The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Michael Jackson denial of child sexual abuse carried live around the world

It was 1993, and the King of Pop had been accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy.

Michael Jackson proclaims his innocence during a televised statement about child molestation allegations broadcast live from his Neverland ranch near Los Olivos, Calif., in 1993. (AP Photo/MJJ) (MJJ via AP/AP)
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The live feed starts with a black screen and an unmistakable voice in mid-sentence, saying, “… and fans.” Then someone shouts, “Bring it up! Bring it up!” The video kicks in and we see him: the King of Pop, gaunt and pale in an oversized red shirt, sitting in front of a brownish-red background, reading from a prepared statement.

“It was a nightmare. A horrifying nightmare,” he says, voice quavering. “But if this is what I have to endure to prove my innocence — my complete innocence — so be it.”

It was Dec. 22, 1993, and two days earlier, investigators for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department had photographed Jackson’s nude body after a 13-year-old boy accused Jackson of sexual abuse. The boy described specific, identifying characteristics of Jackson’s genitals and buttocks, and the police were there to confirm possible evidence.

Hours after the search, Jackson decided he wanted to make a statement, according to Lee Solters, his publicist at the time. But this was long before a celebrity could post a cellphone video on YouTube or Twitter. Satellite time was purchased and uplink coordinates sent to the media all over the world. In the United States, the statement was carried live on CNN. ABC, CBS and NBC didn’t carry it live but made it available for transmission by local affiliates.

Excerpts from the four-minute statement were played over and over for days on all the major networks, MTV and entertainment shows, particularly the part when Jackson said: “They [police] served a search warrant on me which allowed them to view and photograph my body, including my penis, my buttocks, my lower torso, thighs, and any other area that they wanted. … It was the most humiliating ordeal of my life, one that no person should ever have to suffer.”

Now Jackson, who died in 2009 of a drug overdose at the age of 50, is the subject of a searing new documentary, “Leaving Neverland,” about allegations he sexually abused boys. The first of two parts aired Sunday night on HBO and met with a wave of condemnation on social media.

A devastating and credible ‘Leaving Neverland’ will turn you off Michael Jackson for good

In 1993, the accuser’s attorney, Larry R. Feldman, told the Los Angeles Times: “They [Jackson’s lawyers] say they don’t want to try this case in the press, and then they hold the biggest news conference in the world, only they don’t allow questions.”

Jackson attorney Howard Weitzman said the media was excluded to prevent “a circus atmosphere.” Another Jackson attorney, Johnnie Cochran, told CNN that night that Jackson was one the “most private” and “extremely modest” people in the world.

The investigation into the allegations were first reported four months earlier by a local TV station in Los Angeles. In The Washington Post, the allegations first appeared on the third page of the Style section on Aug. 24, 1993, to the right of a book review and just above a Doonesbury comic strip.

“An unnamed woman filed a complaint alleging Jackson had abused her child during a visit to the superstar’s Neverland ranch,” it says.

At the time, Jackson was trying to recapture some of the superstardom he had enjoyed in his “Thriller” days. He launched a world tour for his album “Dangerous.” He performed at President Bill Clinton’s inaugural ball. He did the halftime show at the Super Bowl.

But the allegations in August changed all that. The tour was canceled. Pepsi dropped his endorsement deal. And he checked into a treatment center in England for an addiction to painkillers.

‘Jury Acquits Jackson’: How the King of Pop’s child molestation trial was reported in 2005

Then, soon after returning to his Neverland ranch, came the strip search.

Weeks later, in January 1994, the accuser’s parents reached a settlement with Jackson reportedly in the tens of millions. Months later, Jackson bounced back with his marriage to Lisa Marie Presley, whom he credited with supporting him through his “horrifying nightmare.”

The police investigation continued but soon faded from the media’s attention — thanks to another Johnnie Cochran client.

“It’s sort of gotten a back seat since the [O.J.] Simpson case came up,” a source in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office told The Post.

Scriptwriter Alison Taylor, who wrote about the black community’s perspective on Simpson, put it another way: “O.J. Simpson is the best thing that ever happened to Michael Jackson.”

This documentary focuses on two men, Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck, who allege they were sexually abused by Michael Jackson as children. (Video: HBO)

Read more Retropolis:

‘Jury Acquits Jackson’: How the King of Pop’s child molestation trial was reported in 2005

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