HBO's gut-punch of a documentary about two men who allege Michael Jackson molested them for years, is as much about s relationship with the pop superstar as it is about their mothers, who feature prominently in the two-part, four-hour film. In it, the moms are still grappling with their fondness for Jackson and how his star power clouded their judgment as parents.
The documentary presents a complicated explanation for how Stephanie Safechuck and Joy Robson would come to allow their young sons to share a bed with Jackson for so many years. Early on, the women describe how Jackson forged relationships with them through long phone calls that made them feel like Jackson was a member of their family -- even like a son. The women paint a picture of a man who was unbearably lonely, childlike, kind, incredibly generous and thrilled to spend time with their ordinary families in spite of his megastar status. Recounting their time with him, the women still seem awestruck.
"You go from your normal lifestyle day after day -- everything is the same -- to this big star calling your house, wanting to come to your home and have dinner in your home, wanting to spend the night in your little house," Stephanie Safechuck said in the documentary. "He could be anywhere with anybody in the world and Michael wanted to be with our family. This was all so overwhelming and like a fairytale and I got lost in it."
Her son, James Safechuck, first met Jackson while shooting a Pepsi commercial around his ninth birthday. Stephanie recalled setting boundaries early on, forbidding James to stay in Jackson's room on a trip to Hawaii, but couldn't remember exactly how those boundaries fell away. "It seems like it was a natural thing that happened. My husband and I had to have said, 'Yes you can go sleep with Michael,'" she said, referring to a tour stop in Paris where James claims the sexual abuse began.
Stephanie also said she noticed her hotel room was getting further away from where Jackson and James were staying. She said that when she asked why, she was told by someone from Jackson's team that it was the closest suite available to his. Stephanie also claims to have eavesdropped on their room from time to time to see what they were doing during all that time alone. Nothing she heard alarmed her, she said.
With Wade, Joy Robson's son, the alone time came more quickly. Jackson invited the Robson family to his famedabout two years after a 5-year-old Wade won a Michael Jackson dance contest in his native Australia. Wade and his sister, who was 10 years old at the time, said they stayed in Michael's room together for the first couple of nights but said that no abuse took place. The Robsons planned to go the Grand Canyon after that, but Wade begged to stay behind and said Jackson sobbed about his leaving. His parents agreed to let him stay. Wade spent the next week alone with Jackson and alleges the abuse began the first night his family was gone.
"I somewhat regretted it as we were traveling," Joy said in the documentary. "I became a little anxious at times about it and I remember calling once and I couldn't get through. I remember being absolutely hysterical on the phone at one point because I couldn't get through and I couldn't find them."
"For me to look back on this scenario now, what you think would be standard kind of instincts and judgment seemed to go out the window," Wade said of his parents' decision to let him and his sister sleep in Jackson's room. "We'd known him for, I don't know what, four hours maybe. Not known him -- we met him four hours ago, you know? That's the trippy part because it felt like we knew him. Like he had been in my living room every day, in my ears via his music and my posters, like I'd known him, I thought, and for some reason it didn't feel strange to let me, a 7-year-old, and my sister a 10-year-old, sleep in this man's bedroom."
After that first trip to Neverland Ranch, contact with Jackson quickly became constant, Wade and his mother said.
"He would talk to Wade for sometimes six, seven hours at a time," Joy said. "I would say, 'What on Earth do you talk about for all that time?' I would try to listen, but they seemed to be very innocent phone calls."
Joy also said she felt like she and Jackson had their own relationship. "I felt like we had something quite separate," she said. "I guess like a brother or a really close friend. He'd get really lonely and we'd talk about it."
In an interview withlast week, James and Wade described how they believe Jackson was grooming their mothers, too.
"The parents are groomed as well. So it's -- Michael spends a lot of time talking to your parents, and connecting with them, and building relationships with them," James told King. "He pays attention to them. And they're groomed over the time. So it is their job to protect us and they didn't. But I try to look at it from their point of view without letting them off the hook, 'cause obviously that's their job. But they were groomed as well."
Wade said his relationship with his mother has "grown immensely over the last six years or so."
"It was really challenging for a while," Wade said. "And I've gone through many phases just in this healing process in relation to her. I've gone through lots of anger towards her, lots of confusion. Thankfully, we've been able to go through a lot of healing through this process."
James' and Wade's fathers weren't in the documentary. Wade's father, Dennis Robson, died by suicide in 2002 just after his last child left Australia to join Wade, his sister and Joy in the United States. According to his family, he suffered from bipolar disorder.
Part 2 of "Leaving Neverland" aired Monday night following the Sunday night release of Part 1. The second half picks up in 1993 just before Jackson is accused of molesting 13-year-old Jordan "Jordie" Chandler, who Wade said had become the closest to Jackson. Wade said that during mass sleepovers with Chandler and actor Macaulay Culkin, Jackson and Chandler would frequently disappear.
In the documentary, Joy still seemed shocked by how convincing Wade was when she asked him whether Jackson had done anything inappropriate with him.
"Obviously, as a mother, when these allegations were brought to us the first thing when I get Wade by himself I said to him, 'OK, so as your mother I need to ask you, you know, has Michael done anything inappropriate with you?' And he was so convincing. 'Absolutely not. He has never ever done anything. Never,'" Joy said.
She said Jackson was similarly convincing, even crying when she questioned him about it.
"I can hear him saying to me, 'I would never hurt a child.' He would cry. 'I could never hurt a child.' And he would break into tears. Very convincing," Joy said.
Both mothers described how they would respond to people who cast doubt on Jackson's innocence, like those who have pointed to a $23 million out-of-court settlement Jackson reached with Chandler's family in early 1994 as an admission of his guilt.
"People said to me that just proves he's guilty. And I would say, 'No, that to me proves that all it was about all along was money,'" Joy said.
Stephanie said she believed Jackson when he told her the settlement he reached with the Chandlers would cost him less than fighting it in court, according to his lawyers. She said she also asked her son, James, whether anything inappropriate had happened between him and Jackson. He denied it.
The Robsons publicly defended Jackson, and both boys told police he never molested them. The documentary does not delve deeply into any possible financial arrangements between the families and Jackson, but Stephanie did address the suspicious timing of a house the superstar purchased for her around the time Jordan Chandler accused him of sexual abuse.
"So he did buy us a house. It's just coincidental, he wasn't buying us off. But the timing's right there. Just sounds bad," Stephanie said.
James said Jackson also bought him a car for his 16th birthday and funded his student films through high school.
James and Wade said Jackson, who had allegedly come to show much less interest in them as they got older, would re-enter their lives whenever he was accused of abusing children. They said contact that had waned to a few times per year would immediately ramp up to daily phone calls -- calls they said they later realized were coaching sessions.
Jackson openly admitted to sharing beds with numerous boys over the years, and so far, five of them have accused him of molestation: Chandler, Jason Francia, Gavin Arvizo, Wade and James. In 2005, Jackson was acquitted on charges of molestation brought by Arvizo, a child cancer survivor. Wade testified on Jackson's behalf in that trial and withstood a blistering cross-examination. He was called a star witness and is often credited with helping Jackson win in court.
Thehas denounced James and Wade as "opportunists" and "admitted liars." They told CBS News they believe the men's allegations are motivated by money -- something they both deny. James and Wade said they were not compensated for participating in the documentary and have no stake in its success.
Robson and Safechuck have both sued the Jackson estate, but their lawsuits were dismissed because of the statute of limitations. They are appealing.
"Leaving Neverland" has faced criticism for not seeking comment from the musician's family or estate, which sued HBO for $100 million. The Jackson estate called the film a "one-sided marathon of unvetted propaganda to shamelessly exploit an innocent man no longer here to defend himself." The estate's lawsuit against HBO hinges on a non-disparagement clause that was part of a 1992 contract with the cable company.
Asked to address that criticism, directortold "CBS This Morning" last week, "We know that the family and the estate[s] and Jackson during his lifetime and his lawyers all deny that any sexual abuse took place and those views are strongly represented in the film. We give those views a lot of time in the film on screen and we have people casting doubt on Wade's change of heart."
Much of the second part of the documentary focuses on what Wade and James believe was the emotional fallout of Jackson's alleged abuse. It includes interviews with their wives, who recall how each of them opened up about their childhood relationships with the megastar.
Wade and James told "CBS This Morning" how becoming fathers themselves contributed to their decisions and ability to come forward.
"I started having visions or images of what happened to me happening to my son," Wade said. "And I saw images of Michael doing it to my son. And that was the first time that those kinda thoughts in relation to Michael ever had an extremely negative, scary, emotional reaction in me, you know? It was -- once I could see, really understand this is what a little boy looks like, and feels like, and thinks like, and behaves like. This is what innocence feels like. That was me."
"You disconnect from yourself as a kid," James said. "So I didn't have any sympathy or empathy for me as a kid. … And so it takes having a kid … somebody to give empathy to and love to ... it's almost like a surrogate you in a way 'cause you can't give yourself any love. You still think it's your fault. So when you have a kid, it makes that bridge I think or starts the bridge."