“Leaving Neverland” Weaves A Provocative Narrative But Is It Just One Big Lie?

Once the dust has settled, Dan Reed’s calculated storytelling in Leaving Neverland reveals itself to be a continuation of the anti-Michael Jackson narrative bias in news media; cynical emotional manipulation built on lies and ulterior motive. Don’t believe me? See if this doesn’t change your mind…

Michael Jackson

When I posted my reaction to Dan Reed’s documentary Leaving Neverland, one person on Twitter said it was fake news, that, by extension, I was wittingly contributing to an anti-Michael Jackson media bias. That was certainly not my intention. However, by choosing to highlight the impact of the sordid events alleged by Wade Robson and James Safechuck I was stoking the fires of a narrative that is predisposed to accept the iconic pop singer’s guilt without questioning the facts.

And because Reed’s film is so one-sided – and admittedly effective in piecing together a story that, at face value, appears genuine – we must give ourselves a chance to allow the emotional manipulation of clever storytelling to settle. To take a step back. To consider other factors and other opinions and other potential witnesses and even undisputed facts that, according to investigative journalist and long-time reporter on matters related to Jackson’s life, Charles Thomson, “catastrophically undermine these men’s accusations”.

It is Thomson, author of One of the Most Shameful Episodes In Journalistic History (about media bias in relation to the pop singer’s 2005 trial), who is one of the few commentators acknowledging the holes in Reed’s film. Not only must we consider them given the severity of the crimes alleged, but we must also question if the film is riding a wave of #MeToo hysteria where “truth” is garnered from whatever gains viral traction.

The Truth Needs Only Sensationalism & The Appearance Of Validation

Not only does the film present a compelling story but a search on the internet quickly reveals supposedly supportive conjecture from sources that boast credibility (including Vanity Fair’s 10 Undeniable Facts About the Michael Jackson Sexual-Abuse Allegations) One article published on the BBC’s website questions whether Jackson’s legacy is forever tarnished but this twists public perception away from questioning where this concept originated (the hoopla surrounding Reed’s film) and fuels the Jackson-Is-Guilty narrative by peddling emotion with sensationalist stories of his songs being cut from radio playlists and his Neverland house price dramatically dropping.

His guilt is assumed in this viral cooking pot of media dissemination because, oh, look Canada isn’t playing his songs anymore, The Simpsons aren’t playing the Jackson episode anymore, and his house has dropped in price. All these factors detract from a considered look at what Leaving Neverland said happened. And they detract from accepted truths in a court of law: the fact Jackson was acquitted on child molestation charges in 2005 after the jury unanimously found him not guilty of all charges.

With no right to reply afforded anyone in defence of Michael Jackson, Leaving Neverland is understandably effective in weaving a seemingly credible story of guilt (but one that relies on carefully orchestrated cinematic technique to provoke emotion, favouring sentiment in order to massage supposed truths). Under the guise of being a “documentary” and offering the viewer the freedom to make up their own mind, Reed, Safechuck and Robson conspire to make up your mind for you. As John Ziegler says in his podcast World According to Zig, at the very least this film is completely unfair.

Reed has tried to counter the criticism of bias by saying he showed archive footage of Jackson’s own denials. But as Charles Thomson says, because these allegations were made after the singer had died, the only people who could offer a genuine counter argument were the people who had been litigating the two accusers over the past few years.

Fact: Wade Robson & James Safechuck Are Liars (But Which Lie Do You Believe?)

Leaving Neverland - Dan Reed, Wade Robson, James Safechuck

Dan Reed (centre) with Wade Robson (left) and James Safechuck (right) in promotional photography for their film Leaving Neverland.

Oh, did you know Robson and Safechuck had been suing the Michael Jackson estate since 2013 for hundreds of millions of dollars? “This has generated thousands of pages of court documents – deposition transcripts, witness statements, disclosure motions, etc.,” notes Thomson. “That litany of paperwork includes so many contradictions. Their stories are constantly changing, they contradict their own prior versions of events, and one of them was caught lying under oath so brazenly that the judge ruled that no rational juror could believe his story.”

I’ll repeat that. A judge, experienced and qualified in discerning truth-tellers from fakers, said one of these men’s stories could not be trusted.

That, after the release of Leaving Neverland, was corroborated by Brandi Jackson, Michael’s niece, who declared Wade Robson a liar. Another convenience ignored by Reed’s film is the fact Brandi dated Robson. She told The Kyle and Jackie O Show: “When I was watching [Leaving Neverland], I was completely sickened by it, to be honest with you. The things that he was saying were so over the top and so ridiculous.”

Saying she did not believe her uncle was a paedophile, Brandi added: “[Wade] was not describing my uncle. He was describing a totally different person, but not my uncle. And that’s why this is a narrative that has changed… over the last 15 years. Everything that he’s ever said about my uncle is the complete opposite of who he was painting in this documentary.”

While Reed reveals the fact Robson twice testified under oath (once in 1993 and again in 2005) that Michael had never sexually molested him or behaved inappropriately, arguing, in hindsight, that he didn’t understand the inappropriate nature of his relationship with Michael as a child and thus believed it to be innocent, the filmmaker doesn’t question whether Robson now feels any guilt around missing the opportunity to stop an abuser of children when he appeared in court as an adult in 2005.

Brandi, who was in a relationship with Wade for a decade, is adamant her ex-boyfriend is lying. She says he and James Safechuck are solely motivated by money. The film is perhaps their final attempt to get money out of the Jackson estate having been trying for the last seven years.

The Witnesses That Dan Reed Conveniently Ignored

Says Ziegler, “In my opinion, if you simply listen to the interview with an open mind, Brandi’s credibility speaks for itself. There will still be people who will understandably still believe Robson’s version, but there is no doubting that Brandi’s narrative makes a whole lot more sense. But again, the primary question here is, why was her existence censured from Leaving Neverland and why hasn’t she been interviewed on network television about all of this?!”

Taj Jackson, Michael’s nephew, has also questioned why Wade would be with Brandi if he was being abused by Michael (and, according to Wade, being discouraged from dating women). “He dated my cousin for over seven years and it’s really interesting because they left that out of [Leaving Neverland] – and he dated her during the time period that he’s getting supposedly molested by my uncle. I think it’s ridiculous especially since my uncle Michael was the one that basically brought them together. And so it throws off the whole narrative of Michael Jackson only wanting [Wade] for himself or teaching him to hate women.”

Taj is now developing a a counter-documentary according to NME to dispute the claims made in Leaving Neverland which will likely feature other children who befriended Michael Jackson – such as Macaulay Culkin and Corey Feldman – and who have stated that they neither witnessed nor were the victim of sexual abuse. Singer Aaron Carter, who was friends with Jackson when he was a teenager, told TMZ he had the “time of my life with Michael”, adding “I hung out with Michael Jackson, I stayed at his house, I stayed in his bedroom … it’s hard for me to understand [the accusations in Leaving Neverland] – how am I supposed to understand that when my own personal experience with him was gentle and beautiful and loving and embracing.”

What is ultimately revealing in the fallout of Leaving Neverland is how news media is failing those it purports to inform. “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,” notes Ziegler.

“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).

For Charles Thomson, this is a continuation of a news media bias that has been peddled for years. Speaking about the coverage of the 2005 trial, he says: “It seemed to me that the media was just loathe to accept the possibility that Jackson could be innocent. Most reporters seemed to already be convinced of Jackson’s guilt because they thought he was a weirdo.”

It almost didn’t matter that Michael Jackson’s innocence was proven in a court of law (“All too often you see right-wing pundits making comments like, “Not guilty is not the same as innocent.”)  Indeed, Thomson notes how the prosecution had every advantage to win their case (but “failed to produce a single piece of tangible evidence connecting Jackson to any crime”) and ended up parading witnesses who “collapsed under cross-examination” with the other half “helping the defence rather than the prosecutors.”

He remembers a story by reporter J. Randy Taraborrelli, who was covering the trial and said he was with the press pack queuing for their court passes when a well-known female reporter from a big magazine said: “Does ANYONE here believe Michael Jackson is innocent besides J. Randy Taraborrelli!?”

That story, argues Thomson, “sums up much of the media’s attitude towards the trial: “We know he’s guilty. This is a waste of time. They should just lock him up now.” It tainted their reporting, consciously or otherwise.”

Setting The Narrative, Disregarding The Truth

Leaving Neverland has stirred up similar misreporting and misinformation around Michael Jackson that makes Reed’s effort – supposedly giving sex abuse victims a voice – at the very least distasteful, at worst, as Thomson states, “shockingly unethical”.

“Looking back on the Michael Jackson trial, I see a media out of control,” said the writer of One of the Most Shameful Episodes In Journalistic History. “The sheer amount of propaganda, bias, distortion and misinformation is almost beyond comprehension. Reading the court transcripts and comparing them to the newspaper cuttings, the trial that was relayed to us didn’t even resemble the trial that was going on inside the courtroom. The transcripts show an endless parade of seedy prosecution witnesses perjuring themselves on an almost hourly basis and crumbling under cross examination. The newspaper cuttings and the TV news clips detail day after day of heinous accusations and lurid innuendo.”

We’re seeing some of the same things now.  Says Ziegler, “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 rationalisations 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.”

Instead of the trial vindicating Michael Jackson, the media’s irresponsible coverage made it impossible. “The legal system may have declared him innocent but the public, on the whole, still thought otherwise. Allegations which were disproven in court went unchallenged in the press. Shaky testimony was presented as fact. The defence’s case was all but ignored,” notes Thomson.

Being critical of Leaving Neverland is not about silencing or shaming victims. That is despite British journalist Louis Theroux, a documentary filmmaker I admire, saying the exact opposite. But if we consider all the facts – facts that we’re not privy to in Reed’s film – we are likely to conclude Leaving Neverland does far more harm to abuse victims than it does good.

Diana Michaels, in her piece entitled “Leaving Neverland Debunked in 10 Minutes or Less”, states: “Abuse survivors need our support, and they especially need to be listened to when they are brave enough to speak out. However, we have to be cautious to not let the #MeToo movement jump the shark. If we accept all allegations without turning a critical eye when necessary, and we allow the #MeToo movement to justify putting the dead on trial, we won’t be doing anything but opening Pandora’s box. And real survivors of abuse deserve better than that.”

The sadness and anger that I felt after watching Reed’s film because I, at first, believed the accusers now remains for a very different reason. I’m angry that Leaving Neverland had that impact on me because I now feel duped, and I’m saddened that Jackson’s family and children have to endure such a negative media circus while his legacy is questioned. If there are stories to be told from behind the closed doors of Michael Jackson’s bedroom, Reed’s film is not the place to start hearing them.

[Edit] The original article referenced the Neverland ranch’s “value” as dropping but this has been changed to “price” as the term is more accurate.

Words by Dan Stephens

Dan Stephens
About the Author
Dan Stephens is the founder and editor of Top 10 Films. He's usually pondering his next list, often inspired by his adoration for 1980s Hollywood, a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    I will have a chance to read this entire article later on this evening when I get home, Dan. But I just want to commend you for writing accounter piece 2 a so-called documentary that came out after Michael Jackson was dead. I’ve never believed that Michael Jackson was a child molester. I do believe that there are unscrupulous and greedy people out there who will do anything to make a buck and Michael Jackson was an easy target. That’s all I will say for now but thank you for writing this.

    • Avatar
      Helen Bean Reply

      Mr.Dan Stephens, because you do the research and examine the facts and strive to be balanced, you bring honor to the profession of journalism.
      I thank you.

  2. Avatar
    Shanny 101 Reply

    Not a Micheal Jackson fan by any means. However I believe in the presumption of innocence untill proven guilty beyond all doubt, and the importance of through and proper research and fact checking. The fact that the public are just blindly believing these allegations,and are willing to just throw Jackson under the bus, when he cannot even defend himself is shocking and deeply disturbing! The documentary is incredibly one sided, offers up no evidence, and if people actually bother to do some research in order to get the real facts they will see there are some very real and concerning credibility issues with the two accusers here, as you will find there have been with ALL the Jackson accusers ever since the first accusation in 1993. Vital information which can potentially debunk their stories and any of the claims against Jackson seem to have been deliberately left out of the documentary, and a lot of the documentary such as the time line and certain events mentioned, are easily debunkable or at the very least do not seem to quite add up, if you simply do a quick google search. They claim its not about the money. Yet both men here only came out after Jackson’s death trying to sue the estate for millions and millions of dollars. They lost the lawsuit and now this film comes out just as they are appealing their lawsuits. Not to mention the Documentary is also getting a DVD release.

    The films director also seems very untrustworthy as he made no attempt to show the other side of the story, give any evidence, and he gets highly agitated when anybody dares to question anything thats not quite adding up. Suspicious dont you think? Michael Jackson was a man who was investigated by the FBI for over 10 years which found NOTHING! Despite what ever fictitious lies and bull the tabloids cough up to the public. He was also found NOT guilty on all charges at the 2005 trial. DO the research and do it thoroughly before believing the lies the tabloids and much of the media have tried to present to us since 1993. Im not a Micheal Jackson fan, nor am I discrediting genuine victims of sexual abuse. I am however a fan the truth and the truth is what we all should stand for, and sadly the truth is not whats being told here!

  3. Avatar
    vulcan Reply

    Thanks Dan!

    Which others in the media would do the same.

    How can this obvious propaganda sway so many that they ban Mj’s music because of it?

    An unprecedented character assassination.

  4. Avatar
    Savannah Reply

    Thank you so much for having an open mind and seeing the other side.
    I respect the fact that instead of taking the film as complete fact, you went and decided to research to see the complete truth.
    If it were not for me doing research on their cases, I too would have thought that he was guilty.

  5. Avatar
    Jarrett Reply

    Thanks for posting this, it’s scary how none of the media is pointing these things out. I can only hope that they will start reporting on this soon and showing how ridiculous this is.

    For some reason, those of us defending Michael Jackson right now are being put into some crazed box of conspiracy theorists or something but all we’re doing is doing our research and fact-checking everything. There are some HUGE red flags regarding the validity of these claims but they’re either trying to hide or censor this information. Even rebroadcasts of the movie are cutting scenes out that are being proven false. This is insane. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on it

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    BarbaraLee Reply

    First, I want to say thank you for actually going back and questioning this documentary. Due to the #metoo movement and our fear of not being sympathetic to victims, we are being told to believe all victims, However, Me Too was supposed to mean not to ignore and shush up victims-but listen to them, and of course, take them seriously and nvestigate. That message has been lost.
    You have one sentence where you say Dan Reed omitted that Robson testified in 93 and 2005-but he did testify and it’s included in the film. That’s where Wade excused it by saying he didn’t know it was abuse. I think that’s what you meant.
    Thank you again. Enjoyed your site.

  7. Avatar
    Michelle Heald Reply

    Kudo’s to you. You probably have no idea how many million people in the world just patted your back for having the gumption and integrity and for taking an etichal stand on what should be the basic simplicity of every day journalisms. To be fair has been the on request of numerous fans and non-fans across the entire world. This is not just the US or UK this is all over the world. Therefore you, Charles, and John Ziegler have just gained true utmost respect by many people who have been called fanatics, crazy fans and numerous other names. When the truth is these people are actually Lawyers, Doctors, Dentist, Psychatrist,, movie producers, web designers, nurses, artist, construction workers, taxi drivers, so I think you get my drift. They are everywhere and now those fans have 3 new people that they will trust, admire, and support forever. Not because they feel you were defending anyone but because you saw a one sided story and spoke up for what was fair. I predict you guys just gained an unbelievable fan base because of your honesty and proved to be trustworthy. Which is what the world wants when it comes to NEWS, someone they can trust whether they like what’s being said or not. Thank you guys so much!

  8. Avatar
    Andrew Reply

    I believe you! I also feel utterly betrayed by media.

  9. Avatar
    thevoid99 Reply

    I haven’t seen the film and I’ve been really unsure about seeing it yet considering that in today’s world. Everyone will take sides on everything and truth doesn’t really matter. I thank you for at least wanting to consider all of the options as I think part of the reason why I’m suspicious about this film is because it’s one-sided and it never wants to go after some big questions.

  10. Avatar
    Laura Lukkarinen Reply

    Thank you for writing about what is so evident to anyone who has done their research instead of relying on compketely bias, one-sided media reporting. Michael Jackson has been an easy target for false claims, and the media has been all too eager to paint him as a monster, turning a blind eye to the huge amount of evidence pointing to the opposite direction.

  11. Avatar
    Troy Reply

    Such a balanced article, thank you.

    There isn’t enough of those and too many people jumping on the bandwagon!

  12. Avatar
    Chris Reply

    I agree Leaving Neverland manipulates the truth. Good point that the financial agenda of Safechuck and Robson is missing in the documentary. On the flip side, don’t forget Brandi,Taj and the Jackson family have their own goal and it’s in their best interest to keep Michael innocent as he is still one of the top earning deceased artists.

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    Rasheed Reply

    People really need to keep dissecting, please share this info:

    * That edited/sliced ‘Happy Birthday’ message was recorded within days that Wade and Michael first ever spent any time together (aside from the time they met in Australia) and was filmed 7 months before his Bday

    * James claimed to have owned the Thriller Jacket, it was actually it was given to Dennis Thompson (his clothing designers) and they had it until 2011 when it was auctioned

    * James claims Harrison Ford gave him the whip from the Indiana Jones movie but it was actually given to the Institute of Archeology in 1990 (only 1 was used in the trilogy)

    * James claims Michael called him asking him to testify in 2005 but he was considered a ‘non entity’ in the case months before the trial began. Neither one of them had a say as to if he could testify.

    * James mother states she danced when Michael Jackson died… because?? According to James, he did not speak to anyone about his molestation until 2013

    * Both mothers were laughing and lovingly talking about the time period they spent with Michael.. This is the time they would have been ‘neglecting’ their children, it is unnatural for a mother to lovingly express of the time and reasons she was neglecting her child.

    * They talk about this elaborate grooming process Michael did but say he molested him the first day they were alone.. That’s only hours from day to evening to make Wade comfortable enough to feel ok about something like that? Mind you, they were not US citizens so after the event, they’d be going home to Australia.. That’s VERY risky!

    IN COURT….

    * Wade Robsons emails show he sent himself a link from an anti MJ website that paints Jackson as a pedophile to build his case (why would he need to do that if it’s a personal event?)

    * Emails between Wade and his mother, Wade sends her an article making claims about Michael, she responds “wow, that never happened” and he still used the story in court.

    * Emails between him and his mother show them going over stories and having ‘many versions’

    * Wade was caught lying under oath so bad that the judge stated “Their is no rational juror that could believe his testimony”

    Wade Robson wrote 2 drafts of a ‘tell all’ book, the court ordered Wade to produce both drafts and the story of his abuse changed significantly from one draft to the next

    * When Wade was forced to release his emails, he breached the order claiming it did not exist, than refused to submit, than tried using ‘attorney client privileges’ to prevent the emails to enter the case.. It eventually entered the case!

    * James claims that he should address his abuse after seeing an interview with Wade on TV, however it was Wades attorneys that reached out to James before James made any move about the abuse.

    * The court ordered Wade to present his personal journals to the court and it stated allegations would make him “relatable and relevant” and “it’s time for me to get mine”. When questioned about the quotes he stated he does not know what he meant by his own words.
    * Wade robson claims two contradictory things.. 1. that he did not see anything wrong with the abuse at the time because he felt that he was in a ‘fulfilling sexual relationship’ at 7 years old and that’s why he did not speak out… 2. that Michael would drill & threaten him about if he spoke out and he did not speak out due to fear.

    * James legal briefing states Michael spent thanksgiving with the Safechucks in 1987, Michael was in Australia on the Bad tour and was actually the day Michael Jackson met Wade Rosbson after the Target event.

    * Wade Robson was trying to have his wedding at Neverland and Michael Jacksons Nanny had to tell both Wade and Joy “NO” because the 2005 trial was going on at the time

    * Wade claims that he was at Neverland and saw Michaels children and did not want Michaels kids to live without their dad and that’s how he knew he ‘had’ to testify on Michaels behalf.. The time he visited Neverland was AFTER he testified

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  15. Avatar
    Joquin Reply

    Thanks for this article! I think that documentary was full of lies and holes and anyone that does a bit of research can clearly see that. It’s shameful to see people take advantage of #metoo for money and ruining someone’s name.

    That’s a slap in the face to the real victims…

  16. Avatar
    Glenda Reply

    Dan Reed so u need money Huh .michael Jackson not guilty on all accounts. So these 2 lied under osth what makes u think they r telling the truth now thry need money too oh yeah Let’s lie on a dead msn he cant defend himself but Karma will get u all . no sleep.. No peace…Shame on you Dan Reed Karma Tsunami is comkng.

  17. Pingback: What You Should Know About the New Michael Jackson Documentary | Life Theory

  18. Avatar
    JoM Reply

    I knew it was trash the first night. Overkill and clearly throwing every lie at the wall to see what stick. Also, these guys claimed they were abused at 7 years old. that would mean MJ was abusing them when open his home to Oprah for 90 million people to see inside his home. u think if MJ was a pedo he would do that? NO Plus he was under and FBI investigation and Tom Sneddon investigation still. In that film lies were: (1) The jacket and ring acting. Who keep stuff from someone (not even a family member) of someone who abused them? Abusive couples do not keep stuff from each other. (2) MJ hates women. that is a lie. The woman MJ truly loved was Diana Ross even leaving her in his WILL (look how he behaves around her plus MJ flirted with other women). (3) Jame’s’Mother danced when he died- how can she danced when MJ died-2009- when James claimed he did not know he was abused until 2013? And again, who is going to defend someone who is not even a family member and who lived in a bubble (he was not the guy next door where he can walk or u can walk to his home or had to deal with him) for 25 years even under oath TWICE? NEVER. These guys promoted this trash like they were models for Calvin Klein smiling and smirking while talking about abuse. Give me a break.

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    Mara knol_schenk Reply

    Ik hoop dat dit zo snel mogelijk wereldwijd bekend gemaakt word ik vind dit verschrikkelijk ook voor familie en kinderen.ik ben hier zo verdrietig over.ik wacht elke dag op goed nieuws dat het goed kom.Michael is ONSCHULDIG.

    [EDIT] English Translation (via Google Translate):
    I hope this will be announced worldwide as soon as possible. I think this is also terrible for family and children. I am so sad about this. I wait for good news every day that it will be okay. Michael is INNOCENT.

  21. Avatar
    Mara Reply

    Ik hoop dat dit gouw wereldwijd bekend word ik vind dit zo erg ook voor zijn fam. en kinderen.Michael was een goede man.

  22. Avatar
    Anna Reply

    Thank you. Wonderful article.I salute professional journalist!

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