I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve watched the relentless coverage of one or another high-profile news story with an almost uncontainable frustration and dismay at the failure of journalists to ask what appears to be the most obvious and pressing of questions.
On Wednesday, as I watched the Santa Barbara authorities field the barrage of questions being fired at them by a media gone wild over an investigation of Michael Jackson on child molestation charges, my percolating blood pressure got some minor relief when, at the very end of the press conference, a reporter shouted out, “What advice do you have to parents who let their children stay over at Neverland?”
“Don’t do it!” the district attorney and the sheriff replied, laughing at the obvious ridiculousness of the question. “Our kids aren’t there.”
The question, as phrased, was ridiculous, but the idea behind it was not. More than a decade after Jackson was the center of another child molestation scandal — allegations that went away as the result of an out-of-court financial settlement — there are still parents, apparently quite a few of them, who don’t see a problem with letting their kids attend Jackson’s pajama parties.
So yes, advising parents on how to protect their kids while at Neverland is an absurd question. The correct question is: What’s wrong with these parents who let their kids sleep over at Jackson's Neverland Ranch (search), and what are the authorities going to do about them?
Michael Jackson is not a camp counselor or a youth group leader or a little league coach or a Catholic priest who has legitimate unsupervised access to large numbers of kids. He's not an adult with whom your 12-year-old son would naturally come in contact in the course of his daily, prepubescent life. However these families originally meet Jackson — they must be invited into his home and then decide to accept the invitation.
Additionally, these parents then decide at some point to leave their kids alone with him, overnight — alone and overnight with a man who not only has been at the center of a child sexual abuse scandal in the past, but who has also publicly and shamelessly admitted that he enjoys sharing his bed with children, that he does so frequently and that he doesn’t think there is anything wrong with this.
Are we supposed to believe that there is a person on this planet who is not aware of Jackson’s history? Perhaps even more revealing about these parents, are we supposed to believe that there is a 12-year-old boy on the planet who is actually a fan of Michael Jackson’s and wants to spend his time hanging out with him? Michael Jackson is not a famous athlete or an action hero, nor does he record the kind of music that 10- or 12-year-old boys listen to these days. In fact, this boy was reportedly taunted and teased by other 12-year-olds about his relationship with Jackson. (Eminem doesn't really seem all that bad now, does he?)
It’s the parents who are the fans, the parents who want the access to Jackson, to fame, to his money, to the bragging rights of being able to say they “know” a superstar, and because Jackson is who he is, the kids are the key to the Neverland gates.
Consider the circumstances of the boy accusing Jackson now. According to Fox’s Roger Friedman, the boy was a cancer patient whom Jackson met through his charity work. Jackson paid the family's medical bills and bought the parents a new house. The price they paid for Jackson’s largesse was that their son emerged from the association with Jackson so troubled that psychiatric treatment was needed. He told his psychiatrist about the abuse, and the psychiatrist — not the parents — went to the police.
As Friedman reported Wednesday, after the boy claimed Jackson molested him, “Jackson kept the family at Neverland for a period of time, hoping to convince them to drop their allegations by lavishing them with entertainment and further merriment.”
Why would this family still be in Jackson’s home after their son claimed to be abused? Why would they have any contact with him at all? Why were they even in a position at that time to be "lavished with entertainment and further merriment?" The fact that the family has so far not sought a financial settlement from Jackson has added a layer of legitimacy to the allegations, but the question is not so much whether the allegations are true but why these parents allowed their child to be alone with Jackson in the first place, and why they remained in Jackson’s home “for a period of time” after their son came forward.
How could you remain under the same roof as a person you believed sexually abused your son? How could you keep your son under that roof?
It doesn’t matter if Jackson is a sexual predator or not. The public behavior he proudly exhibits suggests, at the very least, mental instability. The private behavior he openly admits to is, by any reasonable measure, deviant. Jacko is wacko, and I know that as a parent, someone with his peculiarities and predilections would not be my first choice for a companion for my kid — and I have a daughter. He may or may not be guilty of abuse, but any parent who would trust him with his or her child certainly is.
As the news coverage continued Wednesday, Fox’s Shepard Smith said on the air that he was waiting to “hear about these parents who send their kids to Neverland.” Let’s hope that this time around, reporters and the authorities seek the answer to that question.