Roberts's Rules of Decorum
Saturday, August 20, 2005
Now it's getting personal.
Last week, researchers found several memos from the summer and fall of 1984 in which future Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, working as a Reagan White House lawyer, argued against sending presidential thank-you notes to Michael Jackson for his charitable works. But it turns out this was just the beginning of what appears to be the young lawyer's concerns about the star. Three new memos uncovered by Post reporters show Roberts described Jackson as "androgynous," "mono-gloved" and a balladeer of illegitimacy.
On April 30, 1984, Roberts wrote to oppose a presidential award that was to have been given to Jackson for his efforts against drunk driving. Roberts particularly objected to award wording that described Jackson as an "outstanding example" for American youth.
Roberts wrote: "If one wants the youth of America and the world sashaying around in garish sequined costumes, hair dripping with pomade, body shot full of female hormones to prevent voice change, mono-gloved, well, then, I suppose 'Michael,' as he is affectionately known in the trade, is in fact a good example. Quite apart from the problem of appearing to endorse Jackson's androgynous life style, a Presidential award would be perceived as a shallow effort by the President to share in the constant publicity surrounding Jackson. . . . The whole episode would, in my view, be demeaning to the President."
This week's document dump by the National Archives also included two more Roberts memos on Jackson that predated last week's memos. The first, from May 1, 1984, called an award to Jackson for his campaign against drunk driving "a poor idea. A presidential award to Jackson would be perceived as a shallow effort by the president to exploit the constant publicity surrounding Jackson, particularly since other celebrities have done as much for worthy causes as Jackson but have not been singled out by the President."
After losing that battle, he unloaded 10 days later on Jackson after reading remarks Reagan was to deliver at the award ceremony, saying 100 women who work at the White House "all said their name is Billie Jean." Wrote Roberts:
"Cognoscenti will recognize the allusion to a character in one of Mr. Jackson's popular ballads, a young lass who claims -- falsely, according to the oft-repeated refrain of the singer -- that the singer is the father of her illegitimate child. This may be someone's idea of presidential humor, but it certainly is not mine."
In fairness to Roberts, his objections to celebrity extended far beyond Jackson. On Oct. 3, 1983, two months after opposing a Reagan remembrance of Bing Crosby, he wrote to oppose presidential remarks praising John Wayne as the epitome of American values:
"I am . . . somewhat troubled by the absence of a consistent policy governing our willingness to permit the President to participate in these private, commercial tributes. . . . I think we are seeing evidence of what we often say will happen when we deny requests for Presidential endorsements of charitable efforts: once you do one it becomes impossible to turn down countless others. I know there's only one John Wayne -- but there's only one Bob Hope, James Bond, Bing Crosby, etc. etc. etc."
Only one James Bond?
Staff writers Jo Becker and R. Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.