The News Media’s Handling of Leaving Neverland Proves Just How Broken the Entire Industry Really Is
A week ago, when I first watched HBO’s highly controversial film Leaving Neverland, I purposely did so without refreshing my recollection on the facts regarding the allegations of child sex abuse against Michael Jackson from many years ago. I wanted to see the movie in much the same way that the average viewer did.
Like most people who viewed it, I was emotionally impacted by the horrific nature of the alleged abuse, but was eventually turned off by the obvious unfairness of allowing two unverified accusers being allowed four hours, with the support of tremendously manipulative production elements, to make un-scrutinized claims against an un-convicted dead man (who, it should also be noted, paid $20 million to a 13-year-old accuser in the 1990s as part of a settlement out of court). As someone who had long suspected Michael Jackson was likely guilty of child abuse, but whose own coverage of his 2005 trial as a Los Angeles talk show host made me actually start to doubt that presumption, the whole thing was conflicting.
Since I absolutely despise that I have somehow become known as someone who is willing to defend those accused of sex abuse even though we live in an era where such an act, regardless of the facts of the particular situation, makes you automatically a “bad” person, I was extremely hesitant to delve further into the matter. However, even my initial evaluation of the voluminous record involving the movie’s two stars, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, made it very clear that the movie was a journalistic travesty, and that someone should be willing to take a stand against the prevailing narrative on behalf of truth and fairness.
As is always the case, before I eventually dove in headfirst, I engaged in extensive research on these claims, and spoke to several people with direct knowledge of the other side of the story. I did lengthy in-person interviews with two key members of the Jackson family. One of them, Brandi Jackson, had dated Robson throughout their entire teenage years, including during the time when the abuse was allegedly occurring.
One of the many difficulties in telling a version of events which is contradictory to someone the news media — as opposed to the courts — has determined is a “sex abuse victim” (especially those who, like Robson and Safechuck, have been sanctified by Oprah Winfrey on HBO) is that, particularly post #MeToo, no one data point can ever been seen as a “smoking gun” that their allegation is false. However, when viewed in the full context of Robson’s already suspect narrative, I strongly believe that Brandi’s version of events comes as close as possible to being just that (as do many other non-Jackson fans who have spent the time to hear her, and her cousin Taj, out).
In a remotely rational world, where the news media still even plausibly functioned as a source of truth, and where basic fairness still had any real currency, Brandi would have immediately been invited on multiple major television news outlets (heck, her story even involves a normally irresistible tidbit about Robson cheating on her with Britney Spears, thus causing her infamous breakup with Justin Timberlake). However, to the mild surprise of even a grizzled media cynic like me, that did not happen.
Even before our interview, multiple members of the Jackson family told me that they felt like the major news media was purposely censoring Brandi’s explosive story. I told them that it was possible that the media just may not fully understand the significance what she has to say (none of which, it should be noted, has never been contradicted at all by Robson, or anyone else), but I now must conclude that I was being naïve.
To be clear, I am not alleging some sort of anti-Jackson conspiracy, but actually something far more treacherous than that. Based on the news media’s unwillingness to even give Brandi a voice, it is now abundantly obvious that a new media rule has been created that no one, no matter how credible, unless they are huge celebrity, is allowed to directly contradict the veracity of someone the media is invested in as a “victim,” no matter how lacking in credibility that allegation is (and to be clear, books could easily be written on why the current story of Robson, who enthusiastically testified as Jackson’s first witness at his criminal trial, is not to be believed).
Within the news media, there is just far too much fear/risk, and not nearly courage/reward. So, here is what really happened in this situation…
Michael Jackson has always been suspected of being capable of literally anything because of his obvious extreme weirdness and seemingly inappropriate attachments to young boys. A filmmaker with an obvious agenda interviewed two middle-aged men for several days and ignored the many problems with their stories (for the record, a close look at the movie discredits huge chunks of Safechuck’s narrative as well, especially with regard to the real circumstances surrounding him not testifying at Jackson’s criminal trial), using about the first three hours to get his audience emotionally invested in his subjects, which was very easy given the widely-held suspicions about Jackson, who is no longer around to defend himself.
Not being armed with even the basic facts (inexplicably, and quite tellingly, Brandi Jackson is not even mentioned), the audience, including the media, was easily manipulated into being able to disregard even the biggest holes in their stories, and to gladly accept even the most bizarre rationalizations for their nonsensical actions. Once Oprah, an abuse victim herself, effectively validated their stories (even as Safechuck, who barely participated in the post-movie interview, sweated noticeably right in front of her), the preferred narrative was set, and nothing would then be allowed to credibly contradict it.
It needs to at least be mentioned that the most bizarre aspect of the news media embracing this movie is, because of the narrative used to explain why the accusers didn’t realize they were abused much sooner, it actually has elements which are arguably PRO pedophilia. This “we didn’t think sex abuse was bad” explanation could have been simply a result of the accusers having to craft their stories to escape statute of limitations problems in their lawsuit against the Jackson estate.
Regardless, there is no need to give the Jackson family much of a chance to respond — or even see the movie before it came out — because, after all, we now know for sure that they are just part of an evil machine which is knowingly covering up for a dead pedophile, all in a desperate attempt to protect the value of the pop superstar’s estate. Gee, what could possibly go wrong with that sort of thinking, especially since Jackson was never convicted, or even found liable, in a court of law?!
Part of my naïveté here was that I stupidly thought the Jussie Smollett fake hate-crime fiasco would have, at least for a few months, made the news media a little more hesitant to blindly buy into outlandish stories with no proof and a clear financial motive. Obviously, that has not happened, and it is because the modern news media, for many reasons, is now completely, irreparably, and dangerously broken.
John Ziegler is a senior columnist for Mediaite. He hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.