May 13, 2005 | 6:45 p.m. ET

Let's not forget, there's a war still on... (Lisa Daniels, Abrams Report guest host)

In a recent conversation with my brother, a Marine just back from Iraq, he pointed out to me that there's a glaring omission in most national news coverage these days. You'd have to be living under a rock not to notice that. For the most part, coverage seems to be focused on stories like the saga of the runaway bride, Jennifer Wilbanks, or whether or not actor Macaulay Culkin would testify in the Jackson trial. 

Maybe it's me, but it seems to me that people are forgetting there's still a war going on in Iraq. There's been very little acknowledgment that in the past two weeks, there have been nearly 400 deaths in Iraq due to insurgent attacks. Now I'm not claiming that there isn't a place for news of a lighter nature like the Wilbanks story. In fact, I like to report it and I like to watch it myself.  But we need to make sure that there's a proper balance. Men and women are dying. They're being injured in Iraq. We're just not discussing it. 

You at home, us in the media (and I'm including me)— nobody seems to be talking about it around the water cooler anymore.  Since last Saturday alone, 16 American service members have died in Iraq, and two more in Afghanistan. Do you remember just two years ago at the start of the war, we covered American casualties in Iraq intensely? We displayed photos of each soldier killed. We learned their names.  We told their stories with reports from their hometowns. 

That seems to have changed and it really couldn't come at a worse time. Violence in Iraq has actually been on the rise over recent months. And if you didn't know that, don't blame yourself.  It's hardly been on TV, but here are the numbers: A new study from a Washington think tank found that the total number of major attacks per day in Iraq rose from 30 to 40 in February and March, then all the way to 70 in April and this month.

Now maybe the reason we don't talk about it anymore is the American public seems happy to have finally something else to focus on. Maybe we needed a break. But the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are continuing.  In total, over 1,600 American service members have been killed in Iraq. I just think we need to be discussing it. 

The old soldiers who died in May of 2005 deserve the same amount of recognition that we gave to those who died back in 2003. I'm not lecturing. I hate a lecture. I'm just reminding people— including myself. 

E-mail Sidebar@MSNBC.com.

May 11, 2005 | 5:12 p.m. ET

Spokane mayor playing blame-the-media game (Dan Abrams)

I'm sick and tired of hearing crime suspects or people embroiled in scandal, always blaming the media for their woes. These people always change the subject from what they're accused of to the media coverage of them. 

Most recently, Mayor James West of Spokane, Washington says a local newspaper is persecuting him and he blamed the news media hysteria for distracting him from his job. 

After two men gave depositions accusing West of molesting them when they were members of the Boy Scouts, “The Spokesman-Review” newspaper hired a computer expert to pose as an 18-year-old male high school student and engage in Internet chats with West on Gay.com.  West apparently offered the teen a city hall internship, tickets to professional sporting events and other gifts. Tuesday, there was more news that West may have offered two gay youths jobs after he met them over the Internet.This from a mayor who has been a long time opponent of gay rights. 

Besides criticizing the media, Mayor West hasn't said much of anything about whether he actually abused his elective office to hit on young men. Isn't that THE question he should be dealing with? 

The most famous “victim” of the media might be O.J. Simpson, who continues to blame the media for convincing the American public he was guilty. See, the problem with the media coverage was that it focused on the evidence and that was a problem for Simpson. O.J. was acquitted by a criminal jury, and then found responsible for the killings by a civil jury. Meaning, if you accept both jury verdicts, it's somewhere between 51 percent and 90-something percent certain that O.J. killed his wife and Ron Goldman, but he say's it is the media's fault.

Scott Peterson wasn't so lucky. That's the media's fault too, according to Lee Peterson, Scott's dad.  He wrote a scathing letter to “The Modesto Bee” last week claiming his son was convicted because of the way Scott was vilified in the media. Again, like O.J., Scott's dad conveniently ignored the evidence against his son and just changes the subject to make it about the media. 

Even the great Barry Bonds blamed the media for ruining his love of baseball after reporters asked whether he took steroids. Ignoring the fact that in grand jury testimony, Bonds reportedly admitted that he may have taken steroids unwittingly, and that his own personal trainers were at the center of a federal grand jury investigation in to the use of steroids in Major League Baseball.  

It's just a lot easier to blame the media than to deal with the facts. But remember, a little honesty might give the media something real to chew on.

E-mail Sidebar@MSNBC.com

May 10, 2005 | 4:26 p.m. ET

Stacy Brown, Michael Jackson family friend and MSNBC contributor shares his thoughts on another story in the news.

Chief Graham: Real civil rights leader in child murders case (Stacy Brown)

MSNBC
The case sent chills and fear through most of America, especially in black communities everywhere. Day after day, it seemed, another young black person met his untimely end somewhere in the bottoms of Atlanta.

A little more than ten years after the murder of Martin Luther King, many suspected that the Ku Klux Klan was once again wreaking havoc essentially in King's backyard and against the late-civil rights leader's brethren.

It began on a warm July Friday night in 1979. Children started disappearing in Atlanta. Before anyone would ever be named a prime suspect, 29 had been sexually abused, murdered and, in some cases, nearly dismembered. 

The Special Task Force on Missing and Murdered Children handled the case. There were other agencies too looking into the murders. Everyone from President Jimmy Carter, who himself was a native of Georgia, to Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, pressed for a resolution. Curfews were enacted and already faltering attendance at Atlanta Hawks basketball games left the team playing before the sparsest of gatherings.

The city was in a panic. Carter lost his re-election bid to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush became Vice President and he too took an active role in the investigation of the Atlanta Child Murders case.

Suddenly, freelance photographer Wayne Williams became the target to take the fall. Williams was black and was said to be homosexual. It was something about fibers matching a couple of the victims and William that became the round-glasses wearing Williams' undoing. Or so the powers that be wanted all of us to believe. Williams, who is currently serving two life sentences for the murders of Nathaniel Cater, 27, and Jimmy Ray Payne, 21, was convicted in 1982.

The case was closed but the wounds remained wide open. Few blacks accepted that 29 children were killed and that a black man was found convicted of killing two adults and that was to be the end of it.

For nearly 25 years, it stood this way. There were no outcries by the likes of Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton or even the NAACP. They had apparently subscribed to the theory that as long as the killings stopped, it was no reason to say anything. Never mind that a young black man, who may well be totally innocent, had taken the ultimate fall.

Williams has not only maintained his innocence, but has repeatedly stated his belief of involvement by the KKK, who were still very strong in the South in the 1970s and 1980s. Whether they were responsible or not, evidence had always pointed to someone of an authority figure. Williams' trial was such a miscarriage of justice that it prompted Georgia Supreme Court Justice George T. Smith to say, “It was a trial of rank hearsay, unproven assumptions and guess work.”  

DeKalb County Police Chief Louis Graham said he too thinks Williams is innocent. “I don't think Wayne Williams is responsible for anything,” Graham said last week. “I made up my mind with that 20 years ago and I still feel that way.”

Graham, who called for the reopening of this case , has formed a cold case squad to look into four young men slain in DeKalb County, east of downtown. The men were all killed between February and May 1981. If Graham could at least show that someone other than Williams killed one of these men, beyond a reasonable doubt, then all of the murders should be reinvestigated.

Williams, as timing would have it, is eligible for parole this October. Simply reopening the investigation could help Williams win parole. Hopefully some justice will finally be served too and if Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton or the NAACP should be there to greet Williams upon his release, I hope he walks right past them and makes a beeline to Graham, a real African-American Civil Rights Leader.

May 9, 2005 | 5:58 p.m. ET

Damage and lawsuits: It's all about the money (Dan Abrams)

What is our society coming to when a man refuses to return a body part to someone who hoped to have it reattached? The reason, it appears, is he feared returning it might detract from a possible lawsuit. 

Clarence Stowers found a part of a severed finger in a dessert he purchased at Kohl's Frozen Custard in Wilmington, North Carolina. But unlike that ridiculous case at Wendy's where it appears the woman made it up and no one knows where the finger came from, this one was no mystery. 

Brandon Fizer, an employee of Kohl's, had his finger amputated in a custard mixing machine only minutes before Stowers found it in his chocolate custard. Doctors told Fizer his finger could be attached up to eight hours after the amputation occurred. Well after Stowers announced that he'd made the grizzly discovery, the general manager of the custard store asked Stowers for the finger back so he could rush it to the hospital. Stowers refused.

According to the manager, Stowers left the store and announced he was on his way to call television stations and a lawyer. He was keeping the finger for evidence in a lawsuit he planned to file, according to the manager. Now it's too late to have the finger reattached. 

You know,  you hear people cite a lot of statistics both for and against tort reform. Maybe more important than that is the sick mentality that all these lawsuits have created. When people see someone slip or fall or get hurt, it's all about the legal pay out. One of the first questions and concerns is “Can I sue or will he sue?”

Stowers' lawyer says he just wanted to make sure the finger could be tested for any diseases. Well, those tests could have been done at the hospital once the finger was reattached.  But even if that long shot explanation is true, why is it still about  a “How does it affect me?” mentality. I'm tired of it. 

We need to change our legal system, not just because the system is being abused, but because of the psychology of many of the people in this country-- people like Clarence Stowers, who it seems, are blinded by the potential payout. 

E-mail Sidebar@MSNBC.com

May 6, 2005 | 4:22 p.m. ET

A face only a mother could love? (Dan Abrams)

Remember your parents telling you "It's only who you are on the inside that matters, honey?" Well, according to a new study, they were lying. A new study out of Canada found that parents treat good-looking youngsters better than more homely ones.  Researchers hung around 14 Canadian supermarkets to observe how parents treated their young kids when grocery shopping— for instance,  whether they buckled them into the carts, how far away kids were allowed to wander, how frequently they were allowed to engage in potentially dangerous activities.

And then like frat boys in a bar, the researchers rated each child's attractiveness on a 1-10-point scale.

Well, it turns out that being a good-looking kid made a big difference in how the parents treated them. Only 4 percent of the uglier children were strapped into the shopping cart by their moms, while more than 13 percent of the cuter kids were strapped in safely. Apparently fathers were even worse offenders. The dads watched in the study didn't even bother to strap any of the ugly kids into the carts, but the dads strapped their cute kids into the cart 12.5 percent of the time.

If you were a kid prone to wandering the supermarket on your own, then you were best off if you were an attractive boy. Parents, apparently, were more attentive to good-looking boys, keeping them in closer proximity in the stores, than even with pretty girls.

The lead researcher in the study told "The New York" Times that parents taking better care of attractive children is just evolution, that good-looking offspring are parents' best genetic legacy, so they end up getting the most attention and care.

A young Dan Abrams
Yikes!  So what about us kids who might have had, well, an awkward period?  If we were more likely to be at danger in a supermarket, can you imagine what else we were in danger of?

I mean, just because I chose to wear a purple shirt with flowers and a balloon on my head does not mean my mother would have allowed me to suck on a helium dispenser. And SOMETIMES, maybe it was our parents' fault for not saying, “Hey, Casanova, you're not walking out looking like that!” 

Anyway, if this study is true, it's downright frightening.  Let's just hope that maybe it's just some weird Canadian phenomenon— so that next time some poor awkward boy hears “You've got a face only a mother could love,” at least he can count on that being true.

E-mail Sidebar@MSNBC.com

May 6, 2005 | 1:10 p.m. ET

Save the music (Jamie Rubin, Abrams Report Producer)

One thing I've heard consistently since we've been covering the Michael Jackson trial is that people have just stopped listening to Michael's music. Lots of you have written in to say you've been protesting the singer since way back when he was first alleged to have an inappropriate relationship with a young boy more than ten years ago. We've even had guests on the show who say they're just too disgusted by what they're hearing in the courtroom to rock out to "Beat It" on a regular basis.

I think we're jumping the gun here, folks. Sure I believe anyone is innocent until proven guilty; you could argue that's a very good reason to prevent us from banning the Gloved One from the airwaves. But forget all that, I'm all for saving the music simply because I think it's really good.  You can argue with me but hey, 18 Grammys can't be wrong.

So, as embarrassing as it might be to admit, I'm still listening to Michael Jackson well past the 20th century. I'm here to say it's okay to be a fan of Michael Jackson's music even if you don't like him as a person.  Call me crazy but three of the tracks on the beloved “Gym playlist” on my iPod are vintage King of Pop hits. Warming up for a workout wouldn't be the same without "Wanna Be Starting Something," "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough" and "Smooth Criminal" blasting in the background. 

When I think about it, we stand by a lot of products, ideas, and services even if the habits or actions of their purveyors are questionable. I'm pretty sure Martha Stewart lied to federal investigators but I'm also pretty sure her Watermelon Bombe is one of the coolest desserts I've ever made. Should I really deprive myself of learning how to make this springtime botanical calendar just because she's a convicted felon?  Steve Madden may have laundered money, but aren't these gold peek-toe heels really cute? 

True, my feelings might change if Michael Jackson actually becomes a convicted child molester. But for now, I'm content to take long walks in the park with a bounce in my step because I'm bopping along to "The Way you Make Me Feel."

Johnnie Cochran had a great tagline for the O.J. Simpson trial: “If it doesn't fit, you must acquit.”  I've got my own mantra for this case: "Let the music play, until it's verdict day!"

E-mail me at JRubin@MSNBC.com

May 5, 2005 | 2:47 p.m. ET

Time to victimize the victim again? (Stacy Brown, Jackson family friend and MSNBC contributor)

When Michael Jackson's attorneys open their defense today of the child molestation charges against the King of Pop, an old and shameful tactic will be deployed: Attack the alleged victim.

This is not to say that Jackson's attorneys shouldn't be allowed to aggressively defend the singer. Jackson, like anyone, has a right to and deserves a fair trial. However, the young accuser in this case deserves all the protections that alleged victims in sex abuse cases are supposed to be afforded.

Apparently Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville isn't buying that. Melville, who has already issued some very controversial rulings for and against both sides in this case, ruled that Jackson's young cousin, Rio Jackson, could testify about the accuser and his brother allegedly masturbating in a guest unit at Neverland.

Most people recognize that allowing questions about a victim's prior sexual history almost always works against the victim. The fear of being humiliated, as this accuser will undoubtedly be, has discouraged others victims from reporting and pursuing charges.

Tough for victims to testify
According to an uncle of Jackson's 1993 accuser, it wasn't the multi-million dollar settlement between Jackson and his nephew that prevented the boy from testifying against Jackson. It was his fear for his safety and his fear of being humiliated. “He just doesn't want to be known as the Michael Jackson (victim),” Raymond Chandler said.

Last year the accuser in the Kobe Bryant rape case refused to cooperate with the prosecution after several humiliating revelations about her, including having intimate medical details “accidentally” posted on the court's website.

In a trial, the jury's attention is clearly diverted from the issue of the defendant's guilt or innocence by putting the victim on trial.

So we will hear about how unruly the current accuser was and that he masturbated in front of one of Jackson's cousins. We've already heard defense attorneys attacking the young cancer survivor and even television analysts and reporters have joined in doing the same. Just like Bryant's accuser, this young cancer patient has had his name bandied about on some mainstream news outlets and on a number of websites.

Some of the victim's claims may be corroborated

  • Pundits describe the boy's mother as “goofy,” “loopy” and as a “grifter.” Testimony, however, from strong witnesses such as comedian George Lopez and weatherman Fritz Coleman point the finger at the mother's ex-husband as being the grifter.
  • There's been testimony about the boy acting out at school and, at one point, even denying to a school official that Jackson had molested him.According to the Sexual Assault Response Center Website, sudden personality changes and temper tantrums as well as the outright denial of the assault is normal for victims. What's more, masturbation is listed as another sure-fire sign of a young victim.  Again, this is not to say that the family hasn't made all of this up. But most TV reports have tended to obscure the fact that a lot of the “loopy” mom's testimony was later corroborated by other witnesses, and that the alleged victim had been teased profusely at school about being “the boy who sleeps with Michael Jackson.”
  • The boy's mother spoke about seeing Jackson “lick” her son's head and we thought she was certainly “goofy.” But that testimony, as odd and goofy as it sounded, was corroborated as a pattern of Jackson's by another witness
  • We laughed when the mother spoke of “killers,” but gasped when another witness also referred to these same “killers.”
  • We certainly concluded that the mother was nothing short of insane when she spoke of possibly being put in a hot air balloon at Neverland. Did anyone stop to realize that not only does Michael Jackson own a hot air balloon at Neverland, but he also once used it in a music video?
  • Lest we forget too the seemingly outlandish testimony from the boy who said Jackson told him “If I don't masturbate, I could be like another boy who didn't masturbate and wound up having sex with a dog.” I, although not in the business of predicting, prognosticate that an independent witness in the state's rebuttal case will also corroborate that particular testimony.

Yes, Michael Jackson has a right to a fair trial that includes a very aggressive defense. But the young accuser and his family deserve the respect and dignity that is supposed to be accorded all alleged victims.

May 5, 2005 | 2:03 p.m. ET

Covering up circumstances surrounding Tillman's death (Dan Abrams)

It's hardly news that the cover-up is always worse than the crime itself, but it still seems it's lesson that's hard to learn: From Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton to the Catholic Church to Martha Stewart, they all learned the lesson very publicly.

So you'd think the U.S. Army might not make the same mistake. Well, no such luck when it came to the death of American hero Pat Tillman . He gave up a lucrative career in the National Football League to fight for his country in Afghanistan. A new 1,600-page report obtained by “The Washington Post” found that the U.S. Army knew within days of his death that Tillman had been killed by friendly fire in April of 2004.

Troops with Tillman at the time of death reported immediately that he was killed by American bullets, but the army didn't tell anyone, including his brother who was also serving in Afghanistan, or his parents, until a statement issued nearly four weeks after his nationally televised funeral. The report found that “Nothing has contributed more to an atmosphere of suspicion by the family than the failure to tell the family that Corporal Pat Tillman's death was the result of  friendly fire as soon as that information became known within military channels.”

The report also found that army officers not only erroneously reported that Tillman was killed by enemy fire, but also destroyed critical evidence, instructed soldiers to keep the truth from the public, and initially concealed the truth from Tillman's brother, who was near the site of the attack. An army spokesman told “The Post” that the army's process for notifying grieving families is imperfect and complex and needs to be improved. 

I'm sure they meant well, but cover-ups almost always involve an effort to try to keep certain potentially embarrassing details secret.  How imperfect and complex can it be to notify a family how their son was killed, especially when the death is receiving international attention and the parents are out doing television interviews demanding to know what happened to their son? Is it possible that an organization as sophisticated as the U.S. army thought it wouldn't come out eventually?

Pat Tillman's heroic story belonged to his family first, and then to the rest of us. It was an inspiration and represented the best of this country. I don't care how he died. That doesn't make his sacrifice any less valiant. But by trying to cover it up, the army sure didn't make it feel like they saw it that way.

E-mail DAbrams@MSNBC.com.

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