Not So Bad?

There is value in finding the good in Michael Jackson, now that his trial is behind him.

Four years ago, Michael Jackson and I produced approximately 30 hours of taped conversations intended as the basis of a book that would reveal his true self, the nature of his relationship with children, and his insights on various aspects of life, including love, spirituality, history, religion, and G-d.



Michael asked me to write the book because we were close friends at the time and I was an experienced writer who could help him frame his authentic concerns and use his celebrity for a positive end. He desired to serve as a spokesman for the unmet needs of children, and I encouraged this desire provided that he directed his message to, and worked with, the children's parents. Those taped conversations were not the only manifestation of his concern. I took him to Oxford University, where he gave a well-received address about the need for a children's Bill of Rights. We also did a lecture together at Carnegie Hall about the need for parents to devote themselves to raising their children and not leave them to the proxy parenting of violent video games and mindless TV.

The manuscript based on the transcripts of our conversations revealed Michael Jackson to be a sensitive personality: thoughtful, knowledgeable, and deeply spiritual. Nevertheless, I withheld it from publication for two reasons. The first was the fact that by then my relationship with Michael had deteriorated, because I no longer felt I could influence him positively. He was reverting to being the superstar surrounded by sycophantic handlers who resented my advice to Michael to shift his focus to advocating for children in serious forums where his message might be taken seriously. I had begun to question whether I wished to maintain the public association with Michael that the book would only reinforce.

The second and much more important reason was Michael's arrest on charges of child molestation. Michael's eloquence in the book made me fear that his words might be interpreted by some people as the rationalizations of a pedophile. Furthermore, once he had been indicted it seemed that the book could not be published because in the manuscript, Michael discussed his relationship with the young cancer victim who would later become his accuser at some length, and it seemed that the book would be a distraction from the core issues of the trial which related to whether Michael had molested the boy of whom he spoke so lovingly several years after our discussions had concluded.

For example, Michael told me that he wished to give the boy, who had gone bald from chemotherapy, a sense of his own handsomeness:

"He was hiding and he was ashamed that he had a bald head and he had cancer. Everybody had made him feel like an outcast, and that's how he came here, and I want him to let go. He is such a beautiful child, he doesn't need that hat. I told him, 'You look just like an angel. Your voice sounds like an angel. As far as I am concerned you are an angel. What are you ashamed of?' "

Indeed, at Neverland, I witnessed Michael speaking to the boy and encouraging him never to be ashamed of his baldness, and I found it inspiring that Michael would try so hard to bolster the boy's self-confidence. Still, it seemed best to keep these conversations out of the public domain during the trial.

But now that Michael Jackson has been acquitted, it seems proper that the conversations in the book should be put in the public domain. Despite many people's lingering skepticism about the verdict, I believe there is still, perhaps, something to be learned from this man who once professed his undying love for children.

Our conversations shed light on three questions still lingering in the aftermath of the trial: Who is Michael Jackson and why is he so damaged? What is the nature of his relationship with children and with his accuser in particular? And finally, what should the public feel toward Michael Jackson: contempt, sympathy, or both?

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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
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