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Daniel Ruth

Jackson's weirdness part of the story, too

Perhaps what we learned this week is one man's scandal is merely another man's benign faux pas akin to using the wrong fork at a swanky dinner party.

To be sure, it was a star-studded send-off for Michael Jackson. The ultimate Hollywood Who's Who of entertainment's royalty assembled to pay their respects to the King of Pop, who went to that moonwalk in the sky at the age of 50 leaving behind a life unfulfilled and too, too many questions left unanswered.

That Michael Jackson was a superb, uniquely gifted entertainer is without dispute. We all get that.

That Michael Jackson was also a dark, strange, troubled man who lived at times a very creepy life is also unquestioned. And that was the 23 million-pound elephant haunting the Staples Center on Tuesday.

Despite all those delivering eloquent eulogies praising Jackson as a perfectly swell chap, we all know the singer left behind a personal history of weirdness and troubling doubts about his twisted (to put this as gently as possible) relationship with children.

But in the days following Jackson's death it became a sort of unspoken taboo to raise the lingering suggestion that this man was also a sexual predator of children. U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., was vilified for saying publicly what so many were thinking privately.

"It's almost as if he was Mother Teresa," King mused. "Our priorities have been skewed. They've become really, totally out of whack." And King was quite right.

To not take note of Jackson's bizarre trial on child molestation charges, for which he was indeed acquitted, or the $23 million in hush money he paid to make similar lurid accusations of abusing children go away, or to ignore the performer's own admissions of his preference for sleeping with children, would be like reporting on Richard Nixon's passing without mentioning Watergate or his resignation from the presidency.

And as the Grim Reaper moves ever closer to Ted Kennedy, does anyone doubt the Massachusetts senator will be equally remembered both for his legislative accomplishments and for his cowardly Chappaquiddick abandonment of Mary Jo Kopechne, leaving the young woman to drown to save his own skin and career?

It is noteworthy that the more bellicose whining about anyone taking note of Jackson's checkered past was from none other than the theological huckster Al Sharpton, who complained about the "disgraceful and despicable way (the media) is trying to destroy the legacy of Michael Jackson."

Not quite. Michael Jackson destroyed the legacy of Michael Jackson.

Perhaps Sharpton saw in Jackson's media coverage a harsh portent of the future when he eventually breathes his last. Sharpton knows all too well the obituaries will invariably take note within the first three paragraphs of his own smarmy race-baiting role in shamelessly perpetuating the Tawana Brawley hoax, in which he actively smeared a New York prosecutor with unfounded charges of rape.

That wasn't very — Christian. Indeed you know you have a monumental public relations problem when Al Sharpton is vouching for you as a character witness.

So why should Michael Jackson get a pass on his own suspect lifestyle? Why should talent trump tawdriness?

Our culture certainly has a dysfunctional attitude toward the rise and fall of public figures.

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford flits off to Argentina to have a consensual liaison with his mistress and the pol is pilloried (and rightfully so) from coast-to-coast as an insensitive louse who betrayed his wife, his sons, his party and his constituents. Howls of protest resonate calling for his resignation or impeachment or his head.

But an aging rock star, with at best a smarmy attraction toward children, dies, and according to the likes of Al Sharpton and others, this unhealthy and dangerous behavior is supposed to go unnoticed, unmentioned, forgiven?

Whose indiscretions were more egregious? Who deserved greater societal shunning?

If Mark Sanford had been a famous performer would his philandering be more socially accepted? If Michael Jackson had been an elected official would his admitted penchant for sleeping with children be so readily dismissed as merely an eccentricity?

Michael Jackson is more than owed his due as a extraordinary entertainer.

But to laud him as a humanitarian does a disservice to every overworked and underpaid child welfare worker who has dedicated his or her life to protect the most vulnerable among us.

And to hold Michael Jackson up as a role model is a slap in the face to every teacher, every first responder, every true parent in our society.

As for all the too blithely thrown around word "hero," in the days since Jackson died at least 10 American military personnel have died defending our country in Afghanistan.

And you can rest assured Usher won't be singing at any of their funerals.

Jackson's weirdness part of the story, too 07/09/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 9, 2009 8:31pm]
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