fans who have been attending the AEG-civil trial, from left, Laura Sherwood, Dexter Calderbank, Taaj Malik, and Carolyn Owens-Horton. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times) More photos

Taaj Malik has thousands following her on Twitter and visiting her website. She and others are go-to sources for those suspicious about the mainstream media.

June 27, 2013

She takes two buses to get to the courthouse each day and depends on donations from fans to run her website.

She has no formal training as a journalist but for tens of thousands — maybe multitudes more — she is the oracle for all things Michael.

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Inside the cramped downtown Los Angeles courtroom each weekday, Taaj Malik furiously taps away at her iPad as the Michael Jackson wrongful-death case unfolds, taking notes for a transcript she will later post on a website crammed with court documents, autopsy reports, links to court exhibits, salutes to Jackson and an occasional plea for money. Thousands visit the website daily.

With nearly 40,000 following her "Team Michael Jackson" Twitter account, the 52-year-old Malik blasts out tweets during breaks and keeps up a running dialogue with followers.

"It was a great day to watch that roach squirm on the stand, Hes adapting many personalities, none r working cause ever1 can see he's a #LIAR," she writes as one witness is grilled.

"What a pair of MUPPETS," she snaps after two ranking music executives testify.

When a follower thanks her for the stream of information from the courtroom, Malik deflects it quickly. "No, dear... Its my duty with Michael and the truth! Dont say thank you! :)."

The Orange County resident, who ran a housekeeping business until she was injured in a car accident in January, climbs out of bed at 4 a.m. to begin her trek downtown. She is part of a worldwide fan community consumed with the minute details about the King of Pop, fully primed to feast on the latest legal entanglement to invoke his memory.

Michael Jackson appears in a scene from the movie "This Is It." (Kevin Mazur) More photos

The wrongful-death trial is playing out in a courtroom with seats for only a handful of observers selected each morning via lottery. Most days the few available slots go quickly and Malik — along with much of the print and television media — is herded off to an overflow room to watch the proceedings on a closed-circuit feed.

There is no televised coverage of the trial, so fans are left to search for what details they can find on Twitter, Facebook and — if they must — the mainstream media. Jackson fan forums and websites have been in full gear since the trial began two months ago.

"Ultimately it's a thirst for knowledge," said Pez Greaves of British-based fan club MJ Vibe, which produces a quarterly magazine dedicated to Jackson.

At fan site Positively Michael, a forum was created exclusively for this trial. Volunteer site administrator Lynn Mathis, who is based in Indiana, is not attending the trial but she uploads a mix of articles for visitors to dissect, such as "Was Michael Jackson Really Worth $40 Billion?" and "Rumored use of Michael Jackson body doubles could be raised in trial."

"We post a lot of news items and perspectives on both sides of all people involved," she said. "We sort of take the position of do your due diligence, read and make your decisions for yourself. Our guests spike when there's a trial because we have a reputation of having objective coverage."

For those suspicious about the mainstream media — and many Jackson fans seem to be — someone like Malik is a go-to source. For some, her tweets serve as real-time dispatches from the civil trial.

Although Malik has her critics, she receives praise from those who consider her an ally in the ongoing fight to protect Jackson's reputation. Katherine Jackson, the pop singer's mother, knows Malik though she is unfamiliar with her tweets or Web page because she does not use the Internet, a family attorney said.

Malik lives off a legal settlement from the car accident — she said back injuries from the accident left her unable to continue work as a housekeeper — and her mother and an aunt send her regular allowances.

She created her website in January 2011 when preliminary hearings for the Conrad Murray case were taking place. Her mother, who lives in Britain, gave her $30,000 to buy and post the court transcripts for those hearings. Malik later sent in daily transcripts of the trial, which ended with the doctor convicted of involuntary manslaughter for giving Jackson a fatal dose of propofol, a powerful anesthetic typically reserved for surgical procedures.

The current civil trial, which promises to offer a panorama of Jackson's final days, feels special to Malik.

Fans of the late Michael Jackson stand outside the Airport Courthouse during the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times) More photos

"This one means everything to me," she said, "more than Conrad Murray because the charges were an insult. I mean, involuntary manslaughter? This trial is definitely bringing out the truth."

Malik was born in Pakistan and she lived there until she was a teen, when she moved to Staffordshire in central England with her family. She later married a fellow Jackson fan (he got the albums and CDs when they divorced).

She saw Jackson for the first time in 1988 at a sold-out concert at Wembley Stadium in London. Malik said she was so stretched for money she sewed herself a white shirt and fake leather jacket to fit in with the crowd.

"I can still see that concert, the dancing," she recalled. "It was empowering."

She caught a glimpse of Jackson again years later when he arrived in England to accept an award, a moment that is also chiseled in her memory. He arrived in a black limousine with guards striding alongside the vehicle and then stepped out into the evening. "Tears started coming out of my eyes," she said.

By the time she arrived in the U.S. in 2009 , she had five children and a second marriage that was falling apart. Weeks later, Jackson died and the fan in Malik took over. She drove to the Holmby Hills mansion where Jackson had been found unresponsive in his bedroom, and then to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.

Her devotion to Jackson's legacy — "advocacy," she calls it — has poured forth ever since, earning her followers around the world and a support team in the courthouse.

"I only rely on Taaj's website. It's unbiased news," said 37-year-old Dana Brenklin, a film production assistant who discusses the trial on a radio show she hosts on the Web.

Michael Jackson arrives at the Santa Barbara County courthouse with his mother, Katherine, in May 2005, during his trial on child-molestation charges. (Matthew Simmons) More photos

We want to know what happened at the house, at the rehearsals, how they were treating him."

— Julia Thomas

Brenklin shows up for the trial most days, joining a small community of Jackson fans who band together at the courthouse to discuss the case and greet the matriarch of the Jackson family with hugs when she arrives. One day they all sported black T-shirts with Katherine Jackson's face and the words, "We support you."

They see it as vital — and consider themselves lucky — to bear witness to the case without it being filtered through traditional print and television reporters.

In the Murray trial, the defendant was the Las Vegas doctor who treated Jackson. This case introduced a new villain: the music industry.

"Did u tell any1esle Mr JAXN is paralyzed self loathing mess? May have said it 2few people in my firm," Malik tweeted as a top music executive was quizzed on the witness stand about a colorful email he wrote describing Jackson's erratic behavior before a 1999 London news conference.

A full collection of emails between the people overseeing Jackson's comeback tour, in which the performer is described as a "freak" and "in need of a shrink," is posted on Malik's Web page, with a promise of more to come.

For people like Julia Thomas, a 40-year-old high school office administrator who obsessively trolls the Internet for Jackson news and reads Malik's tweets for updates, the trial is revealing Jackson as a victim of those he trusted most.

"We want to know what happened at the house, at the rehearsals, how they were treating him," said Thomas, who lives near Rialto.

Still, the civil proceedings have left fans torn over the lawsuit filed by Katherine Jackson and her grandchildren accusing AEG of being complicit in the entertainer's death. Some see AEG as the cold conglomerate that mercilessly pushed a frail, aging man to perform while others see the suit as an attempt to squeeze more profits from Jackson's stardom.

For all those who faithfully follow Malik or visit her Web page, there are others who see her as a fan obsessed. Her brother and sister are among them.

"They think I'm crazy, that I need to leave it alone and get on with my life."

Her mother, she said, feels differently.

"She knows I'm all about the truth."

Contact the reporters

Follow Corina Knoll (@corinaknoll) on Twitter

Follow Jeff Gottlieb (@GottliebJeff) on Twitter