Reconsidering Michael Jackson
Before we get started. We're talking about the new Michael Jackson documentary on today's show. That means we're gonna be talking about child sexual abuse. Nothing graphic. But I wanted to give you a heads up. One of the most popular thing. Seth Stevenson ever wrote for slate or these dispatches from the Michael Jackson trial. So when the trial was announced there was a lot of media interest, of course, incoming trial. Everyone thought it was going to be a circus. And who knows what's going to happen to Nubia MacAulay Culkin is going to testify with an umbrella a white suit, but jeweled vest spats, a wave the hundreds of fans, Michael Jackson came to court determined to be found not guilty and more. We're going to get this behind the scenes peek at wacko Jacko. And all you know, what life is like in never land. And it was approaches entertainment. You know, I'll tell you run just when you think you've seen everything with regard to Michael Jackson. He pulls another stunt shows up in his pajama bottoms in court. I'm not quite sure how well that went over with the judge. And and that's how I pitched it. That's late. My editor's like I want to go out here and cover this trial because it's going to be hugely entertaining. And so I went out to Santa Maria where the courthouse was and the Neverland district in two thousand five I stayed in like, the one these hotel, you know, in this small town. Eight of the Jack in the box. And I went to the trial every day, and I would walk through these throngs of Michael Jackson fans outside the courthouse. And then I covered it. And I was in the room every day, you know, sitting about ten feet away from Michael Jackson at the defense stable, and it was a circus in some sense because there was so much media there, and everyone was doing their hits on TV and the fans are chanting things and waving signs and Michael Jackson every time he shows up. It's a huge event. And he's wearing these crazy close. I mean, and so I wrote about it like it was a circus. And I wrote about it in a light hearted way in crack jokes and talked about what he was wearing. And I just continue to do that. And then when he was found not guilty. It allowed people to treat it like entertainment. this trial was about a horrific crime. Michael Jackson was accused of molesting a thirteen year old boy holding his family hostage. But sets updates were an especially inciteful version of a lot of the coverage back then full of humor. He introduced readers to super fans outside the courthouse and wisecracking journalists inside it he always started by revealing what Michael's armband looked like that day. Portly mean? And how young I was done by think partly the times, and and partly the facts on the ground. I I don't know that I would breathing it now, I'm like, what are you doing cracking jokes? Like, what are you doing? Readers love this by this was very successful. This was like very cliquey clicky cliquey and lots and lots of emails about how great it was when I took a pause people like go back. Go back. Really now. I'm like, wow. That's what people wanted HBO's new documentary leaving Neverland is going to test. Whether this is the story people still want, it's filled with detailed allegations of more abuse. Okay. So when you heard that this documentary leaving Neverland was coming out. What did you think when I heard it was Wade Robson's specifically talking about being molested by Michael Jackson? The first thing I thought about was sitting in a courtroom in watching. Wade Robson say to me and many other people that he had not been listed by Michael Jackson. He seemed very believable when he denied any. This has happened had happened when I watched in the courtroom so just eager to see his manner and see you this guy was who I saw when he was twenty two. And now, you know, he's in his late thirties. I think was there a moment where you're like, I believe what he's saying watching documentary. Absolutely. And it didn't take long. It didn't take long the way he talked the way he described things was extremely believable and credible. And then watching the James save Chuck the other person who's in the documentary corroborate a lot of the same stories that the same things that Michael Jackson had done very believably yard believe him. One hundred percent. I have no doubt that he's telling the truth to me. It was all the details. It was like the fact that James Chuck takes out a box of jewelry that Michael Jackson gave him. And it was each of them talking about all of the places the abuse happened like this room had lock. Wchs and this room had bells. And this is how we practiced not get caught the that James to save taking out the box of jewelry and his hands shaking as he displayed each ring that Michael Jackson seemingly gave him for sex acts. That was the most powerful moment in documentary for me and just made it utterly credible. Utterly believable. What he was saying. This is the point where I should tell you that the Jackson family says the men in this documentary are lying. They say, this is a posthumous character assassination. But to me the trick of this film is that it neatly separates. Michael Jackson, the musician from Michael Jackson, the man and forces, you to grapple with the plainly creepy facts of his personal life. I mean, it struck me in the documentary. There's almost none of his music it's extensively scored with strings. I think you know, sort of classical music but seeing him divorced from his music sort of allows you to. Separate your vision of him in a certain way. Like, that's how I felt where you could see him apart from everything he carries with him. Yeah. I mean, I don't think that documentaries really about Michael Jackson. I think that documentary was about what it's like to be a survivor of abuse. What child molestation does to someone even ten twenty years later, and how it affects them and how it continues to evolve within them and how they deal with it. I think that's really what it was about. And Michael Jackson just happened to be the monstrous figure in the background. I wanted to talk to Seth about the leaving Neverland documentary because he's been covering Michael Jackson for years trying to peel back the layers of artifice and see the real man underneath. And if you're watching this film, you probably want to talk about it with someone. I know I did I'm Mary Harris. You're listening to what next stay with us. Getting healthier. It's all about starting a new habit and sticking with it. Unfortunately, that is really hard. And that's where this new multi vitamin company comes in ritual ritual delivers vitamins right to your door, and they're all in their purest cleanest forms. 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He was at the peak of his creativity. Onions at the peak of his success when everybody wanted to meet Michael or be with Michael. He's already larger than life. And then he likes you. He helped me tremendously helped me with my career. He helped me with my creativity with all of those sorts of things. And he also sexually abused me. For seven years. Over the next four hours. These two men tell you the Jackson groomed them to be his sexual companions and that he groomed. Their families to be accomplices. He shower their mothers with gifts and financial favors whenever they would bring their children to him that is secluded sprawling ranch. Neverland the documentary is at once momentous and narrow momentous because it features hours of tape from two men who spent years defending Jackson narrow because there is no response from the Michael Jackson estate. No defense, obviously from the late Jackson himself. A no interviews with the people who already accused Jackson in court. One of the things that stood out to me about this documentary watching it is how surrounded Michael Jackson was by children and their there's like video after video whether it's him leading individual children around Neverland or whether it's huge audiences of children. Whether it's children on stage with him and how they were like this theme in his art. But then also how this was in plain sight for a long time like what was going on with him. How many times has he accused of child abuse? So there's the Jordi Chandler nineteen Ninety-three accusation, which was settled reportedly he reports up to twenty five million dollars settlement for that. And then the governor visa accusation, which resulted in the two thousand five trial that I covered. But I mean, what you're saying is like this was out there. There was one kid. There was another kid. And then there was this trial that you covered and both of the men in this documentary were deeply in. Involved with defending Michael Jackson whenever these charges came up. Oh, yeah. I mean, James saved Chuck testified in the reportedly testified in the nineteen Ninety-three the Jordi Chandler accusation that was settled for millions of dollars, and he testified on Michael Jackson's behalf. Wade Robson testified then Wade Robson came back and the two thousand five trial took the stand and testified and on behalf of Michael Jackson and said nothing happened. Can you take me to the day when Wade Robson came in? And because it was the you said he was the first witness you'd spent how long listening to the prosecution's case. I was there the day that the prosecution rested its case, and it was a long case with like day after day of chain of custody evidence fingerprinting, and and and just, you know, a forensic stuff. They finally rest, and they don't have hard evidence. They have a credible accuser. They have a lot of smoke. They have this a maid who testified that she see Michael Jackson shower with Wade Robson. But a lot of it is circumstantial, but there's you know, there's. A ton of circumstantial evidence a ton of suggestion that untoward things were happening. So now, it's the defense's turn they put up their very first witness. And it's Wade Robson, and he comes into the courtroom with his fiancee on his arm. They're both extremely, you know, attractive put together. Well dressed people. Well, groomed. And he comes to the resume like he's instincts choreographer is already sort of a mini celebrity, right? He's already like the guy when Justin Timberlake sings and Crimea river, you know, about Britney Spears, like, it's Wade Robson Lee Robson's, the guy I already know. I heard it from him. That's Wade Robson. He's already pretty famous. He's been doing these massive, you know, dance choreography days or so he's got a career, and you have to think as he takes the stand with, you know, with his attractive fiance and his is booming career. Well, this guy seems pretty well adjusted. Right. It seems like this guy wasn't derail by some horrible thing that happened to him. He seems like he's doing great takes the stand. He's very confident. He's very at ease. He's cracking jokes. He's funny, and you have to think well is this the guy who's the survey? Ever of some sort of like life changing trauma doesn't seem that way. And then he, you know, asserts with utter conviction that nothing happened. I was sold. I was sold that nothing happened him. I I one hundred percent believed him in that moment. Watching him. I could see I could look him in the I was sitting four rows back looking at him on the witness stand. And I I bought it. I bought it. And I you know, I was still agnostic on Michael Jackson's guilt. You know, it could be that. Michael Jackson, didn't molest Wade Robson. But Michael Jackson did a molest, you know, the accuser in the trial or molest somebody else, but I was sold at the end of that testimony that Michael Jackson had not molested. Wade robson. It's not just that. Wade Robson who's half of this documentary leaving Neverland it's not just that he testified. It's that his mother testified is that his sister testified, and you are in the courtroom watching them do this. And at the time, you said how believable they all were. They were. Extremely believable. They seem like this happy well adjusted normal, family and joy Robson. Wade Robson's mom, and she took the stand. And instead, of course, Michael Jackson would never do anything like this and Neverland is such a happy place. I love playing with the chimpanzees there. And then you watch the documentary and you see Michael Jackson, so strategically targeted these families the kids, and the parents and how he sort of bought off the parents with financial stuff, you know, he he bought a car for James safe. I bought a house for James. Save Chuck's mom. He bought a car for joy Robson. Wade Robson's mom in the trial the prosecution brought the fact that Michael Jackson helped joy Robson with her immigration status coming from Australia, and she talks documentary rather they were living this life of luxury being flown around by Michael Jackson and staying and really nice hotel suites. And she seemed to love it. She seemed to want to be a part of that. And then she takes the stand in two thousand five joy Robson does. And she accuses Jordan Chandler's mom this kid who. Had settled in nineteen Ninety-three. She uses his mom of being a gold digger and says, why would see her around at Neverland, and the quit was I thought she wanted to be mistress of nether land. And she was trying to use Michael I thought she was a gold digger. And then you watched this documentary, and you see all the financial benefits joy Robson was reaping from having her son the in Michael Jackson's life, the other thing I remember the trial that they brought up with regard to joy Robson was one night. Michael Jackson, called very late and Astra to bring over Wade Robson. Enjoy Robson brought weighed over at one thirty in the morning thirty in the morning, and they went straight to Michael Jackson's bedroom together. And and again, I don't want to question her when she says that she didn't. She thought nothing was happening. But what do you know, what's going through your head? When you it's like a booty call. I mean, you what what goes through your head? When you bring your kid over to a grown man's house at one in the morning and deliver them right into his bedroom. Well, you're you're putting your finger on something really important because you're talking about the money. I think a lot of people are talking about the fame and sort of the. Spell. That's casper the fame, and I want to talk about that too. I think that's important. But it seems to me that the original sin. If there is one here is the commodification of children, whether you're talking about Michael Jackson himself, or whether you're talking about the children now men in this documentary, there there was this one moment that really stood out to me where it was Jimmy safe trucks. Mom, this is one of the men who is coming forward and accusing Michael Jackson of abuse. And she talks about how he wanted to be an actor a model, and you know, he was so cute, and they took him to an agent or someone and she looked at this small boy, who's probably like seven and said he's money in the Bank. I'll take him and to me that was like the beginning of it all where you know, whether you were the Jackson Five and the Jackson family or whether you were Jimmy safe, Chuck's family. When you start equating your child with something transactional in that way. Way it opens the door to all kinds of abuse. Yeah. And you and you could see in the documentary joy Robson sees her son, wait as like a ticket to a new life. She uses Wade's relationship with Michael Jackson. Wade's talented dancing as a way to get out of Australia to come to Los Angeles. As a way to get out of her family to sort of break up her marriage and escape from a marriage that she didn't seem to be usually thrilled about and you can see this like excitement inter is about this new life. Her son is a ticket to a new life. And she's going to ride it for all it's worth. And she just continues to do that. It's so transactional with Michael Jackson. I mean, it's like, yeah. I looked back at all of your dispatches from when you were watching this trial, and they give really fascinating picture for what was happening there. And there's a lot of things from your dispatches that are echoed back. You know years later in this documentary. You said the prosecution is painting this disturbing pick. Mr. in which moms jockey for status at Neverland by offering up their little boys. Michael's fickle with his attention. He moves onto a new special friend every year or so that's like directly from the documentary. The moms now saying that this is what happened they noticed every year. There would be a new boy the portrait that the prosecution is painting is that these moms are pimping out their sons to Michael Jackson for their own benefit. And when you see the Documenta, that's exactly what they do. I mean, that's exactly how it worked out. They, you know, delivering your kid at one AM to Michael Jackson because you know, if you do that you'll continue to reap the benefits of Michael Jackson's favor, you know, as long as you're in Michael Jackson's good graces, your life is going to be radically different than it would be. If you were just like, you know, a a woman living Austrailia, you know, working regular job. So and and the attachment that tether to Michael Jackson is the kid. And if the kids not there when Michael Jackson doesn't care about joy Robson what, you know, house joy Robson going to continue living this. Pretty lifestyle without the kid being in the mix. So I I, you know, all of the motivations for her are just terrible. And then she indulges them all. But so much of it so much of this was known during that trial. You know, reading back on what you've written. You talk about how Debbie Rowe Michael Jackson's ex wife, she didn't testify to this affect. But the police testified that she told them Michael Jackson was a sociopath and he used children as tools or saw them as commodities. It just seems like the evidence was all there. And part of what's heartbreaking about watching the documentary is realizing that, you know, fifteen years ago, this was out there, basically raid Robson wasn't out there. But a lot of this was out there. There was all of this very fishy evidence that certainly a reasonable person could say what's obvious that Michael Jackson is a pedophile. It's very clear at the same time in the two thousand five trial. I really think the prosecution botched the case I mean, they failed to prove that that particular accuser had been most they had his testimony but other than that they didn't. Have any hard evidence. And the defense's case, this is someone gouging. Michael Jackson for money. These are people making false accusations against us a rich person because they're trying to get money out of it. Well, you know, there were a lot of ways they could bolster that case the previous accuser had settled for many many millions of dollars this accuser's family governor visas family in the two thousand five trial. They had previously built money out of other celebrities, but the most important evidence in that trial is Wade Robson taking the stand and saying this never happened. I was never molested Michael Jackson. It was completely innocent. I slept in his bed night after night and nothing happened. Oh, yeah. The made at Neverland testified that she saw me in the shower with Michael Jackson that never happened. I never took a shower with Michael Jackson, and then MacAulay Culkin also took the stand and said nothing happened. Even though you know, I've been around Michael Jackson. Brett Barnes this third person. This third kid who'd been a little kid around. Michael Jackson for a long time and slept in his bed. Said nothing happened. Macaulay culkin. Fred Barnes, actually, still tonight out of anything happen. And that was why Michael Jackson was found not guilty. Well, I keep thinking about the moment. We're in now. And how we talk a lot about believing victims, and which we should we should believe victims. But then the question becomes when do we believe victims? And is that enough because Wade Robson seems to have been a victim. And you believed him the first time when he said Michael Jackson didn't molest him. And now you believe in the second time when he says he did. And it shows me how complicated that idea is. And how imperfect frankly yet in the first time he was under oath wrote in some ways that should be more believable. He was under penalty of perjury is an illegal setting when he lied that time. I think victimhood is is very complicated state to be in and causes you to do the haven all sorts of ways that might be unpredictable, and it is complicated. But it's it's one of these things where it's like. Who do we believe when do we believe them when is it enough? And when is it enough to clear out the smoke, you raise this really interesting point, which is true. Which is the Jackson estate is not part of this. This is really a four hour not monologue. But almost from the victims, and as a journalist, I've really complicated feelings about that. Because I do think it's unfair to not get response from the people you're accusing of something. But at the same time having watched the documentary, I can also see how it's the only way to elevate their voices as loud as Michael Jackson's voice. It's not journalistic. But at the same time, I wonder if people would see the victims if it weren't for something like this. I mean, the truth is Wade Robson came out years ago and said Michael Jackson molested me. No one really paid attention. He I mean, I remember seeing that at the time, and because I'd seen him testify the other way, I was like what is this about? I can't really tell what this is about. And it seems barely make a ripple. And and nobody changed really the way they thought about Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson didn't get stopped playing on the radio. People didn't stop playing them at their weddings. Nothing happened. I do think this documentary will have much more of an impact because you hear his story at length an isolated. I mean, the state says that Wade Robson is after money both of these men are well, and there's there's, you know, a plausible case to be made at there's there's there's enough evidence of people seeking money for Michael Jackson around these accusations. Right that it is possible to make that argument gets back to the idea of money, and how it just complicates the narrative. These folks maybe after money, but this may also be true. The Doug Marie leaves out a lot. It leaves out a lot. Of the things that happened at the trial. It's somewhat misleading at one point at six. It seems to imply the MacAulay Culkin testified before Wade Robson. And then Wade Robson came on the stand after MacAulay Culkin. But that's not what happened. I was there. The the prosecution rested the defense called it's first witness its first witness was Wade Robson to take the stand. He was the key witness. He was the all star witness for the defense. And I part of me wondered why did the documentary tied to imply that MacAulay Kokin and taking the stand. I and Wade Robson only came after was that to try to sort of soften what he'd done at the trial. He also in the in the documentary. They don't really have in grabble very much with his false testimony at that trial. There's a sentence where he says I wish I'd been in a place where I've been able to give Justice together in our visa the accuser. And all I thought was well, gosh, you know, governor visa might have deserved a little more than that. And I I'm not sure in the documentary for my taste. There was enough rap lane with that. Have you been able to listen to any Michael Jackson music since watching the documentary? I've heard it at grocery stores, and it makes me really uncomfortable. And all I can think is are we gonna keep listening to this now or how are we going to keep listening to this? And I don't I didn't listen to it in the same way. I mean, I love his music. I love so much of his music. It's such great news. And and I certainly can't enjoy it in the same way right now says Stevenson, thank you so much for taking the time to walk me through all this. Thank you. Seth Stevenson is a longtime sleep contributor. That's the show. What next is hosted by me, Mary Harris and produced by Mary Wilson, Jason de Leon and Anna Martin we are back after a teeny tiny little to daybreak. If you want to know what we were doing during that break head over to our Instagram. That's what next pod you can help grow the show by leaving us a rating or view wherever you get your podcasts. We really read these things big thanks to the listener. Who said I was in inciteful interviewer and rather funny at times too than me my day talk to you tomorrow.