It was bizarre seeing this morning how hundreds of news sources on the Internet alleged that Michael Jackson admired Hitler and considered him a genius. Nothing could be further from the truth and these scandalous allegations are all based on a simple misrepresentation of a quote from Michael in my book The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation. The book debuted only this morning on NBC's "Today" Show (scroll down to watch). But before I even had the chance to discuss it in the first TV interview, this serious mis-characterization of Michael was spreading everywhere unchecked.
Here is what Michael actually said, as found in our conversations, which were recorded with Michael's enthusiastic consent for the express purpose of publication in this book:
Hitler was a genius orator. He was [able] to make that many people turn and change and hate. He had to be a showman and he was. Before he would speak, he would pause, drink a bit of water, and then he would clear his throat, and look around. It was what an entertainer would do trying to work out how to play his audience. He would go into this fury of the first words he would say and he would hit them hard. But where did he come from? I know he failed school and he wanted to be an architect. He failed a lot of things. But I think it all happened in prison, the whole Mein Kampf thing, didn't it?
Not only is there nothing controversial in what Michael is saying, but the point has been made by countless authoritative historians. Hitler was a master showman. He was indeed a brilliant orator who used his considerable charisma to stoke an inferno of hate. It is well known that he practiced his speeches in front of mirrors and had photographers take snapshots of him in different poses that he later studied to determine which were the most effective. He was an evil genius who employed every facet of a darkened soul to bring out the beast in man. And Michael is insightful in pointing out how Hitler studied his audience in order to gain mastery over them the way an entertainer would. It is very surprising that such a straightforward comment has become so controversial.
Look, Michael had enough real flaws without people unfairly inventing new ones. I have already in the past written several columns refuting the idea that Michael was ever an anti-Semite. Indeed, I always considered him a loving friend of the Jewish people. In 2001 he came with me to meet Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel and was honored to have all the photos released to the press, even though he was warned that this could provoke a serious boycott of his music in Arab countries that despised Sharon.
Then, of course, there was the fact that Michael, for two years, trumpeted me, a Rabbi, as a mentor, hardly the stuff of anti-Semitism. And Michael loved coming to our home for the Friday night Sabbath dinner and told me that the night I took him to Synagogue to pray was the happiest of his life. I could go on, but the allegation that Michael could admire Hitler is so preposterous that it does not require any lengthy refutation.
As far as Michael's contention in the book that he could have touched something inside of Hitler in a one-hour meeting, obviously this is ridiculous and I criticize the comment heavily in the book. Hitler was intrinsically evil and had utterly erased any trace of the image of G-d from his countenance. Touch Hitler and all you would have found is rancid bile and poison. But far from this being a demonstration that Michael excused Hitler's evil, it is rather a sad commentary on Michael's hopeless naïveté and growing Messiah complex.
Michael hated Hitler and knew he was evil. But it was his mistaken belief that there was still something human in him that Michael could uniquely touch. In my book I discuss how one of the more corrosive elements of superstardom is the deification by fans that can lead the object of undo veneration to believe that he is possessed of special abilities. Michael deserves to be strongly criticized for believing too much in his own power to reform those who migrated irreversibly toward the dark side. But the suggestion that he had any sympathy for Hitler is grossly unfair and simply untrue.
I have no reason to undeservingly defend Michael Jackson and indeed those who read my book will discover that I have bookended our more than two hundred pages of transcribed conversations with a moral overview of Michael's life and how his tragic existence and untimely demise can only be redeemed by serving as a morality tale for the rest of America. Michael was an American icon and embodied in his broken person so much of the excess that is coming to define a nation whose citizens increasingly seek fame at any cost. But that still does not give us the right to distort him in death on issues where he had no culpability.
Michael wanted these conversations published and made available to the public. He felt that if people understood the extreme suffering he had endured and if he exposed his heart to what he knew to be a suspicious public, people might judge him more charitably. In the final analysis, this book is Michael in his own words and each person will make his own judgment. I am not asking you to make Michael into any kind of saint in death, any more of a man than he was in life. But let's not unfairly make him into the devil either.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach's newest book, The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation was released today by Vanguard Press. NBC Dateline will be airing a one hour special on the book tonight at 9pm.