The New Lynching of Michael Jackson: Dan Reed’s Leaving Neverland May, In Fact, Leave Blood on Many Hands
By: Linda-Raven Woods
America has a long and sordid history of lynching or unfairly convicting African-American men based on the false allegations of white accusers. The names known to history echo loud and long — Robin White, Emmett Till, Charlie Weems, Ozie Powell, Clarence Norris, Andrew and Leroy Wright, Olen Montgomery, Willie Anderson, Haywood Patterson, Eugene Williams (the latter nine known collectively as “The Scottsboro Boys”) to contemporary names such as Vincent Patton, still serving time in Angola Prison despite the fact that his white accuser later confessed that “all black men look alike” to her and therefore she could not even say with certainty that Patton had raped her. And these cases do not even begin to include the many whose names have long been lost to history; those who paid the ultimate price for the paranoid fears of a Jim Crow-era America. “We currently live in a world of fake news and alternative facts,” wrote Martinzie Johnson in an excellent think piece titled “Being Black in a World Where White Lies Matter.” Martinzie then states, “white lies have tangible consequences.”
Martinizie wrote this piece a few days after a bombshell confession by Carolyn Bryant, the young white woman whose accusation of Emmett Till fifty-two years prior resulted in the 14-year-old boy being kidnapped from his uncle’s home and murdered by her husband and brother-in-law. It took half a century for Bryant to finally admit to biographer Timothy B. Tyson that“nothing that boy did justified what was done to him.”
The current hype that has been built around Leaving Neverland, a film directed by Dan Reed and funded and distributed by HBO in the U.S. and Channel 4 in the U.K., may appear deceptively at first as an important film for the #MeToo era, highlighting the alleged sexual abuse that Michael Jackson inflicted on two young boys who idolized him and fell-by grand and parental design-into his circle. At least, that is according to the hype that has been drummed up around it. But a closer look reveals many disturbing reasons to argue that this agenda-driven film has little to do with either journalistic integrity or concern for sexual abuse victims. Instead, there are many justifiable reasons to argue why this film is simply a new twist on the age-old concept of lynching a black man based on white lies. The fact that it is a black man who also just happened to be one of the most beloved and powerful figures in entertainment is, of course, the very matter at the heart of the film’s controversy, along with the fact that we are into the tenth anniversary of his passing. At a time when Michael Jackson’s life should be the subject of fond remembrances and reflections on his artistic legacy, we instead get this, the equivalent of a posthumous, 21st century lynching based on nothing but the uncorroborated testimonies of two men whose civil case against his estate has already been dismissed, not once but twice.
Why is the “woke” crowd so determinedly asleep at the wheel on this? And an even more troubling question: Why are so many of the most influential journalists in the U.S. and U.K. enabling it? Dan Reed’s controversial film has indeed accomplished one positive goal even before its scheduled broadcast, although it may not be the goal he intended.
For sure, the film has helped shed much needed light on the underbelly of #MeToo, revealing some startlingly dark truths about who the movement is designed to protect-and who it is willing to sacrifice.
But first, let’s back up and look at the key players in this drama. We have Michael Jackson, whose story has already passed into the realm of an American mythical figure, a poor black kid who worked his way up from nothing to become one of the most legendary musical figures of all time. This was a man who worked non-stop from the age of five to build his legacy. In the 45 years of his life that he gave to the public, he managed to break records, to achieve what few black artists before him had done (including owning, at one time, half the Sony-ATV catalogue), and to build a legacy that is intricately woven into the fabric of U.S. pop culture. But beyond that, he became a world icon in a way that only a very few American artists have achieved.
This is all a long way of saying Michael Jackson worked hard — damn hard — — to build what he achieved. And before we start trying to dismantle that legacy based on nothing but the words of two white men who joined his long list of hangers-on, we’d better be looking long and hard at the facts. That is, if we want to be able to live with ourselves in the aftermath.
But herein lies at least some of the problem. Most who have already followed the story to any degree are already at least superficially aware that there are inherent issues with the claims of Wade Robson and James Safechuck, the two subjects of this documentary. It is widely known, for instance, that Wade Robson-as a 23-year-old adult- testified in Jackson’s defense at his 2005 trial, swearing under oath and penalty of perjury that nothing sexual ever happened between them. But the inconsistencies, as well as problematic and ever changing timelines in their stories, goes much deeper.
On February 7 2019, the estate of Michael Jackson sent a strongly worded letter to HBO CEO Richard Plepler, followed by another a couple of days later to Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon. The letter to HBO outlined, in painstaking 10-page detail, the long, problematic history of Robson’s and Safechuck’s claims (coming from attorneys who have spent the better part of the last six years battling these very allegations in court), while the letter to Channel 4 specified that the program is in direct violation of the channel’s guidelines for ethical journalism, citing a clause which states that any program making “significant allegations” must allow “those concerned” to be “given an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond.” Both letters were explicitly detailed, powerful complaints against the two accusers, highlighting the many various flaws and inaccuracies with their stories. Collectively, they revealed a dark history of two opportunists who took advantage of Jackson’s generosity and friendship.
Interestingly, what Dan Reed chose to leave out of his film is as interesting as what he chose to leave in. While I have not seen the film, I know sources who have, and who have been able to describe to me in detail what it represents. It is, quite frankly, a one-sided film in which only two voices are heard-that of Robson and Safechuck. Now, let’s make an analogy. Suppose you had to decide a court case based only on hearing the prosecution’s case presented? Suppose there is no defense, no cross examination, no presentation of exculpatory evidence, no opening statement and no closing argument? You would no doubt find the story as presented only through the voice of the prosecution and their witnesses quite compelling. It is only under cross examination that those stories often start to crumble, raising what we might call reasonable doubt. And it is only through exculpatory evidence that we can actually weigh an accused person’s guilt, or lack thereof.
Leaving Neverland is essentially the equivalent of sitting through a four-hour testimony of two prosecution witnesses offering their sales pitches, without benefit of cross examination. Entertaining? Possibly, if you consider four hours’ worth of extremely graphic descriptions of sexual acts against children entertaining. Truthful? Hard to say, except we know the track record of the accusers. Fair or ethical? Absolutely not, especially given that the accused subject of the film is deceased.
Which brings us back to Channel 4’s weak defense when confronted by the estate. Their claim is that the film contains denials Jackson made in his own lifetime. However, these would have been denials Jackson raised against the accusations made against him in 1993 and 2005. He did not have the opportunity to “deny” the accusations made by Robson and Safechuck, who waited four and five years after his death, respectively, to bring them.
As for HBO, their only response-after having it outlined for them in 10 excruciatingly detailed pages exactly everything that was wrong with the stories these two men are claiming- was that it was “powerful.” In other words, what they were actually confessing is that ratings matter more than truth, fairness, or accuracy.
This truly begs the question: Would HBO have been so quick to fund and support this project had its subject been any celebrity other than Michael Jackson? Moreover, would the immediate condemnation of the media have been as swift to rush to judgment without at least raising a question mark or a demand for vetting of the film’s accuracy? My guess is that the answer would be no.
Of course, if we raise that question, it would also be fair to acknowledge that Jackson’s legacy is one that many feel is already tainted by doubt. After all, he was accused by the parents of Jordan Chandler in 1993, and ten years later, the Arvizo allegations resulted in a grueling 5- month trial which ended in his acquittal on 14 counts. It would be understandable to have doubts and questions, as I did back in 2009 when I first began researching the allegations made against Jackson. For many, those lingering questions remained even after Jackson’s death. At the time, public sentiment largely fell into three camps: Those who always believed, unequivocally, in his innocence; those who said, “Whatever may have happened, it’s past; let him RIP” and then those few who continued, with dogged determination, to unearth his corpse and prop it up for re-trial in the court of public opinion. It may go without saying that those who are standing behind and supporting this project fall into the latter category. But unless we accept the naïve explanation that this project is all about “justice for victims,” there are bigger questions that need to be addressed: Who is really behind this? Also, why now, and what are they really hoping to gain from it?
It is astonishing beyond belief that no one in the mainstream media — not one serious investigative journalist — seems willing to raise these questions.
What many fail to realize is that Jackson became a target for a racist driven agenda. What appears, deceptively, as a case of “smoke and fire” was actually a long and quite convoluted history of “smoke and mirrors.” The first accusation grew out of a personal dispute between Jackson and the first boy’s father, Evan Chandler, when Jackson refused to finance Chandler’s trilogy of film projects. Although Jackson eventually settled that case out of court, the civil settlement did not preclude a criminal trial. Rather, two Grand Jury hearings failed to bring an indictment. However, because Jackson did settle the case, opening the door for financial gain to be made at his expense, a cottage industry of accusing Michael Jackson was thus born. Every accusation made since then, including those of Robson and Safechuck, has come down to an issue of money. It is, after all, easy to make up a convincing story, and in the case of Michael Jackson, all they had to do is study the details and patterns of previous stories. A little known fact is that Janet Arvizo consulted the same attorney who had represented the Chandlers (a pattern that has continued, with both Robson and Safechuck represented by the law firm Manly, Stewart & Finaldi ). Many of these shadesters were convinced that the best case scenario was that they might hit a financial windfall on a par with the Chandlers. But at the very least, even when they knew their bogus stories would never hold up in a court of law, they could always count on the tabloids, some of whom were known to shell out as much as six figures for any potential dirt on Michael Jackson. The 2005 case against Jackson was, in reality, an absolute travesty of justice that should never have gone to trial, another case of a family that took advantage of his generosity and then tried to “get back” when the friendship soured. However, if there was at least one positive aspect that came from it, it was the fact that this also served as the trial by jury that Jackson did not receive back in 1993. Tom Sneddon, in his gloating determination to “get” Jackson at all costs, actually reversed then current California laws against bringing in prior allegations. This meant that questions, evidence and witnesses from the 1993 case could also be introduced.
Jackson, in essence, was not only exonerated from the claims that the Arvizo family made against him, but those of the Chandlers as well. It seemed in theory, at least, that he had finally gotten the chance to fight those accusations in court just as he had initially wanted to back in ’93.
Dan Reed’s film only scratches the surface of the Chandler and Arvizo allegations, which may be understandable from a narrative standpoint if his focus is on the stories of the Robson and Safechuck families, but seems nevertheless a puzzling omission for a film whose entire context comes out of these two past sets of allegations.
What is more damning, however, is the fact that his film also only scratches the surface of the two more current claims that it is purporting to be about. The film presents only the subjects themselves telling their alleged side and their alleged stories of abuse, while purposely choosing to omit any counter narratives or rebuttal testimonies. In the Q&A that followed the film’s premier at Sundance, Dan Reed appeared to dodge this very specific question when asked.
Given the very serious nature of the allegations being waged in this film, to purposely omit any kind of rebuttal testimony (especially on behalf of a deceased individual) is beyond unethical.
While Dan Reed, HBO, and Channel 4 have continued to hide behind the mantra of the oft-repeated“let the viewer make up their mind” the film itself offers no such opportunity.
Furthermore, the film seems to purposely omit details that would obviously raise questions in the viewer’s minds regarding Robson’s motives. For example, why did Robson continue to defend Jackson and to speak glowingly of his friendship with him right up until 2013, when he was denied the chance to direct the Michael Jackson Cirque du Soleil show?
Why did he lie, claiming under oath he had no knowledge of the Jackson estate in 2013 when, in fact, it is on record that he met with John Branca to discuss the Cirque gig in 2011? Why do they claim that Robson’s and Safechuck’s stories are completely independent of each other, when the reality is that both have been represented by the same attorneys since 2014? Why is Safechuck allowed to blatantly lie in the film about Jackson contacting him to defend him in 2005, when attorneys involved in the case have specifically stated that the decision was made that Safechuck’s testimony would not be needed, and that Jackson would not have been allowed to personally contact potential witnesses?
Why did early press releases attempt to hide the identities of the two men in question, even though Jackson’s family, the Estate, and fans who had followed this developing story for seven years had absolutely no doubt who the two men in question were? The obvious answer was a well-planned strategy to “blind side” by preventing these entities (particularly Jackson’s family and Estate) from having time to prepare an adequate response or counter strategy.
When the first letter from the Estate to HBO went unheeded, the Estate followed through on its threat and filed a one hundred million-dollar lawsuit against HBO. In that letter, there was mention of a man named Victor Gutierrez who has long been associated with Jackson’s name and has long been suspected as a “source” for the allegations made against Michael Jackson. The story goes that Gutierrez, a Chilean reporter who came to Hollywood in the mid 1980’s envisioning himself as an investigative reporter, infiltrated a number of NAMBLA meetings (and even gained membership). It was reportedly at these clandestine meetings that Gutierrez heard whispers about certain celebrities suspected of being “in the closet” pedophiles. The alleged goal of NAMBLA was to “out” these celebrities in a desperate attempt to “normalize” their cause. But there was an issue, since often these names were circulated about with no concrete proof. Rumors and innuendoes were enough. Michael Jackson was one such name that popped up, largely because at the time Jackson was cultivating his “Kid Power” image. Those within NAMBLA’s ranks who were responsible for starting and spreading those rumors failed to take into account that “Kid Power” was part of a two-fold PR plan for Jackson, 1: Because he truly and genuinely believed in the ability of children to heal the world, and 2: As someone who himself had been scarred by childhood stardom, he sought to “give back” by empowering and serving as a positive role model for children in the industry, as noted by his long-time friend and supporter Corey Feldman.
Those who speak glibly of Michael Jackson’s “obsession” with children fail to note the very fundamental, root causes of that seeming obsession, which seemed to spring deeply from his own pain and an innate desire to protect children from being exploited in the entertainment industry by the same evil forces that had exploited him. This, and nothing more, appeared to be the source of those rumors. But of all the names mentioned, Gutierrez apparently only took one under his belt to investigate further — Michael Jackson.
It is known fact that Gutierrez actually knew and consulted with Evan Chandler, at just about the same time that Chandler was growing disgruntled with Jackson’s lack of “cooperation” in funding his projects and had grown increasingly jealous of Jackson’s relationship with his ex-wife June, son Jordan, and daughter Lily.
There has also been a long suspected link between Victor Gutierrez and Rodney Allen, a Canadian man who was eventually busted for running an underage male prostitution ring in Toronto, and who was caught actually coaching his boys how to make up convincing lies about being molested by Michael Jackson. His scheme was revealed when he wrote a series of letters to Diane Dimond at Hard Copy, signed from the boy, and the follow-up investigation led to the boy confessing everything.
This story is important, as it reveals the lengths that individuals would go to in order to make up stories about Jackson where no story existed. This is, in essence, exactly how the cottage industry of making up stories about being abused by Michael Jackson has continued to thrive. Backed with this kind of knowledge, one can hardly blame his fans for speaking out against what is perceived as an obvious vendetta, or for being skeptical when such new “claims” arise.
In 1995, the same year that Hard Copy unveiled the scam in Toronto, Victor Gutierrez struck again, this time appearing on Hard Copy himself to claim he knew of the existence of a video tape that allegedly showed Jackson abusing one of his own nephews. However, when pressed, he was forced to reveal that he had no such tape in his possession. This did not stop Diane Dimond, however, from going on KABC-AM radio talk show to promote the tape, even though she had never actually seen any such tape and only had Gutierrez’s word that it existed.
Jermaine Jackson’s ex-wife Margaret Maldonado recalled getting a phone call about the alleged tape in her book Jackson Family Values:
” I received a telephone call from a writer named Ruth Robinson. I had known Ruth for quite a while and respected her integrity. It made what she had to tell me all the more difficult to hear. “I wanted to warn you, Margaret,” she said. “There’s a story going around that there is a videotape of Michael molesting one of your sons, and that you have the tape.”If anyone else had said those words, I would have hung up the phone. Given the long relationship I had with Ruth, however, I gave her the courtesy of a response. I told her that it wasn’t true, of course, and that I wanted the story stopped in its tracks.She had been in contact with someone who worked at the National Enquirer who had alerted her that a story was being written for that paper. Ruth cross-connected me with the woman, and I vehemently denied the story. Moreover, I told her that if the story ran, I would own the National Enquirer before the lawsuits I brought were finished. To its credit, the National Enquirer never ran the piece.”Hard Copy,” however, decided it would. “Hard Copy” correspondent Diane Dimond had reported that authorities were reopening the child molestation case against Michael. She had also made the allegations on L.A. radio station KABC-AM on a morning talk show hosted by Roger Barkley and Ken Minyard. Dimond’s claims were based on the word of a freelance writer named Victor Gutierrez. The story was an outrageous lie. Not one part of it was true. I’d never met the man. There was no tape. Michael never paid me for my silence. He had never molested Jeremy. Period.”-Margaret Maldonado, Jackson Family Values
But Victor Gutierrez’s obsession with Michael Jackson didn’t end there. In 1997, he authored a book that he claimed came from a secret diary kept by Jordan Chandler. The only problem is that no such diary ever existed! The entire book was ghost written by Gutierrez, in language that was not only suspiciously adult, but also graphically (and disturbingly) erotic, even down to its title (not Michael Jackson Was My Abuser, note, but Michael Jackson Was My Lover).
Many readers were quick to note that the book read suspiciously like nothing more than child porn erotica. It was, as it turned out, little more than a piece of NAMBLA propaganda, written with the intent of promoting man/boy love, with the added spice of throwing in the name Michael Jackson. What was even more disturbing was the fact that Gutierrez and the boy’s father, Evan Chandler, obviously collaborated on the project, as evidenced by this very crude drawing from the book in which Chandler and Gutierrez were attempting to come to some sort of mutual consensus on the appearance of Jackson’s genitalia (important to note here that, according to Ray Chandler’s book All That Glitters, Evan Chandler, a practicing dentist to the stars, had once administered to Jackson a shot of Toradol in the gluteus). Also worth noting is that these notes from Gutierrez and Chandler are speculating that Jackson was circumcised, when in fact his autopsy report revealed he was not.
In 1998, Michael Jackson brought a defamation lawsuit against Gutierrez, Diane Dimond, Hard Copy and KABC-AM. Of the $100,000,000 million he sought in damages, the court awarded $2.7 million to be paid to him directly by Victor Gutierrez. However, Gutierrez fled the country and returned to Chile, thus evading the ruling. Jackson never saw a penny of that 2.7 million.
According to the website MichaelJacksonAllegations.com, “ Many of the witnesses who testified for the prosecution at Jackson’s 2005 trial, and on whom the prosecution’s “prior bad acts” case was mostly built, were people who had contact with Victor Gutierrez prior to selling their stories to the tabloids for money…” and “ Former security guard, Ralph Chacon testified he and other ex-employees of Jackson (whom the media often called the “Neverland 5”) spoke to Gutierrez before they went to sell their story to The Star magazine . Former security guard, Kassim Abdool testified that he met Gutierrez once and they had a two, three hours conversation . Former maid, Adrian McManus testified that Gutierrez “was going to try to help us in our lawsuit” (not surprisingly, this includes some of the same cast of characters who have come out of the proverbial woodwork to make the rounds of tabloid interviews and TV talk shows since Leaving Neverland premiered. Adrian McManus, a former employee who had been fired for stealing from Jackson, was featured on a recent 60 Minutes Australia broadcast).
Victor Gutierrez’s role in the current movie, Leaving Neverland, cannot be underestimated, especially since it appears suspiciously that many of the claims being made by Robson and Safechuck-but especially Safechuck-originated in the book Michael Jackson Was My Lover, particularly the very specific claims of a wedding, the gifting of jewelry, alleged jealousy of specifically named female rivals,and other fabrications that were very specific to the narrative Gutierrez invented.
I could go on in this vein, indefinitely, but the truth is that getting into a detailed account of every hole in Robson’s and Safechuck’s stories would be far beyond the scope of a single article. But equally revealing is when the Robson and Safechuck family members complain in the film about all that Jackson apparently didn’t do for them. While it is true that Wade Robson won a dance competition that enabled him to meet his idol Michael Jackson, and that Jackson invited him to dance onstage during the Bad tour, the narrative starts to get a lot murkier after that. The truth is that it was Joy Robson who relentlessly pursued Jackson afterwards. Michael Jackson did not, in fact, “owe” anything to the Robson family after he left Australia in 1987, and what he did benefit to them was given out of generosity. He certainly did not “owe” it to the Robson family to give Wade a role in one of his music videos, let alone to roll out all of the perks of creature comforts. Yet, according to a source who saw the film at Sundance, Joy Robson complains bitterly in the film of having to rent a vehicle to take her son to the video shoot, and of having to live in a dumpy apartment. So here we have the families vilifying Jackson for all he “didn’t” do for them, and yet every gesture he did bestow upon them to show kindness or thoughtfulness is intentionally construed in the film as evidence of “grooming,” even down to a birthday message Jackson evidently taped for Wade because he was obviously too busy to be there to tell him in person. It becomes abundantly clear, less than an hour into this four-plus hour opus of a film, that these two families are determinedly painting Jackson into an inescapable corner of “damned if he did; damned if he didn’t.”
Summary from Wade Robson Deposition (Image courtesy of @ralphlulaneon)
Indeed, the Robson family’s sense of entitlement at Jackson’s expense can be seen all the way up through Jackson’s death and beyond, from Wade’s emails tearfully begging that the Jacksons — even in the midst of their grief — accommodate Wade and his family to attend the memorial, to his revealing in a deposition that he was “hurt” he wasn’t invited to the private memorial service, and to his inflated sense of entitlement that he alone was the best candidate to direct the Jackson themed Cirque du Soleil show as late as 2012.
Less than 24 hours after Jackson was pronounced dead Robson was even pitching the producer of the show So You Think You Can Dance on a tribute that he alone was best qualified to do.
More recently, another detail from the film has been called into question. One of the final segments of the film allegedly shows Robson burning all of the items gifted to him by Jackson, including many highly prized and valuable costume items worn by the icon in his music videos. They include such items as Jackson’s iconic Thriller jacket, a sequined glove, his Smooth Criminal fedora, and other items. But, again, Michael Jackson fans have long memories, and some were quick to point out that Robson had actually sold many of these identical items at auction several years ago. Sure enough, Julien’s Auctions confirmed in a tweet that they had bought these items directly from Robson and had paid him. “He needed the money,” the tweet confirms. In an even more damning follow-up tweet, Julien’s Auctions confirmed that Robson had attempted to sell the items under cover of anonymity but that “we wouldn’t allow it.”
Wade consigned his collection to us directly. He was the person who we paid when we sold his collection. He needed the money.
Wade asked to remain anonymous and said that he did not want anyone to know that it was him selling it the items in 2011. But we did not agree to that and listed it as the Wade Robson collection. He consigned multiple items and wanted us to sell all items of his that had value.
We can’t provide a list, but we were told that it was all of the items that Wade had that were gifted from Michael Jackson.
Some have argued that this reveal appears to be direct proof that the entire scene was staged, with Robson apparently burning “fakes” he must have purchased for the express purpose of filming this scene. At the very least, it further calls into question whether Robson is a true victim — or an opportunist. especially considering that his consignment deal with Julien’s Auctions would have netted him several thousand dollars at a time when he was still pretending to the world to be a loyal and grieving friend.
Perhaps even more revealing was a series of tweets from Brandi Jackson, daughter of Jackie Jackson, who revealed that she’d had a 7-year-relationship with Robson. This was an important disclosure on several fronts, since it both: A: Revealed that the timeline he had given for his abuse did not add up, and B: Proved as false his claim that Jackson had taught him to hate women (in fact, turns out it was Jackson who had set Robson up with Brandi).
The bigger concern is that the media is well aware that the stories of these men do not add up. Yet, it seems, instead of raising the tough and critical questions we should be asking, most are content to ride on the cult of “victimhood,” blindly enabling any con artist who wishes to bring an accusation (ironically, this includes many of the same journalists who mocked Wade Robson early on as someone whose story seemed both coldly calculated and oddly opportunistic). Instead of asking these necessary questions, the media has instead shamelessly used this propaganda piece as an excuse to wage a trial by social media against Jackson.
What Gerrick D. Kennedy Had To Say Back in 2013:
Gerrick D. Kennedy “Suddenly” Changing His Tune in 2019 After Leaving Neverland Sundance Premiere
Watching 'Leaving Neverland' after a lifetime of loving Michael Jackson
Roughly an hour into "Leaving Neverland," it felt like my chest had caved in. Itwas the first full day of the Sundance…
At first glance, Kennedy’s account, as with so many others like it from the gamut of “peer influencers” that have been given special access to the film, may seem like the sincere and gutted reaction from a genuine fan who has been left shell shocked by the film. But reading more reviews like this, one starts to notice a rather glaring and disturbing trend: Why are the stories of these men being accepted at face value — even by a presumed lifelong “fan” — without the slightest hint of question as to their actual veracity? Similar buzzwords like “compelling,” “disturbing” and “shell shocked” permeated virtually every review to come out of Sundance, to the point that it began to sound (suspiciously) as if every review had been penned by the same hand. Had they all been simultaneously conned by Wade Robson, who once even dubbed himself “The Master of Deception?”
Since the news of this film first broke, many troubling questions have arisen, both about its origins and its ultimate agenda. According to his interviews, Dan Reed first got the idea to do such a documentary in 2016. The timing is interesting because in 2016, three years had already passed since Wade Robson first initiated these claims and tried to bring his unsuccessful civil case against the Estate. In fact, the case had already been dismissed. But by 2016, Robson and Safechuck had switched attorneys and tactics, this time deciding to wage a legal battle against Michael Jackson’s companies. It was at this time that their legal team, Manly Stewart, and Finaldi began a deliberate tactic of plying the media with “leaked stories” in an effort to sensationalize the case and to allow it to play out in the court of public opinion. Most of these stories were little more than regurgitated tabloid stories from ten and even twenty years prior, but they were counting on the short memory of the public to have forgotten about them and assume them to be “new information.” The tactic was clearly an aggressive ploy to force the Estate’s hand in a cash settlement. By far the most nefarious of their schemes was the deliberate planting of an internet hoax-as sloppily concocted as it was executed-in which they sold a story to the American tabloid publication Radar Online claiming that “new reports” showed that child porn had been found at Neverland and that the discovery had been deliberately omitted from court proceedings. Their “proof” consisted of a bizarre mishmash of court documents taken out of context, old tabloid stories, and graphic illustrations. Some were from genuine art books Jackson had owned; others were complete forgeries (some came from books not even published until 2010, well after Jackson’s death; some of the images came from a renowned art exhibit in Paris from the early 2010’s; in one case, they were called out when the Canadian artist Jonathan Hobin revealed that his photograph “American Idol,” featuring a JonBenet Ramsey lookalike with a noose around her neck-used prominently in Radar Online’s original article — came from his book In the Playroom which was not even published until 2010. In all, several of the images appeared to have come directly from Google searches). Their sloppiness was ultimately their undoing, since it was revealed that some of the forged images contained notes from Robson’s and Safechuck’s legal team. It was obvious then that no one else could have been responsible for “leaking” the forged “evidence” to Radar Online.
But while the fake child porn story was swiftly debunked in the media, the damage had already been done. The lie — to quote HBO’s own Richard Plepler, ironically enough — “had already made it halfway around the world before the truth could get its pants on.”
Now we are to believe that a British filmmaker named Dan Reed, who by his own admission was never a Michael Jackson fan and had no prior interest in his music, art, or personal life, suddenly becomes keenly interested in “investigating” the allegations made against Michael Jackson. But instead of setting out to start from the ground up, by investigating the long line of sordid entanglements that go all the way back to Victor Gutierrez’s first NAMBLA meeting, he decides to go straight to the subjects of the current civil suit against Jackson’s companies and the same, corrupt legal defense team responsible for planting the fake child porn hoax! Is it coincidence that Dan Reed’s interest in this story just happened to coincide with the planting of the phony child porn story and its immediate fall-out?
At this point, we should really be wondering: Why only Robson and Safechuck, especially if the alleged purpose of the film is an expose’ on the Michael Jackson allegations? This is the same troubling question that many more discerning critics and viewers have raised since the film’s premiere. Why did Reed purposely omit interviewing any sources that would have counter balanced his chosen narrative? I understand that documentaries, by their very nature, are often partisan. Many of the best documentaries have been those that dared to make a stand on controversial topics. But we can’t just lightly brush aside the fact that accusing someone of child molestation is a very serious accusation. Such a serious accusation against a public figure-especially a beloved deceased public figure-cannot and should not be conscionably brought forth without at least vetting the sources of the information, and giving opportunity for rebuttal. In the decade since Jackson’s passing, many such documentaries have come to the fore, some of more questionable integrity than others, but all of them for better or worse have at least sought for some semblance of balance and fairness in discussing the allegations, presenting counter narratives that allow viewers to at least reach their own conclusions. Reed’s film does neither. From the outset, it is a purposely manipulative narrative that leaves room for only one conclusion that any reasonable viewer might draw. This modus operandi has been as clear from its promotion as from its content, with headlines boldly proclaiming the film as a story of “two men who were sexually abused by Michael Jackson” as if this were unequivocal truth to be accepted at face value, rather than mere allegations — allegations which, for that matter, have already been cross examined in a court of law and dismissed.
It appears evident that Dan Reed’s film has less to do with truth or artistic merit than it does with serving as yet another piece of litigation propaganda for the same corrupt defense team and defendants who knowingly leaked forged evidence to the media.
This is how HBO is promoting the documentary in its program grid. Note the deliberate lack of the word “alleged” anywhere. What is this if not carefully contrived propaganda?
Aside from Reed’s questionable motives in aligning himself with a shady legal firm and its two perjurer clients, there is the even more troubling question as to why HBO — a network known for its quality programming — has chosen to so blithely throw in the towel and put its reputation on the line for a movie that appears to be little more than a reality show soap opera of groundless allegations. Not only has HBO emerged as a co-producer of the project, it is also very obvious that the company has thrown massive amounts of money into its promotion. The film was given a last minute, “under the wire” slot at Sundance in January, despite the fact that the deadline for film entries at Sundance is in late November. Someone obviously pulled some influential strings to get the film “shoehorned” in. While it may be nothing more than a finely tuned coincidence, it certainly hasn’t escaped the notice of Jackson’s fans and other intuitive individuals that the documentary on Harvey Weinstein, Untouchable, was also set to premiere the same weekend at Sundance.
This might seem like the kind of typical paranoia that the media routinely likes to accuse of Jackson fans, but not so fast. An explosive 2017 New York Times article on Weinstein’s numerous pay offs revealed that Michael Jackson was, in fact, one of the celebrities for whom Weinstein would routinely pay gossip mongers to create stories about, in order to deflect from his own scandals. If Weinstein had no qualms about using Michael Jackson’s name twenty years ago to deflect the headlines from himself, who’s to say he is above it now? Many have noted the ironic timing of Leaving Neverland alongside Untouchable, as well as the fact that Leaving Neverland just happens to be scheduled for broadcast the same week that Weinstein’s trial begins. Coincidence? Unlike Dan Reed, I’ll leave that for you, the reader, to decide.
Harvey Weinstein Hanging Out With HBO CEO Richard Plepler
This now raises further problematic ethics about the film and its agenda. HBO once profited quite handsomely off Michael Jackson, given that Jackson gave HBO the exclusive rights to air his concert performance titled Live in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour.
This was a broadcast that remained HBO’s highest rated special for many years (and has become the lynch pin for the Estate’s legal claim against HBO, since the network signed a contractual agreement at the time with Jackson promising, in exchange for being given the exclusive rights to air the performance, they would agree to not engage in any activity that would “disparage” Jackson or have cause to “lower in esteem the reputation or public image of [Michael Jackson]”.
The reasons for HBO’s possible turncoat strategy are well outlined in the Estate’s full arbitration claim. Obviously, profit and ratings are at the fore, but it seems that HBO is also willfully jumping the bandwagon on a particularly dark side of the current #MeToo zeitgeist, which is the movement’s apparent zeal for “taking down” Black celebrities while seemingly ignoring the sins — alleged or otherwise — of White celebrities.
If we pause to examine the demographics of all those involved in this current “shakedown” of Michael Jackson, the pattern emerges quite clearly. It starts with two White accusers, who take their claims to an all-White legal team already known for shady tactics. Supposedly, three years into their case, their story reaches across the pond to Channel 4 UK’s Daniel Pearl and Dan Reed (two Brits with admittedly no prior interest in Jackson or knowledge of him who, for some oddly unbeknown reason, just happen to be sitting around brainstorming ideas on “unsolved” American crime cases). Pearl’s keen interest in a story that was already thoroughly hashed out in the media more than a decade ago seems oddly peculiar, as does the smarmy glee with which he has taken to social media to predict the possible fallout of Jackson’s legacy that he envisions will result from the film.
In a matter of days I predict Michael Jackson songs will be taken off radio playlists. The MJ exhibition will be closed as will the other celebrations of his life. #LeavingNeverland
The problem is that Jackson’s case wasn’t “unsolved” and is not some great, lingering mystery. He was fully vindicated in a court of law on 14 counts, as well as exonerated by two exhaustive FBI investigations. One seriously has to wonder why — with all of the many harrowing crime cases that do remain unsolved and where victims are still crying out for justice-these men decide that, no, they would rather exhume Michael Jackson’s corpse and rehash allegations that have long since been disproven.
Now let’s look at who is brought on board to produce and fund the film. HBO, whose board consists solely of one minority member, decides that the lynching of the same Black performer whom they profited from twenty years prior, when Jackson was on top of his game, is a great idea for profit and revenue. Giving a quick glance at the corporate brass of HBO, it becomes easy to see why the interests and welfare of a deceased minority celebrity may be taking a backseat to corporate profit: Out of some thirty executives, only one — Sofia Chang, an Asian — could be considered as a minority representative.
Would HBO have so willingly put their reputation on the line to fund and produce such a project on any other celebrity — deceased or otherwise — carrying such serious allegations against said celebrity, without first thoroughly vetting the source(s) of such allegations? The honest answer to this question is no. And while one might easily forgive HBO for their initial ignorance, it does not excuse their stubborn insistence on continuing to back and support this project in light of having now been fully informed, through two very explicitly detailed letters from Jackson’s Estate, the full history and record of why these two men’s court cases were dismissed. When confronted with every bit of evidence of how Wade Robson and James Safechuck have lied, perjured themselves on numerous occasions, forged evidence and have been caught in inconsistencies too numerous to count, HBO’s only response in defense was “But it’s powerful.”
From the time of the film’s “shoehorned in” premiere at Sundance, it has become even more evident that many powerful forces must be at work to ensure not only that Leaving Neverland-a surprisingly mediocre film despite all the hype — is seen by as many “peer influencer” reviewers as possible. Yet reviews such as “compelling” and “powerful” mysteriously do not jibe with less biased reviews that have raised very legitimate and concerning questions calling into account both the quality of the film as well as the accuracy and accountability of its content. Interestingly, all of the latter reviews seemed to come from independent critics, suggesting they were not part of the select elite of “blue ticks” endorsed by HBO, Channel 4 and ITV.
Almost immediately after its Sundance premiere, many reviewers rushed to their social media accounts to proclaim Jackson a “monster” and a “pedophile” while knowing full well that they were basing such lurid and serious accusations on nothing more substantial than the stories of the two men interviewed in this film. It has been pointed out that this seems to eerily reflect the same manner in which journalists attending his 2005 trial would rush out of the courtroom immediately to report on all of the salacious tidbits from the prosecution witnesses, while deliberately ignoring to report when these same witnesses crumbled under cross examination by the defense.
It Became Clear That It Wasn’t Just Sundance Patrons Who Were Getting Advance Screenings: This Was A Careful Strategic Plan To Go After The Biggest “Peer Influencers.” Yet No One In The Jackson Family Has Been Allowed To See It.
The utter hypocrisy and witch hunt mentality with which the mainstream media has greeted this film is, ultimately, the most disturbing aspect of all. “Hit pieces” on public figures will come and go, and this has certainly been the case with Michael Jackson. But in this case, Leaving Neverland is a travesty that should never have been made. Dan Reed claims that his movie is not about Michael Jackson, yet by his own admission the film would not have been made had it not been about Michael Jackson. Dan Reed owed it to the subject of his film to go beyond the surface of these allegations and to vet his sources. He owed it to the public legacy of Michael Jackson, to his orphaned children and elderly mother, to fully investigate the stories of Wade Robson and James Safechuck before committing them to film, and moreover, to examine and analyze all exculpatory evidence (of actual, inculpatory evidence, the film offers surprisingly none). But just because the film was made does not mean we have to be obligated to embrace or enable it. That so many prominent journalists and media talking heads have displayed the willingness to accept this film blindly at face value, without raising the much needed questions that need to be asked about its veracity, is a bigger unforgiveable travesty than the film itself. But this is exactly what Dan Reed, HBO and Channel 4 are counting on, that the current zeitgeist of MeToo and its “don’t question victims” mentality will create the tunnel vision needed to willfully blind viewers. In turn, the publicity generated by the film has allowed a second generation cottage industry of negative Michael Jackson publicity to flourish, with platforms being given to everyone from the doctor who killed him to long discredited witnesses like the aforementioned Adrian MacManus, to “new accuser” Michael Jacobshagen who, it turns out, is merely another fraud who once courted the Michael Jackson fan community and was once outted for selling forged Michael Jackson merchandise (apparently, the tabloids have proven a lot more profitable than selling fake Michael Jackson autographs). Yet now,these same convicted felons, unreliable witnesses, thieves and con artists are being given fresh platforms and paid handsomely to tell the same discredited stories that some of them tried to sell a decade ago. Dan Reed and Richard Plepler, as well as the executives of Channel 4, are certainly not naïve. They knew that this was the kind of smear campaign that would result from their film. It has been a carefully orchestrated strategy from the outset, with the clear end goal of diminishing the lucrative power of Michael Jackson’s brand. The logic and obvious modus operandi remains the same as it has been for Robeson and Safechuck from the outset: To force a shakedown for the Michael Jackson Estate.
The very nature of Dan Reed’s hypocrisy can be seen first hand. In a recent interview with Independent, Reed claims to have been “disgusted” by the letter from the Michael Jackson Estate to HBO that clearly broke down the many, varied reasons why Robson’s and Safechuck’s litigations did not hold up in court, claiming, “What would the Jackson estate have to say about what happened in a hotel room in Paris, in 1988, between James and Jackson? Nothing. They weren’t there.” Yet, by that same logic, Dan Reed proceeds within the same interview to state unequivocally of Jackson, He hurt a lot of people. He was cruel. He was vicious.” But Dan Reed, like the Michael Jackson Estate, was not there! Dan Reed was not in those hotel rooms in Paris, either. Dan Reed did not know Michael Jackson. He never met him, and never met Robson or Safechuck until 2017. Yet he has proceeded to weave a one-sided hit piece based on the reality he wishes to sell.
An old interview promoting Reed’s film Terror in Mumbai may solve a lot of the mystery of who is behind Leaving Neverland, and why: “I’m hired by Channel 4, ITV, HBO…” he says.
It is understandable to be moved by the power of cinema and storytelling. But journalists also have a responsibility to look beyond the camera lens. It’s one thing to be “moved” by a compelling documentary, but quite another to simply report it as if everything it contains is gospel truth. If the recent Jussie Smollett story should have taught us anything, it should serve as an important awakening of how easy it is to falsify a “victimhood” story and hijack #MeToo sympathies that should be reserved for actual victims. With the example of Leaving Neverland, this is not a case of viewers drawing conclusions after having seen a reasonable preponderance of all evidence brought to the table. Instead, they are emotional, kneejerk reactions to having just sat through hours of hearing nothing but a one-sided story, told by two witnesses with huge credibility issues, who have been given a platform for motivations that remain highly and ethically questionable.
But truth and karma does have a funny way of catching up with its worst offenders sooner or later. After Jackson’s 2005 acquittal, when the media had salivated relentlessly over the prospect of a guilty verdict and the booming cottage industry of stories they hoped they would be able to generate for years to come, the media cacophony that had rejoiced in his lynching was replaced by virtual crickets. No one, it seemed, wanted to take up the gauntlet and examine what might have been actually the story of the century: That is, to analyze exactly why the blood thirst for Michael Jackson had been so exhaustively relentless. It has been reported that only one lone journalist — in the aftermath of the 14 “Not guilty” verdicts — was brave enough to raise a timid voice and to ask the question of his colleagues, “My God, what have we done to him?”
Judging from what I have seen, when the fallout from Leaving Neverland does come, it is going to be huge, and is apt to leave a lot of lot of us asking that very same question.