Sunday, June 28, 2009

Signs of the times

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thoughts on the death of Michael Jackson

Let there be no doubt about it, I'm saddened to learn that singer Michael Jackson has died.
My sadness isn't, however, because I will miss his music. Truth be told, I don't believe I could name any song he recorded since he sang "Never Can Say Goodbye" or "Ben" -- whichever one came first. I probably heard him sing, however, before most anyone I know. I was stationed outside of Detroit in 1969 and 1970 and I remember watching him and his brothers on local television there.

He was cute and amusing. And it was clear he had a lot of talent.
It was 1993, however, when he sort of stepped into my life and changed things forever. It was when a Los Angeles Police detective blessed me by tipping me to what was, up until today, the biggest single entertainment story in history. I was able to break the story that the police were investigating the famous singer as a possible child molester.
After I was able to confirm the investigation and the allegations, I worked with my best client, KNBC-TV News in Burbank, and we broke the story. Nobody outside my circle of news media friends knew that I was responsible for the scoop of a lifetime. It would be months later that the producers of a PBS FRONTLINE documentary about the news coverage of that story learned that I was the one.
The information had come to me from a longtime contact -- a contact I trusted and still enjoy being his friend today.
I had already learned about pedophiles. In fact, I knew more about the subject than most any journalist.
Was Michael Jackson a child molester? Was he a pedophile? Nobody ever proved it in criminal court and a secret, out-of-court settlement prevented the civil trial from ever happening.
The veteran detective investigating Michael Jackson was convinced that he was a pedophile. If there was ever someone who fit the FBI's profile of pedophiles, it was Michael Jackson.
But that doesn't mean that anything every really happened. And after the media circus that my story triggered, I'm not sure I would believe anything that might have surfaced since then.
But I can say that Michael Jackson's death was a tragedy that followed a life that was, in its own way, tragic.
If he was a pedophile -- if his interest in children was, in reality, unhealthy or criminal, one would only have to look at the world into which he was born to understand why.
The one thing that this parent-driven child celebrity never experienced was a normal childhood. What child could experience normalcy when he was on the road with older brothers who were dealing with groupies in the hotel room every night? I'm convinced he was the victim of child abuse and that these factors took a tragic toll on him.
Imagine being so famous, so gifted, so rich and yet so lonely and lost in the world.
These are the kinds of things that lead people down paths that aren't normal -- that lead people to do things that our society doesn't (and shouldn't) allow.
When the shock of his death wears off and people take a microscope to his tragic life, we're likely to learn more about what really happened.
But whether the allegations were true or false, Michael Jackson is still a tragic figure -- even when he was alive.
By the way, that's not really Michael Jackson trying to strangle me in the photo. It was a Michael Jackson look-alike who shared a talk-show stage with me in Chicago. Just for the fun of it, someone set up the photo and someone else pretended to be the body guard.
I'm so sorry that Michael Jackson died before he would know what life is really all about. Indeed, he'll join Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe in history and legend.
Maybe he can rest in peace.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Rafael and Matthew vs the AIDS Epidemic

It was a Sunday and my Malawian achimwene (brother), Beston Tebula, was my passive guide as I explored the streets of Blantyre. Achimwene knew that I wanted to be open to anything that we stumbled across and anything that came our way.

Rafael and Matthew walked up and it seemed clear that they were hawking pirated DVDs. But we were wrong. They wanted to sell us a CD they had produced -- a CD of a song they had written and performed. Why buy a CD, I said to Achimwene, when we can have a live performance.

"Ask them if they'll perform for us."

I hardly had time to whip out my little digital camera when they began singing. Here's the song:

Of course, I was unable to appreciate the lyrics. The next day, I somehow rigged up a way for Achimwene to hear the music through headphones while I recorded him translating it. You can see that version on YouTube at You can read more about Beston (Achimwene) Tebula earlier on this blog. We remain in touch and I've promised that we'll spend time together again -- either in Malawi or in California. When he comes, I want you to meet him!

Anyway, the lyrics turned out to be remarkable. It's a song about the "enemy" that has invaded their little country -- AIDS. It's about corruption and it's about spreading the word to young people to protect themselves. As they say it, nobody else is going to look after them.

Sometimes we think we know the motives of strangers.

Usually, we're wrong.