A few months after the King of Pop faced his first public sexual abuse allegations, Vanity Fair reporter Maureen Orth wrote in January 1994 that “even by Hollywood standards, Michael Jackson’s weirdness is legendary, but he has always been protected by the armor of his celebrity.”
“Almost no one, especially those C.E.O.’s and moguls who make millions off him, has ever really questioned his motives: why this reclusive man-child with no known history of romantic relationships prefers to live a fantasy life in the company of children,” Orth wrote of Jackson, who later privately settled with accuser Jordan Chandler.
At its core, HBO’s “Leaving Neverland” is a devastating and searing excavation of how sexual abuse can tear apart the lives of accusers and their families. But particularly in its second half, airing Monday night, the documentary hints at how Jackson’s otherworldly superstardom enabled his alleged abuse to evade major scrutiny from the media during much of his career.
As with many sexual misconduct cases, media outlets faced the challenge of corroborating the allegations against Jackson. According to Orth’s 1994 article, some saw them as too salacious to cover.
Orth went on to detail how people often took their stories about Jackson to the tabloids because they would get paid by “the profitable and ever growing celebrity-gossip mill.” Reputable outlets such as The New York Times and Los Angeles Times didn’t extensively cover Chandler’s allegations in 1993, and when they did, they instead focused on the response from Jackson’s team, who claimed the singer had been extorted.
“A lot of people simply did not want to believe that Michael Jackson could molest little boys, and the tepid Establishment-press coverage reflected the public’s repugnance and ambivalence,” Orth wrote.
Jackson, who died in 2009, was the product of a machine of celebrity mythmaking, in which reporters, fans, and the people in his orbit ― including “Leaving Neverland” accusers Wade Robson and James Safechuck and their families ― became sometimes unwitting participants.
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