‘After Neverland’: Inside the taping of Oprah Winfrey’s look at Michael Jackson abuse allegations

Oprah Winfrey knows that she’s courting controversy with her new special “After Neverland,” an interview with two men who have accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them when they were young boys.

“We’re all gonna get it,” the talk show host predicted during a taping of the broadcast on Wednesday at the New York Times Center. But, Winfrey argued, the issue of sexual abuse is too important to remain silent no matter how much her program angers the “gloved one’s” fans.

“This movie transcends Michael Jackson,” she told an audience of more than 100 abuse survivors. “It allows us to see societal corruption.”

“Beware of people who just want to be around your children,” Winfrey added at another point at an hour-and-a-half long taping.

The program will air on March 4 after the second and final episode of the upcoming HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland,” a four-hour investigation into the claims of Jackson’s accusers, Wade Robson and James Safechuck. Winfrey was joined on stage by the two men and by director Dan Reed for a talk that mixed moments of uplift with tears, stories of horror, and a series of final cathartic hugs.

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American singer Michael Jackson poses with his parents, Katherine and Joe Jackson at the Golden Globe Awards, 1973. (Photo by Fotos International/Getty Images)
CIRCA 1970: R&B quintet 'Jackson 5' pose for a portrait with their youngest brother Randy and father Joe. Clockwise from bottom left: Jackie Jackson, Tito Jackson, Marlon Jackson, Jermaine Jackson, Michael Jackson, Randy Jackson, Joe Jackson (front). (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - 1972: R&B quintet 'Jackson Five' pose for a portrait with their father and younger brother Randy who would later join the band to replace Jermaine in 1972 in Los Angeles, California. (L-R) Tito Jackson, Joseph 'Joe' Jackson, Michael Jackson, Randy Jackson, Jermaine Jackson, Jackie Jackson, Marlon Jackson. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - FEBRUARY 4: Pop singer and actress Janet Jackson attends the R&B Awards with her father Joe Jackson and sister LaToya Jackson (left) on February 4, 1983 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Joe Jackson during Jackson Family Sightings - Circa 1984, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
CHICAGO - OCTOBER 12: Reverend Al Sharpton and Joe Jackson poses for photos during The Jacksons 'Victory Tour' pre-party at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chicago, Illinois in October 12, 1984. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)
In a hotel room during the 1984 Democratic National Convention, American sibling pop singers Marlon (left) and Michael Jackson (second right), along with their father Joe (right), attend a press conference with politician Jesse Jackson, San Francisco, California, mid July, 1984. Jesse Jackson was a hopeful for the Democratic presidential nomination, though he lost to Walter Mondale.. (Photo by Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 30: Joe Jackson and Katherine Jackson attend Fifth Annual American Cinema Awards on January 30, 1988 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 8: Joe Jackson and Jackie Jackson attend BMI Michael Jackson Awards Gala on May 8, 1990 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Katherine Jackson and Joe Jackson (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Katherine Jackson et son mari Joe, les parents de Michael Jackson, lors d'une conf�ence de presse �Paris en novembre 1991, France. (Photo by ARNAL/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Joe Jackson during 'MTV Icon: Janet Jackson' at Sony Studios in Culver City, California, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Joe Jackson & Chrystal Marvin during Downtown Los Angeles Gold's Gym Grand Opening at Gold's Gym & Body Spa in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by J. P. Aussenard/WireImage)
SANTA MARIA, UNITED STATES: US pop star Michael Jackson(C) arrives with his father Joe Jackson (R), lawyer Brian Oxman (L) and members of his personal security detail, 15 March 2005 at Santa Barbara County Courthouse in Santa Maria, California, for another day of testimony in his child molestation trial. Jackson's hard-hitting lawyer Thomas Mesereau, Jr seemed set to pursue 15 March his relentless attack on the credibility of the boy who claims he was molested by the star he once saw as a father figure. Mesereau was certain to capitalize on the massive blow he dealt the prosecution when he got Jackson's now 15-year-old accuser to admit he once told his school administrator the entertainer had never improperly touched him. AFP PHOTO/ POOL / Damian Dovarganes (Photo credit should read DAMIAN DOVORGANES/AFP/Getty Images)
SANTA MARIA, CA - FEBRUARY 16: Joe Jackson, the father of pop singer Michael Jackson, leaves the Marian Medical Center after a visit with his son, who is being treated for the flu February 16, 2005 in Santa Maria, California. Judge Rodney Melville has delayed the singer's child molestation trial until February 22. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)
SANTA MARIA, CA - MARCH 7: Singer Michael Jackson (R) and his father, Joe Jackson, gesture to supporters following proceedings at the Santa Maria Superior Court during the second week of the trial March 7, 2005 in Santa Maria, California. Michael Jackson is charged in a 10-count indictment with molesting a boy, plying him with liquor and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. He has pleaded innocent. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)
SANTA MARIA, UNITED STATES: US pop star Michael Jackson(R) arrives with his father Joe Jackson(L) at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse in Santa Maria, California, 14 March 2005 for his child molestation trial. Jackson's lead lawyer Thomas Mesereau is due to resume his tough cross-examination of the confident 15-year-old boy who claims the singer abused him two years ago. AFP PHOTO/ POOL / Carlo Allegri (Photo credit should read CARLO ALLEGRI/AFP/Getty Images)
Joseph Joe Jackson Feiert Seinen 76. Geburtstag Im Estrel Hotel In Berlin . (Photo by Franziska Krug/Getty Images)
Joe Jackson during Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo Las Vegas Premiere - After Party at The Palms Hotel and Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada, United States. (Photo by Denise Truscello/WireImage)
Joe Jackson during Radio One's 25th Anniversary Awards Dinner Gala at JW Marriot in Washington, DC, United States. (Photo by Shareif Ziyadat/FilmMagic)
LAS VEGAS - MAY 30: Joe Jackson and Rutt celebrate LaToya Jackson's birthday at Prive Las Vegas on May 30, 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Denise Truscello/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 03: In this handout photo provided by Harrison Funk/The Jackson Family, Katherine Jackson and Joe Jackson attend Michael Jackson's funeral service held at Glendale Forest Lawn Memorial Park on September 3, 2009 in Glendale, California. Jackson, 50, the king of pop, died at UCLA Medical Center after going into cardiac arrest at his rented home on June 25, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harrison Funk/The Jackson Family via Getty Images)
Joe Jackson attends the Brenden Celebrity Suites at The Palms Casino Resort on August 29, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 24: Joe Jackson speaks to members of the media after receiving an award at the National Action Network headquarters on October 24, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 23: Katherine Jackson (L) and Joe Jackson leave the preliminary hearing for Dr. Conrad Murrary at the Los Angeles courthouse on August 23, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PR - MAY 16: Joe Jackson in Press Conference announces 'Michael Jackson Forever King Of Pop' on May 16, 2012 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by GV Cruz/WireImage)
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 24: Joe Jackson attends the Premiere of 'Michael Kohlhaas' at The 66th Annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 24, 2013 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Danny Martindale/WireImage)
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 23: Joe jackson attends the 'Clouds Of Sils Maria' Premiere at the 67th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 23, 2014 in Cannes, France. (Photo by George Pimentel/WireImage)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - JULY 26: Joe Jackson (L) poses for his birthday celebration at 'Boujis' on July 26, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Robert Marquardt/GC Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 05: Joe Jackson attends the 2017 Soul Train Awards, presented by BET, at the Orleans Arena on November 5, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images for BET)
Talent manager Joe Jackson attends the Elton John AIDS Foundation 26th Annual Academy Awards Viewing Party on March 4, 2018 at West Hollywood Park, California. / AFP PHOTO / TARA ZIEMBA (Photo credit should read TARA ZIEMBA/AFP/Getty Images)
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Winfrey made it clear that she finds the men’s allegations credible, but the Jackson estate has pushed back aggressively against Robson and Safechuck, dismissing them as “opportunists” and “perjurers.” Before going public with his abuse claims in 2013, Robson was one of Jackson’s most vociferous defenders, denying the pop star had ever behaved inappropriately and serving as a key defense witness in Jackson’s 2005 child molestation trial. Safechuck testified that he was never abused in the singer’s 1993 molestation trial, but declined to testify on his behalf in the follow-up trial. Both men say they were groomed by Jackson to stay quiet — he repeatedly told them that their lives would be ruined if they broke their silence.

“He told me it was love,” said Robson. “He told me God brought us together.”

Jackson’s supporters say Robson and Safechuck are trying to get rich. They cite as evidence the fact that the men’s lawsuits seeking damages from the estate were dismissed because of statutes of limitations issues. They denied to Winfrey that they were seeking financial gain, with Reed adding that the men are not being compensated for their involvement in the documentary. Reed also addressed criticism that his film is one-sided and fails to include interviews with friends and colleagues of Jackson.

“It’s not about Jackson,” he said. “It’s about what happened to Wade and James.”

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Michael Jackson's mother Katherine Jackson
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 03: Michael Jackson's mother Katherine Jackson appears at Michael Jackson Fan Fest prior to the Las Vegas premiere of Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour by Cirque du Soleil at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino December 3, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images for Cirque du Soleil)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 30: (L-R) Judge Paula Abdul and Michael Jackson's mother Katherine Jackson in the audience at FOX's 'The X Factor' Top 7 Live Performance Show on November 30, 2011 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Ray Mickshaw/FOX via Getty Images)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 30: (L-R) Michael Jackson's mother Katherine Jackson and judge Paula Abdul in the audience at FOX's 'The X Factor' Top 7 Live Performance Show on November 30, 2011 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Ray Mickshaw/FOX via Getty Images)
The late Michael Jackson's mother Katherine Jackson (C) arrives at the courthouse in Los Angeles on November 29, 2011 for the sentencing of Doctor Conrad Murray. Michael Jackson's family insisted they were not out 'to seek revenge,' as prosecutors sought a maximum four year jail term for the star's doctor over the singer's 2009 death. Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for administering to Jackson an overdose of the powerful clinic anesthetic, propofol, in a bid to help him sleep, admitting he had given the drug to the star for up to two months before his death. AFP PHOTO / Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Michael Jackson's mother Katherine at the Michael Forever Tribute Concert at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. (Photo by Tim Ireland/PA Images via Getty Images)
Michael Jackson's mother Katherine Jackson (C) and two sons, Blanket, 9, (L) and Prince, 14, (R) attend a ceremony honoring Michael Jackson at Childrens Hospital in Los Angeles, California August 8, 2011. Michael Jackson's three children and mother presented the hospital with a gift of 13 pieces of original art created and signed by the late King of Pop. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
The late pop star Michael Jackson's mother Katherine (L) and siblings LaToya, (2L) Tito (C), Jackie (2R) and Marlon Jackson (R) pose together after announcing a live concert tribute to the 'King of Pop,' at a press conference in Beverly Hills July 25, 2011. The concert, which will feature performances by some of the world's leading artists, will be held at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales and will benefit U.S. and British charities according the organizers. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
The late Michael Jackson's mother Katherine Jackson (C) arrives at the courthouse in Los Angeles on November 29, 2011 for the sentencing of Doctor Conrad Murray. Michael Jackson's family insisted they were not out 'to seek revenge,' as prosecutors sought a maximum four year jail term for the star's doctor over the singer's 2009 death. Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for administering to Jackson an overdose of the powerful clinic anesthetic, propofol, in a bid to help him sleep, admitting he had given the drug to the star for up to two months before his death. AFP PHOTO / Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Pop star Michael Jackson's father Joe Jackson (L) and mother Katherine Jackson (R) arrive at Los Angeles Superior Court in downtown Los Angeles on April 5, 2010 for the hearing of Michael Jackson's doctor Conrad Murrary. Murray appeared in court on an involuntary manslaughter charge stemming from the pop superstar's June 25 death. AFP PHOTO/Robyn BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 08: Katherine Jackson (L) and Joe Jackson (R), mother and father of Michael Jackson, arrive at the Airport Courthouse for the arraingment of Dr. Conrad Murray on February 8, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. Murray is reportedly being charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson. (Photo by Toby Canham/Getty Images)
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Reed also noted that there are some points that Jackson’s supporters do not contest, namely Jackson’s penchant for sharing his bed with children. “It’s beyond doubt that Jackson spent the night with many young boys,” he said.

Leaving Neverland” isn’t just about Jackson’s alleged crimes, Reed said. It’s interested in documenting the ways that sexual predators groom young boys. In the case of Jackson, the pop singer’s celebrity and wealth allowed him to attract families with young children and to deflect their questions when he spent an inordinate amount of time with their kids. At the time of the alleged assaults, Jackson was one of the top acts in music, a money-maker who was never without an entourage of handlers and servants. Winfrey and others expressed disbelief that no one else knew what was going on.

“It was very rare that Michael was alone,” Robson noted.

Both Robson and Safechuck said it took them years to come to grips with what happened to them as children. Robson suffered two nervous breakdowns, and Safechuck had insomnia and depression. And yet their feelings toward Jackson are complicated. They still admire his music and Safechuck, who seemed to be the more vulnerable of the two men, still grapples with guilt after going public with his claims.

The documentary has thrust the two men and their families back into the public spotlight. They’ve not only had to contend with a combative Jackson Estate and angry fans of the singer — Robson has received death threats. However, Robson and Safechuck were warmly received by an audience that had suffered similar traumas. It was a crowd that included “ER” star Anthony Edwards, who has accused writer/producer Gary Goddard of molesting him, and former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Al Chesley, another abuse survivor, as well as “CBS This Morning” host and Oprah BFF Gayle King.

Robson expressed surprise that people have been supportive. “I’d never witnessed public support before,” he offered. “I expected to be bushwhacked and mowed over.”

As for Safechuck, he’s still grappling with the aftershocks of the abuse he claims he suffered.

“This moment will end and I’ll still have a lot of work to do,” he said.

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