In the upcoming HBO documentary Leaving Neverland, Wade Robson and James Safechuck go into devastating detail about the sexual abuse they say they experienced at the hands of Michael Jackson when they were children. But in an interview for a special that is scheduled to air after the documentary, Oprah pressed director Dan Reed on something that isn’t a focus of the film: Who in the pop star’s inner circle enabled the abuse or turned a blind eye?
“How many people knew?” Oprah asked during the taping Wednesday at TheTimesCenter in New York City.
The audience was filled with more than 100 survivors of childhood sexual abuse and their supporters who had recently finished viewing the four-hour-long film.
“I think a great many people knew,” Reed responded.
Robson, who was 7 years old when he says Jackson initiated their sexual relationship, told Oprah it was “very rare that Michael was alone” and that the star “had a machine around him at all times.”
“Secretaries organized most of my phone calls and would organize cars to pick me up to bring me to him,” Robson said. “Security guards were always there outside of the door.”
Oprah recalled a point made in the documentary, that oftentimes parents would sleep in separate rooms and sometimes separate floors while their children spent the night with Jackson.
“Yes, in the film we see that the mothers are being moved further and further away. First, you’re next door. Now there’s not a suite on this floor,” Oprah said. “I mean, somebody has to be arranging that.”
Robson said he doesn’t believe Jackson, who died in 2009, “could have abused at the level that he did” without people around him being complicit. When he was alive, Jackson denied allegations of sexual abuse against him.
Robson and Safechuck previously defended Jackson when he was accused of sexual misconduct with a minor in 1993 — a case that was settled out of court. In 2005, when Jackson was on trial for sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy, Robson testified on Jackson’s behalf; Safechuck, who said Jackson first began abusing him when he was 10, declined to testify. Jackson was acquitted of all charges, and Oprah asked if the men thought about the boys they testified against, even though, as the host said, “a whole lot of other people looked the other way.”
“Well, them looking the other way and us looking the other way, I think are two different things,” Safechuck said.
“We were trained and groomed for it,” he said. “So we’re approaching it differently. Not comparable.”
Robson echoed a similar point, saying he couldn’t think about anyone else because he was “trained to be a soldier for Michael and protect him.”
“I wish it could’ve been different. I wish that I could’ve been ready when I was 11,” he said. “I wish that I could’ve been ready when I was 22, to give some validation, to give some sense of justice, to be able to play a role in stopping Michael at that point. I wish that could’ve been the case, but it just couldn’t.”
Earlier this week, four members of Jackson’s family defended the singer on CBS This Morning in an interview with Gayle King.
“It’s always been about money,” said Taj Jackson, Jackson’s nephew, when asked why he believed Robson and Safechuck decided to come forward now with the allegations. “I hate to say it. When it’s my uncle, it’s almost like they see a blank check.”
Howard Weitzman, the Jackson estate lawyer, sent a 10-page letter to HBO in early February condemning the documentary, calling it “an admittedly one-sided, sensationalist program.”
Both Robson and Safechuck deny monetary gain as a motive, and Reed defended them against people who repeat that claim.
“Going to court is a well-established way of holding an entity to account,” he said. “What Wade and James are alleging is that a whole lot of people working for Michael Jackson looked the other way while they were being raped and why should those people not be held to account?”
Part 1 of Leaving Neverland premieres Sunday, March 3 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO, and Part 2 airs the next night, March 4, at the same time. Immediately following Part 2, Oprah’s one-hour special, Oprah Winfrey Presents: After Neverland, airs simultaneously on HBO and OWN at 10 p.m. ET.
Adam B. Vary contributed reporting to this story.