What Leaving Neverland doesn’t tell you about Michael Jackson and his accusers
Whether you believe Michael Jackson’s two accusers or not, there’s no denying the Leaving Neverland film is incredibly one-sided.
Not a single person other than Wade Robson, James Safechuck and their families is interviewed, while the Michael Jackson Estate was not even given a right of reply to the claims. This violates all norms and ethics in filmmaking and journalism.
More crucially, director Dan Reed decided not to include a whole host of other important information about the accusers’ past and their behaviour.
Why? Because it might have discredited Robson and Safechuck.
Yet journalism is about seeking the truth. But Reed made no attempts to scrutinise and investigate whether the pair’s allegations are indeed true, he just took them at face value and recorded them.
Jackson estate attorney Howard Weitzman said that Reed “refused to devote even one minute of a 240-minute film to any of the mountainous evidence showing that Robson and Safechuck are lying”.[i]
If these accusations had come to court while Jackson was alive, he would have been able to offer a defence.
But as he’s dead, he can’t present any sort of mitigating evidence. So that’s where the documentary maker comes in, to provide balance.
Unless you are in the Michael Jackson fan community, or a journalist who has researched the subject – and few have, by the way – you aren’t going to know about the publicly available information which would have formed part of Jackson’s defence.
Viewers of the documentary are essentially the jury – but Leaving Neverland only gave them the prosecution’s side.
When Reed was asked in an interview why he didn’t include the other side of the story, he said: “What is the other side of the story? That Michael Jackson was a great entertainer and a great guy?”[ii]
Of course, people who allege abuse deserve to be heard. But as Jackson is dead, the defence his Estate might have put forward deserves to be heard too.
Here is just some of the information viewers of Leaving Neverland really should have been told.
Wade Robson’s behaviour between Jackson’s death and making allegations in 2013
In the days after Jackson’s death, Robson released a statement praising Jackson as “one of the main reasons I believe in the pure goodness of human kind.”[iii]
He asked Jackson’s nephew for tickets to the memorial at Staples Center, before trying to solicit work from Kenny Ortega, the director of Michael Jackson’s This Is It, to help work on the movie.
Robson was able to secure work with Janet Jackson, in her 2009 MTV Video Music Awards tribute to her late brother.
In 2011, Robson approached John Branca, co-executor of the Michael Jackson Estate, about directing the new Michael Jackson/Cirque du Soleil production, ONE. Robson admitted he wanted the job “badly,” but the Estate ultimately chose someone else for the position.[iv]
That same year, Robson attempted to sell several items of Michael Jackson memorabilia anonymously. According to Julien’s Auctions, Robson “needed the money”.[v]
In 2012, Robson had a nervous breakdown, triggered, he said, by an obsessive quest for success. His career, in his own words, began to “crumble.”[vi]
That same year, Robson began shopping a book that claimed he was sexually abused by Michael Jackson. No publisher picked it up.[vii]
In the draft version of the book, Robson called himself a “master of deception”.[viii]
Leaving Neverland does mention that both Robson and Safechuck testified under oath in 1993 that Jackson had never abused them, while Robson also went on to testify at Jackson’s 2005 trial, again denying that anything ever happened. Robson never wavered in the face of withering cross-examination from one of California’s toughest prosecutors.
But the documentary all but ignores Robson and Safechuck’s lawsuits against the Jackson estate for hundreds of millions of dollars —which were dismissed and are currently under appeal.
The suit is mentioned fleetingly, although neither Robson nor Safechuck are questioned by Reed about the ongoing litigation, or their motives for pursuing it.
Robson filed a $1.5 billion dollar civil lawsuit/creditor’s claim in 2013. He first filed it under seal (a procedure allowing sensitive or confidential information to be filed with a court without becoming a matter of public record), in the hope of reaching a financial settlement with the Jackson Estate out of the public eye.
As for Safechuck, by his own admission, he did not “realize” that he had been abused until after he saw Robson being interviewed on television in May 2013 about his claim of abuse.[ix]
Yet in Leaving Neverland, Safechuck claims he knew he’d been abused when he told his mother that Jackson was “evil” during Jackson’s trial in 2005.
Estate attorney Howard Weitzman says that by 2013, Safechuck “was in serious need of money, the failed dreams of a successful acting and music career having long since passed him by”.[x]
After Robson filed his suit, Safechuck contacted Robson’s lawyers and filed copycat lawsuits against the Estate for millions of dollars.
The Estate spent years litigating with Robson and Safechuck, and the four different lawsuits by the two men were eventually dismissed by a California judge in 2017.
The ‘lies’ in court
To be clear, the judge ruled that Jackson’s companies were not liable for any possible actions by Jackson; he did not rule on the credibility of the men’s allegations.
But the trial judge in Robson’s initial case against the Estate disregarded his sworn statements on a summary judgment motion.[xi]
Jackson estate attorney Howard Weitzman said Robson was “caught lying repeatedly” in the dismissed litigations.[xii]
Weitzman said: “For example, in order to try to get around the statute of limitations for monetary claims against the Estate, Robson testified under oath that ‘prior to March 4, 2013, I did not understand or was even aware that an Estate had been opened for administration’.”[xiii]
The attorney said this was “a lie”, as Robson had in fact met with John Branca, one of the Estate’s executors, in 2011 in his failed effort to solicit work with the Estate on a Michael Jackson-themed Cirque du Soleil show.[xiv]
Weitzman added: “The trial judge found one of Robson’s lies so incredible that the trial judge disregarded Robson’s sworn declaration and found that no rational trier of fact could possibly believe Robson’s sworn statements.”[xv]
Weitzman said Robson was also trying to hide evidence before his cases were dismissed.
“For example,” Weitzman said, “Robson lied under oath and stated that, other than one brief email in late 2012, he had had “no written communications” with anyone (other than his attorneys) about his newly-concocted allegations that he was abused by Jackson.
“This turned out to be a complete and utter lie. Robson had actually shopped a book about his allegations in the year prior to filing his lawsuit—a book he tried to hide from the Estate.”[xvi]
Weitzman said Robson’s book told a completely different story of how he was first abused by Jackson. When asked about some of these discrepancies at his deposition, Robson explained that his memories had “evolved” since writing the draft of the book in late 2012 and early 2013.[xvii]
During his lawsuit against Jackson’s Estate, Robson was ordered by the trial court to produce all documents about written communications with anyone about his supposed abuse.
In one email, he listed over 20 different questions to his mother asking her about the specific details of his interactions with Jackson. Some of these included: “Can you explain all that you remember of that first night at Neverland? What happened when we drove in what did we do? And that first weekend at Neverland?”[xviii]
Despite telling the detailed story of his first night at Neverland in the documentary as if it is his own memory, at his deposition, Robson admitted that he “did not know” if his memory of that night “came from [his] own recollection or [if] it was told to [Robson] by someone else.”[xix]
Another email showed that Robson found one particular story from the early 1990s which specifically named him and his mother. He emailed it to his mother and asked whether it was true. She replied, ‘Wow, none of that is true’. But Robson included it in his story regardless.[xx]
Safechuck, meanwhile, claimed in his sworn declaration that he was first abused on the Paris leg of the Bad Tour in late June 1988.[xxi]
He later said that after the tour ended, Jackson flew him out to New York “in February 1989” where Jackson was performing at the Grammy’s. Safechuck stated that he was abused on this trip.
However, the Grammy’s were not in New York in 1989; they were in Los Angeles that year and Jackson did not perform.
Jackson did perform at the Grammy’s in New York in February 1988, before Safechuck claims he was first abused.[xxii]
In the documentary, Safechuck also makes a claim that he refused to testify for Jackson in the 2005 trial. However, neither Jackson nor his legal team could have called Safechuck as a witness, as the judge ruled that ‘evidence as to Jimmy Safechuck will not be permitted’.[xxiii]
How much the accusers owe Michael Jackson’s Estate / the appeal
Dan Reed said Robson and Safechuck “have no financial interest in the documentary whatsoever”.[xxiv] But both are in debt to Jackson’s Estate by significant sums.
Robson owes the Estate almost $70,000 dollars in court costs, and Safechuck owes the Estate several thousand dollars as well.[xxv]
Robson and Safechuck are pursuing appeals of the judgments against them, appeals that will probably be heard this year.
Estate attorney Weitzman says the pair are using the Leaving Neverland documentary to revive their dismissed lawsuits.
“It is just another tool in their litigation playbook, which they are obviously using in a very misguided effort to somehow affect their appeals,” he said.[xxvi]
Weitzman added: “The film ignores the countless facts and circumstances evincing that these stories have been trumped up by Robson, Safechuck, and their shared litigation attorneys as part of an ongoing campaign of lawsuits, where they are attempting to recover hundreds of millions of dollars in damages against the Jackson Estate and affiliated companies for the supposed abuse they suffered.”[xxvii]
During one scene of the documentary, Wade Robson’s mother explains that she got very upset with Jackson when he told her that he would not be taking Robson on the Dangerous World Tour.
Mrs Robson added that she was especially upset because Jackson had taken another boy and his family on the tour.
Footage of the boy, Brett Barnes, and Jackson on the Dangerous World Tour was then shown. Robson then said that was when he realised he had been “replaced” by that boy. Any reasonable viewer would interpret that to mean that Jackson was also sexually abusing Barnes on the tour.
In the documentary, a brief written denial from Barnes features on the screen.
Barnes is said to be considering suing HBO, alleging that Leaving Neverland insinuates he was abused by Jackson.[xxix] He was also not consulted about his inclusion in the film.
Barnes wrote on Twitter: “Not only do we have to deal with these lies, but we’ve also got to deal with people perpetuating these lies.
“The fact that they fail to do the small amount of research it takes to prove these are lies, by choice or not, makes it even worse.”[xxx]
After Robson first went on television in May 2013 to talk about his alleged abuse, Barnes said: “I wish people would realise, in your last moments on this earth, all the money in the world will be of no comfort.
“My clear conscience will.”[xxxi]
The documentary ratings would surely not have been affected if Reed had chosen to make a more balanced film.
The two men agreed to do the film after their lawsuits against Jackson’s Estate, in which they sought millions of dollars, were thrown out. So as a journalist Reed had a duty to challenge them, rather than just take the accusations at face value.
You’ve heard the prosecution, but not the defence. And that’s a failure in journalism.
Mike Smallcombe is a UK journalist and author of a biography on Michael Jackson, Making Michael.
[iii] Wade Robson’s entry in MJ’s Opus http://www.reflectionsonthedance.com/Wade-Robson-Opus-Tribute-to-MJ.html
[iv] Estate v HBO, page 13
[v] Twitter: https://twitter.com/JuliensAuctions/status/1099524875717304321?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1099524875717304321&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fmedium.com%2Fmedia%2F3069011eaeb78609a58c82052811afe8%3FpostId%3D35d2017469ba
[vii] Estate v HBO, page 14
[viii] Letter from Michael Jackson’s Estate to HBO, page 6: https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/5733176/Letter-to-R-Plepler-Re-Michael-Jackson.pdf
[ix] Letter from Michael Jackson’s Estate to HBO, page 7
[x] Estate v HBO, page 13
[xi] Estate v HBO, page 11
[xii] Letter from Michael Jackson’s Estate to HBO, page 5
[xiii] Letter from Michael Jackson’s Estate to HBO, page 5
[xiv] Letter from Michael Jackson’s Estate to HBO, page 5
[xv] Estate v HBO, page 11
[xvi] Letter from Michael Jackson’s Estate to HBO, page 6
[xvii] Letter from Michael Jackson’s Estate to HBO, page 6
[xviii] Letter from Michael Jackson’s Estate to HBO, page 6
[xix] Letter from Michael Jackson’s Estate to HBO, page 6
[xx] Estate v Wade Robson, court exhibit: https://www.scribd.com/document/336110667/Robson-Emails
[xxi] Letter from Michael Jackson’s Estate to HBO, page 7
[xxii] Safechuck Paris/Grammy’s claims: Letter from Michael Jackson’s Estate to HBO, page 7
[xxiii] People v Jackson, March 28, 2005 http://www.reflectionsonthedance.com/03-28-05_FINAL__1108_Lopezes_Spinner_.txt
[xxv] Letter from Michael Jackson’s Estate to HBO, page 2
[xxvi] Letter from Michael Jackson’s Estate to HBO, page 2
[xxvii] Estate v HBO, page 15