The first part of a horrifying Michael Jackson documentary called “Leaving Neverland” aired on HBO last night. It details, quite graphically, Jackson’s alleged abuse of Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck. The most unsettling parts of the film are the lurid — and, we should note, extremely similar — descriptions of child rape that both men offer, but the most shocking part, especially for someone like myself who didn’t follow Jackson’s career very closely, was all the ample and extensive footage of Jackson publicly grooming his victims.
Jackson gallivanted around in public with young male companions for years. After several months, one “friend” would be swapped for another. Never adults, never females. Only prepubescent boys. He may as well have worn a sign announcing: “I abuse children.” Yet he escaped justice and, for the most part, public scrutiny. Jackson was certainly never a pariah like Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein. If anything, his predation was treated like a punchline. But there was nothing remotely funny about it, as the documentary makes painfully clear.
Of course, Jackson’s infamously cultish and delusional defenders are not going to let anyone rip the halo from their man’s head. They have gone into overdrive, nearly shutting down the film’s debut at Sundance a few months ago. While it was airing last night, legions of his fans trolled Twitter to pounce on anyone who expressed shock or disgust at what they saw. I ran afoul of the MJ zombie hoard myself. I can report that they are as ridiculous and vicious as advertised.
The four most common arguments in defense of Jackson appear to be: (1) These are just allegations; (2) He was “proven innocent” in court; (3) He didn’t molest Macaulay Culkin; and (4) He was just a child himself.
Of these arguments, only the first is coherent. But we’ll get back to that in a moment.
The second argument reveals a stunning ignorance about the basic function of our court system. Nobody is ever “proven innocent” in court. You can be acquitted if the jury is not convinced by the evidence brought against you, but this by no means translates to “proven innocent” — especially when the defendant is a world-famous, beloved, mega wealthy celebrity with an army of top lawyers at his disposal. Someone in that position can literally get away with murder. Just ask O.J. Simpson.
The third and fourth arguments are so humiliatingly stupid that I am embarrassed to repeat them. You may, if you like, congratulate Jackson for managing to not molest a few of the boys he surrounded himself with, but that does not prove his accusers wrong. As for Jackson being “just a child” — he wasn’t. He was a grown man — and not an intellectually stunted, innocent simpleton like Forrest Gump or Lennie Small, but (I’m told) an artist, a genius, and the head of a billion dollar empire. He may have been eccentric, but he knew what he was doing.
All that is left is the claim that these are mere “allegations,” which is technically true. But the allegations are just one part of the puzzle. The other pieces are all proven and undisputed facts. They are:
(1) Jackson sought and befriended prepubescent boys. He took these boys as companions and traveled the world with them. Every so often, he would find a new young male companion and move on from the old one. This fact is not disputed.
(2) Jackson lavished the boys’ families with gifts and money. This fact is not disputed.
(3) Jackson invited the boys to his home, which was filled with toys and candy. This fact is not disputed.
(4) Jackson invited the boys into his bed. This fact is not disputed.
(5) Jackson had a stash of bondage porn by the bed. This fact is not disputed.
(6) The bed was in a room, behind a locked door, at the end of a hallway equipped with alarm systems that would alert him when someone was approaching. This fact is not disputed.
Which leads us to the last piece of the puzzle:
(7) Five of the boys who shared a bed with Jackson later accused him of abuse. This fact, also, is not disputed.
It’s a cumulative case. If all Jackson ever did was give gifts to random families, I’d say he was a philanthropist. If all he did was fill his home with toys, I’d say he was just kind of weird. But each piece fits with the next piece, and the picture gets darker and more sadistic as you continue to connect them.
On balance, the evidence against Jackson ends up being so strong that even if no one had ever accused him, we could still say with near certainty that he was a predator. Facts (1) through (6) are compelling enough on their own. Fact (7) is just confirmation. Indeed, on no planet, in no universe, is there any good reason for a man to seek out young boys and share his bed with them. If an adult man is inviting boys over for slumber parties, the chances that he is not a pedophile could not be greater than, say, .01 percent. If that same man is then accused, and then accused again, then again, and again, and again, the chance can no longer be called a “chance” at all. If something walks like a duck, flies like a duck, looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s still technically possible that it isn’t a duck. It could be a tiny elf in a very realistic duck aircraft. But a rational person cannot take such remote and fanciful possibilities into consideration when drawing conclusions about ducks. Or pedophiles.
By the way, everybody actually agrees with the fundamental point here. If a guy named Bob Smith or Mike Jones was in the habit of “befriending” seven-year-old boys and sharing his bed with them, nobody would bother pretending that there might be a non-horrific explanation for his behavior. Only Jackson gets that benefit of the doubt from some people, even now, because he could sing well and dance well. I concede that he was very gifted in both areas. But he was also a godforsaken monster, and no dance routine can mitigate that.