washingtonpost.com  > Opinion > Columnists > Eugene Robinson

Adoration's Price

By Eugene Robinson
Friday, April 22, 2005; Page A17

If half of what the prosecution witnesses say about Michael Jackson is true, he deserves to go to jail. But so do some of those witnesses. Once the whole lot is behind bars, the rest of us ought to work on taming the monster of celebrity before it devours us all.

Let's be realistic, people. Even if you're a loyal fan, even if you've memorized every step of the ghoul dance from the "Thriller" video, you've got to wonder whether all these people can be making all this stuff up. Some witnesses may have a credibility problem, and some may have a pecuniary reason to lie; and, yes, some were talking about prior "bad acts," not the current charges against Jackson. The King of Pop may still moonwalk free.

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But they're all telling basically the same story, and airtight conspiracies are rare outside spy novels and high school cliques. What they're saying about Jackson is sordid. What they're saying about themselves is depressing.

Ralph Chacon, the supersize former security guard, testified that he watched as Jackson performed a sex act on a young boy. He didn't interrupt this alleged crime, although he's big enough to snap his employer like a toothpick. He didn't report it to police at the time. La-di-da, just another day at Neverland.

Philip LeMarque, Jackson's one-time manservant and cook, testified that he saw Jackson with his hand down Macaulay Culkin's pants. Adrian McManus, a former maid, said she saw Jackson apparently molesting another boy. Kiki Fournier, a former housekeeper, said she saw boys running wild, some of them apparently drunk. Like Chacon, these witnesses did nothing at the time.

Some may have seen dollar signs, the chance to convert secret knowledge into a pile of cash. And, of course, they didn't want to lose their jobs. But I'd like to think that even in today's economy, most people would draw the line at countenancing child molestation.

Lock all of them up, but save the "punishment" cellblock -- dank, windowless chambers and snarling guards who whip out the baton if you don't call them Mister Bubba -- for the parents who gave their children to an exceedingly strange middle-aged man who wanted nothing more than to get young boys into his bed.

There's not a chance, I'll bet, that the parents of the boy who is the subject of the current allegations, or the parents of the boy who accused Jackson of molesting him in 1993 (before Jackson paid the family more than $20 million and the boy clammed up), or any of the other parents would have let their boys romp and cuddle with Jackson if he had been, say, just an obscure bachelor living alone in a suburban split-level on an insurance adjuster's salary.

Money was a part of it, but only a part. Even if it had been an obscure bachelor who owned the insurance company, I doubt the parents would have gone along so readily. The mother of the boy at the heart of the current case was intoxicated with all the attention she received when the boy got cancer and celebrities began paying him the mercy visits they routinely perform as a kind of community service. The woman's "ready for my close-up" histrionics on the witness stand speak for themselves. "Don't judge me," she theatrically implored the jury, as if the poor jurors could do anything but.

This is hardly a new instinct -- as long as there have been kings and queens, there have been courtiers. But kings and queens used to have real power and could bestow things such as titles and estates, while our modern-day celebrities give their supplicants nothing but a practiced, empty smile. Yet magazines such as US Weekly, People and Star fly off the newsstands. Is there a person alive who doesn't know by now that Britney Spears is pregnant?

The people around Michael Jackson -- the members of his paid retinue as well as the families he invited to the ranch -- had in common the overwhelming desire to be a part of his life. But of course they never were, even at Neverland. Celebrities of that magnitude tend to have in common a narcissism and a deep insecurity that exclude everyone except other celebrities.

Elizabeth Taylor is a part of Jackson's life. The salaried enablers who worked for him and the starry-eyed fools who gave him their young sons could never be.

eugenerobinson@washpost.com


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