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Finally Facing the Michael Jackson Paradox

08/06/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The producer for our evening newscast made an astute comment to me today. He said before Michael Jackson's death, a poll of how he's regarded by people would have been evenly split: 50-percent that he's an unparalleled musical talent, a great man, whose "eccentricities" are part of his genius; and 50-percent that he's a sick person, whose obvious musical greatness becomes secondary to his bizarre life and inappropriate enjoyment of the company of young boys. I told my producer I thought he was right, and that since Jackson's death, that ratio has shifted to more like 95-percent positive and 5-percent negative, at least as reflected by the media.

Now, as we're seeing the last few days, those in that minority are beginning to make themselves heard. Long Island congressman Peter King, on a YouTube video over the weekend, questioned why there was such adulatory, non-stop media coverage of someone he called a "pervert" and "lowlife." In follow-up comments today, he didn't back off:

I think that those of us in public life have an obligation to try and stop something when we have something that is going so far in the wrong direction." King went on to say "I just had enough and I felt there are too many good people in this country who do good work and are not acknowledged and that we should not be canonizing someone like Michael Jackson.

Lest you attribute King's comments to the fact that he's conservative, liberal New York Times columnist Bob Herbert today expressed similar thoughts. It's worth quoting at length:

He tried to carve himself up into another person, but, of course, there was the same Michael Jackson underneath -- talented but psychologically disabled to the point where he was a danger to himself and others.

Reality is unforgiving. There is no escape. Behind the Jackson facade was the horror of child abuse. Court records and reams of well-documented media accounts contain a stream of serious allegations of child sex abuse and other inappropriate behavior with very young boys. Jackson, a multimillionaire megastar, was excused as an eccentric. Small children were delivered into his company, to spend the night in his bed, often by their parents.

Indeed, reality is unforgiving, and this paradox -- that Michael Jackson was both a transcendently brilliant musician and entertainment/cultural force, and a deeply troubled, very likely mentally ill person, who used his fame to flaunt one of society's most deeply-held taboos -- must be fully confronted. There's emerging a "he was a good guy/he was a bad guy" argument, but this is a false choice. Michael Jackson was both, and his brilliance as an entertainer in no way gets him off the hook for his perversions, while his dark side in no way diminishes the existence of his singular talent.

The media doesn't like paradox. It's too hard to explain. But I believe when a life is looked at -- and we sure are looking at Jackson's -- one must take the full measure of the man into account. He was a one-in-a-billion shooting star talent. And he was sick person. Like it or not, to give an honest remembrance of Michael Jackson, both sides must be considered valid.