Has Race Become a Factor in Michael Jackson Coverage?

This is a RUSH transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," June 29, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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MONICA CROWLEY, GUEST HOST: In the "Unresolved Problem" segment tonight: At the last minute, last night's BET show turned out to an all-out tribute to Jackson.


JANET JACKSON: To you, Michael is an icon. To us, Michael is family. And he will forever live in all of our hearts.


CROWLEY: Though Jackson was a musical icon, he did have a very troubled past. There are those who wish we didn't report on it, and the coverage has become a racially charged issue.


DIDDY, RAPPER: The way y'all are reporting on this man's life…


DIDDY: …you know, you know, we didn't do Elvis like that. We didn't do JFK like that. This man is like, you know, one of the greatest heroes for us. He's one of the reasons why Barack Obama's president.


JAMIE FOXX, ACTOR: No need to be sad. We want to celebrate this black man's — this black man. He belongs to us, and we shared him with everybody else. They talking about what he looks like in the media. It don't make a difference what he looked like. Am I right? It was all about what he sounded like.


CROWLEY: Joining us now from Philadelphia, FOX News contributor Marc Lamont Hill. And from Chicago, James T. Harris, a radio talk show host.

Gentlemen, welcome. So Marc, I'm a huge Michael Jackson fan. I've been watching wall-to-wall coverage since his death on Thursday last week. And I've got to tell you the only thing that I am seeing is honest reporting about a creative genius who led a very troubled life. Where are you seeing racial bias?

DR. MARC LAMONT HILL, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the issue here isn't necessarily the accuracy of the reports. There are all sorts of accurate reports that are coming out. The question is are they in good taste? Are they decent? And do they reflect the tradition of how we respond to American heroes when they pass? When Sinatra dies, we don't talk about mob connections. When Elvis dies, we don't talk about drugs. So when we talk about Michael Jackson, I'd like to see the same type of response that has been afforded to white heroes. That's all.

CROWLEY: But Marc, you can't talk about Michael Jackson without talking about the allegations of child molestation and drug abuse, can you?

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HILL: Well, I mean, that's an interesting argument. I think at some point, you have to talk about that. I think we've always talked about those things with Michael Jackson. And maybe next week or two weeks from now, we can talk about that again. But I remember being here on "The Factor" and Bill O'Reilly told me that it was in poor taste to talk about Jerry Falwell's politics 24 and 48 hours after his death. And his followers seemed to agree. So if we follow that same pattern, then we should not be talking about the low points of Michael Jackson's life right now. Let's celebrate the greatest entertainer in human history…

CROWLEY: But you know what?

HILL: ...and then talk about the other stuff later.

CROWLEY: You know what, Marc? I see plenty of celebrations about Michael Jackson's musical genius. And when I went back and I looked how the media covered white celebrities when they die to drug-related overdoses or anything related to drugs or alcohol — Elvis Presley, Heath Ledger, Jerry Garcia, Kurt Cobain, Anna Nicole Smith — there was wide coverage of the fact that they were all substance abusers and that they, in fact, died because of that.

HILL: How — let's say for a moment that's true, although I would disagree because I think to some extent there was still a grace period. But even if that were true, why are we talking about child molestation charges for which he was acquitted? He didn't die from child molestation charges. He died from drugs, perhaps. But they're talking about things in his life that have nothing to do even with the cause of death. That's my problem here.

CROWLEY: All right, James, do you see the same kind of racial bias going on here?

JAMES T. HARRIS, TALK RADIO HOST ON WTMJ: No, I don't. Actually, I think that what we saw in the last two statements with P. Diddy and with Jamie Foxx are the two sides of a coin. And that coin is racial insecurity. I don't think that P. Diddy needs to lecture the media on how Michael Jackson should be covered. He's bigger than life for a lot of people. He was an icon that transcended race. But what we saw with P. Diddy is him trying to white wash the last 20 years of Michael Jackson's life in order for embrace the blackness.

On the other side, we listen to — when we listen to Jamie Foxx, we see something similar going on in which he's not trying to white wash it but trying to get us to ignore the craziness, to ignore just the real indescribably weirdness of Michael Jackson so that we can, again, embrace the blackness. What we're seeing with these comments, because they went racial yesterday, what we're seeing with this is that once again we have a segment of America that's drinking deep from cups of sorrow and trying to pull Michael Jackson back down into the black solidarity instead of celebrating for what he was a great musical troubled genius.

CROWLEY: James, is there a real sense in the African-American community that they had, for lack of a better word, lost Michael Jackson in that he bleached his skin nearly white, he married white women, and that in his death now they're making real effort to try to reclaim him?

HARRIS: Well, I don't know if there's that real sense. Again, I'm from the camp that celebrated — I mean, I grew up with Michael Jackson, and I grew up with the brilliance of the Jackson 5. And I was also disturbed when we start to see this metamorphosis, you know, when he was going through the facial changes, trying to make himself look like Peter Pan and really and the weirdness of his interactions and inappropriate action with young boys. It wasn't the whole pedophilia thing that I'm talking about. On TV he admitted that he shared his bed with boys. That's the type of things we have been putting up for the last 10 or 15 years is sort of the ying and the yang. The man was brilliant, but he had some serious issues. I was looking at him as an entertainer.

CROWLEY: Yeah. And Marc, in death, he does leave a rather mixed legacy because he does have this in his background, the child molestation charges. He was acquitted. I've seen all of that and all of the reporting. He was acquitted of those charges. And there has been a huge celebration of his music. I was playing his music on my radio show Friday and Saturday throughout. So where do you see a real racial dividing line? I mean, do you agree that perhaps the African-American community is trying to reclaim Michael Jackson now?

HILL: No. I don't know the African-American community's ever lost him. And I would disagree with James. I don't think when you embrace black solidarity, you're being pulled down. I think that is lifting someone up. I think the black community has always embraced Michael Jackson, always loved Michael Jackson, and has never lost Michael Jackson. If anything, what we've seen over the last 15 years is Michael being alienated and distanced from the broader global community, particularly many white Americans. And it's because of that that he's become less popular and more of an object of media scrutiny and attack. So I think in some sense, black people are embracing Michael, because we've always embraced Michael. We've always loved Michael. And that's the thing that I want people to remember. As far as…

CROWLEY: You know, and Marc — yeah, go ahead. Go ahead.

HILL: No, no, I was just going to say if you think about someone like Elvis Presley. Again, Elvis leaves a very mixed legacy. But when people grow up in this generation thinking of Elvis Presley, they don't think of drugs. They don't think of someone who died eating a pork chop on his toilet as the my sort of says. We think of someone who was one of the greatest American originals ever produced. That's the narrative that we should share about Michael Jackson.

CROWLEY: You know, here is the thing that I love about Michael Jackson. And I followed him since the Jackson 5 days. My iPod is loaded with Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson. He was one of the first to break the racial barrier on MTV, because MTV said we're not playing your music. So you know what he did? He took the songs from his "Thriller" album. He made these phenomenal videos. MTV played them and you know what? He made MTV. James?

HARRIS: There's no doubt that Michael Jackson broke barriers, and he did it through his talent. But I disagree that the younger generations remember just a great Elvis. They remember the pill-popping fat Elvis. It depends on what generation you come from.

It's the same thing with Michael Jackson. It's a generational argument. For those of us who grew up with him, we remember Jackson 5. We remember the moon walk in this evolution. It's the younger generation that may be looking at Michael Jackson with the distorted face and with the weird behavior. So it is a generational mix, and it's a seasonal thing.

CROWLEY: Well, Marc, James, thank you so much for being here. We appreciate your insights very much.

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