One month ago, HBO aired an explosive “documentary” called Leaving Neverland, which told horrific stories of child sexual abuse by two accusers of pop icon Michael Jackson. In the aftermath of its premiere, which was almost universally embraced by the mainstream media, I wrote three different stories, including one which included interviews with important subjects the movie ignored, casting doubt on whether the film really should be taken as mostly, or even partly, factual.
Since then, the production has been found to have numerous substantive problems, and its narrative is now filled with significant holes. But strangely, while the tabloid press in the United Kingdom has been all over the movie’s implosion, there has been a complete blackout of these developments in the news media here in the United States.
The revelation which has gotten the most attention (it has been featured in at least three of the major U.K. tabloids), deals with the story of accuser James Safechuck, who was originally presumed to be the more credible of the two alleged victims. It centers on Safechcuk’s detailed claim in the movie that he was forced to have sex with Jackson, near the start of his abuse, in the second floor of the train station at Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.
In the film and in his lawsuit deposition, Safechuck says that his abuse by Jackson ended in 1992, when he was about 14 years old. A huge part of the movie’s narrative is that Jackson lost sexual interest in these boys when they reached the age of 14, supposedly because that is when puberty hit (though the average white American boy currently begins puberty at around ten years old).
However, there is now a huge problem with Safechuck’s allegation. Construction on the train station building, which was not commenced until late 1993, wasn’t completed until mid-1994, and after that time, Jackson, who had just gotten married to Lisa Marie Presley, was rarely even at Neverland for the next several years.
This suggests that Safechuck, based on his own testimony, and the film’s most prominent premise, made up the story about being abused in the train house. This would be problematic for anyone who has no corroboration for their dramatic claims, and who finally came forward to sue 21 years after their abuse, but given the remarkably wide latitude which abuse claims are given, especially in the #MeToo era, it would hardly be devastating on its own.
But that radically changed when the movie’s director Dan Reed, who has been effectively acting as the PR director for the massive lawsuit these accusers have against Jackson’s estate, inexplicably poured gasoline on a brushfire. Instead of simply saying Safechuck was mistaken (which would have only been seen as rather strange), Reed decided that Safechuck had indeed been abused in the train house, but his star victim had just gotten the year very wrong.
Except that explanation simply doesn’t work, and it causes enormous portions of Reed’s film to go down in flames. Even if we concede that Safechuck was just mistaken about the train house episode occurring at the start of the abuse (which he says began in 1988), at earliest Safechuck is at least a mature 16-years-old by the time it was built.
So, according to the movie’s own director, Safechuck lied under oath, lied in the film, and his abuse at 16-years-old, at which time he was clearly well past puberty and even larger than Jackson, blows apart the project’s entire theory of how and why Jackson supposedly only preferred the company of very young boys. But as much as this episode brings suspicion to the credibility of the research and testimony behind Leaving Neverland, it is really only a piece of a much large puzzle.
Here are just some of the other recent revelations which, in a rational world, would have the American news media thoroughly revisiting the claims at the center of this movie:
So, why is it that none of this has gained any media traction here in the United States, even though it has in the United Kingdom? There appear to be at least three explanations.
One, attention spans here are shorter and Leaving Neverland, especially in the Donald Trump era, is already considered “old news.” Second, the strategic use of Oprah Winfrey to sanctify these accusers as legitimate carries far great weight in the American media, where she is still revered and feared. Thirdly, the impact of the #MeToo movement having radically altered the rules for how we evaluate such stories is much more pronounced here.
Of course, none of this remotely justifies the American media taking a dive on this story. And, just because they have, it doesn’t mean that Leaving Neverland is at all based in truth.
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
[Image via Getty]