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Impeachment Inquiries

November 15, 2019

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Is R. Kelly the ‘worst predator’ in the history of pop music?

R&B and pop music star R. Kelly is yet again facing charges of sexual abuse. He's also the subject of three federal investigations, including one about sex trafficking. Yamiche Alcindor talks to journalist Jim DeRogatis, author of “Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly,” about how DeRogatis first uncovered the alleged abuse, how institutions failed Kelly's victims and his "masterful" manipulation.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    R&B and pop music star R. Kelly is due back in court tomorrow, facing more charges of sexual abuse. Federal investigators are weighing charges as well.

    It's all a striking change in fortune.

    Yamiche Alcindor is back with a conversation we recently recorded with a journalist who has long pursued this story.

    It's the latest installment of our Bookshelf.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    For years, there have been allegations and rumors about R. Kelly's behavior. There was a trial, an acquittal and then even more accusations.

    Then, this winter, concerns intensified. In January, a six-hour documentary detailed allegations of R. Kelly mistreating and sexually abusing women, many of them minors, even as his career thrived.

    In February the star was charged with aggregated criminal sexual abuse involving four women, three of whom were under the age of consent at the time of the abuse. He turned himself into Chicago police and was eventually released on bail. His record company also dropped him.

    Kelly has been repeatedly denying committing any criminal behavior.

    A new book, "Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly," chronicles the singer's history and the lives of a number of his accusers. It's the culmination of almost two decades of reporting by journalist Jim DeRogatis. He's a former music critic for The Chicago Sun-Times and a co-host of the public radio show "Sound Opinions."

    Thanks, Jim, so much for being here.

    Almost two decades ago now, you got an anonymous FAX that really changed the course of your career. It said, "Robert has a problem with young girls."

    Tell me a little bit how you got into investigating R. Kelly and what sources told you about his behavior.

  • Jim DeRogatis:

    As the pop music critic at The Chicago Sun-Times, I got a lot of hate mail.

    And I initially tossed this fax on the slush pile of press releases and hate letters that I was going to throw away. But it was — it was a single-spaced page-long FAX that had a lot of names and details and dates and a certain tone. "Robert needs help. Robert needs to stop. He has to stop hurting young girls."

    And I didn't think that a random hater would show that kind of compassion.

    Yamiche, I had always been a reporter first and foremost. I had spent five years at The Jersey Journal covering crooked politicians and mobsters. I threw myself into this story because young women were telling me they were being hurt. And I stayed on the story for 19 years because those calls never stopped coming.

    And, as a journalist, and I think, as a human being, if a young woman is calling you and saying, "I have been hurt, no one will listen to me, the courts, the cops are not taking me seriously, can I tell you my story?" — that's — that's the job you and I do, isn't it?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    You write that the lives of 48 women were either damaged or destroyed by R. Kelly. You also write that you think thousands of people knew.

    How could R. Kelly have gotten away with these alleged crimes for so long?

  • Jim DeRogatis:

    Well, R. Kelly was — if he earned a quarter of a billion dollars, as my sources say, Jive Records earned a full billion. And Clive Calder and Barry Weiss were the executives running this label.

    They have a very poor record of their artists being treated horribly or their problems ignored. And they know about R. Kelly, because young women named them as a party to the lawsuits.

    The music industry had no interest in shutting him down. He was making them way too much money.

    And then the book is a unique Chicago story. In Chicago, the churches failed, the schools failed, the journalists failed, the courts failed. Later on, the police failed. Everyone failed these young black women that he preyed on.

    I have said, no one matters less in society than young black girls. And when I say that, I'm saying it because dozens of young black women have said that to me, and I'm just trying to amplify what they're saying as a journalist.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    How did R. Kelly being black and most of his victims being black women factor into the way that these alleged crimes were viewed?

  • Jim DeRogatis:

    I have always wrestled with that question, because people would throw at me and at Abdon Pallasch, another white journalist I was working with: "You are trying to down a successful black man."

    And yet we have talked to so many young black women whose lives were hurt and ruined, I say. I mean, they — some attempted suicide, according to court documents, according to what they told us, according to the scars on the wrists that I have seen.

    I never understood why those black women mattered less than this black superstar. It's not a book I wanted to write, Yamiche. It's a dark and horrible place to live. But I thought it was necessary because, above and beyond the case needing to be made that this is the worst predator in the history of popular music — and I know that sounds hyperbolic.

    Men have been treating women badly in the music world way before Sinatra and way after Chris Brown. Nobody, I believe, has racked up the body count, 48 young women, lives ruined. And when I say lives ruined, that's not hyperbole. Many of these young women dreamed of being a singer. Their careers were destroyed.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    R Kelly sat down with CBS News' Gayle King. He was angry. He was emotional.

    How does that square with what you have seen and heard from sources?

  • Jim DeRogatis:

    Kelly is a masterful manipulator of the media. And he was delivering an Oscar-worthy performance. And I'm not the only one. There were people on set who told me the same thing in that interview.

    He believes he can spin his way out of trouble. He's under indictment in Illinois on very serious charges, 10 charges originally; 11 more additional charges were added.

    But there is a federal investigation, three federal investigations, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the IRS, that are looking at obstruction of justice, tax evasion, sex trafficking, and transporting underage girls across state lines for immoral purposes.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Do you think that people are taking these alleged crimes more seriously this time around? And, if so, why?

  • Jim DeRogatis:

    I think that people still don't realize the scope of these crimes, that they start in 1991, and they are continuing even as you and I speak. That's why I thought this book was necessary.

    But when I sat with Dominique Gardner and tell her story for the first time in the book, and I asked her: "You're a smart, beautiful young woman, a talented poet. Why did you spend nine years with him?"

    "I loved him, and he loved me. And, yes, he beat me with an extension cord. And yes, he choked me and starved me, but I loved him."

    And I would go, "But, Dominique, why?"

    And she finally pulled up his mug shot, Yamiche, on her cell phone, and she held it up and said: "Them eyes, Jim. It was them eyes."

    There's the power of the music. There's the celebrity. There's the fame. There's young girls who believe that they will be the next Aaliyah. And then there's this other thing that I think we're going to be trying to parse for years to come.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, thank you so much for joining us.

    The book is "Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly."

    Jim DeRogatis, thank you.

  • Jim DeRogatis:

    Thank you, Yamiche.

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