There will be many losers if Michael Jackson goes to trial, with the United States foremost among them. Can a country that is battling global terror, trying to rebuild Iraq and deciding who its president will be for the next four years really afford to have its media oxygen sucked up by this ugly circus?

Can Michael afford to have his entire past dredged up before the world – even if he is innocent of molestation – now that he has admitted he has shared his bed with “many” boys? Can the reputation of the world’s media survive an entire year of obsession with what is, at heart, a degrading tabloid story? And can the boy who has accused Michael – and whom this trial is essentially designed to protect – emerge whole from the rinse cycle that Michael’s attorneys will surely put him and his family through?

This horrible tale degrades all whom it involves.

But by far, the biggest losers of all in this sad saga are the world’s children, and here is why. One of the biggest problems we as a society face is the assault on our kids to skip their childhood and prematurely enter an adult world while they are still tender. Subjected to an incessant media barrage that makes it uncool and unhip to be naive, inexperienced or innocent, our kids are encouraged to flaunt their corruption.

Adolescent girls are expected to stop dressing up Barbie and start dressing like Britney. Braces and freckles are out. Thongs and belly piercings are in. Teen magazines teach pubescent girls to wear a lacy bra and mascara. Young boys are picking up cyber prostitutes on Grand Theft Auto and shooting each other in a thousand bloody video games. And teen movies show the most graphic sex, subtly spreading the message that virginity is for losers.

“Treat me like an adult” has become the rallying cry for a generation of youth who treat innocence like the Mark of Cain. Skipping an essential stage in life, they grow up to be scarred, scared and cynical adults. Is it any wonder that, like a building without a foundation, their rickety lives so easily topple when they grow up?

Suddenly, countering this message, along came the biggest star in the whole world who wasn’t ashamed to watch cartoons, who bragged that he would much rather have a water-balloon fight than go to a sleazy nightclub, and unashamedly proclaimed his enthusiasm for being around children. When Michael used to frequent our home for the Sabbath, unlike other adults who would barely remember the children’s names, he would spend most of his time at the Sabbath table listening excitedly to their tales.

When we first met and I told him I had seven children, his eyes widened as he told me how beautiful that was. Aside from his music, what Michael Jackson most stood for was that it was cool to be a kid. Here was for the foremost entertainer since the Beatles unashamedly embracing the childhood pursuits that young teens were discarding as backward and boring. Here was the world’s biggest star buying kids cotton candy and licorice and proclaiming to the world that – for all his riches – all he ever wanted was to have a childhood that celebrity had denied him.

While America’s kids were taking up smoking, Michael was climbing trees at Neverland. And while America’s kids wanted to watch violence and sex on television, Michael was laughing hysterically at “Bugs Bunny” and “Roadrunner.” To be sure, we adults find this behavior bizarre, but as Michael explained it to me, he finds the adult world – replete as it is with hatred and violence – equally bizarre. My own take on Michael was that a man has a right to be strange. There is no crime in it. And maybe we adults might learn something from him about how children are a blessing rather than a burden.

Now, of course, that message is utterly dead. Michael himself killed it with his immoral practice of sharing a bed with children, even if it wasn’t sexual. Michael sabotaged all that he stood for by crossing a line and that has now cast suspicion on any adult who actually loves being constantly around children, just as sure as Bill Clinton has cast doubt on any 50-year-old man who “counsels” a young intern about her problems.

The message now is that rock stars who spend their time with sleazy and obsequious groupies are healthy, while the celebrities whose lives revolve around innocent children are sick. Before the pedophile scandals rocked the Catholic Church, we all admired priests who served as role models to young boys. Now we question their motives. Little do we realize that our suspicions simply confirm our belief that children, unless they are ours, are boring and uninspiring, and that any adult who would prefer a child’s company to that of an adult must be repellant.

If Michael is guilty, he must have the courage to plead guilty and not drag the country through a horrible and destructive trial. If there is incontrovertible evidence against him, his lawyers should seek a plea bargain wherein Michael can avoid jail by being sent to a psychiatric hospital where he can find the healing he may require. In its highest form, punishment should serve not as retribution, but as redemption.

The process of healing the world must begin with the courage to heal ourselves, and if Michael is forced to seek treatment that can save him from further decline, this horrible ordeal might end up a blessing.

But if Michael is innocent, then he must fight these terrible allegations with every ounce of his formidable strength, notwithstanding how ugly the process will be both for himself and all the others. For his vindication will be every child’s vindication as well.

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