The media can turn anyone into a hero or a villain. In the case of R&B pop star R. Kelly, they’ve promoted his career and downplayed at least 15 years of sex crime allegations. He’s been featured both as a guest and musical performer on top network shows.
Late night TV talk programs such as The Tonight Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live!, as well as daytime’s Good Morning America, have given the singer glowing airtime and promotions for his many albums. Kimmel gave a friendly interview to the singer on December 4, 2013, and said to him, “There is so much I could learn from you.” Nothing was said about allegations about sex with underage girls.
The latest allegations against Kelly are the most alarming. BuzzFeed News unveiled a shocking expose alleging in the title that that the singer is “Is Holding Women Against Their Will” as part of a “cult.”
Six girls are supposedly living with him, according to BuzzFeed News reporter Jim DeRogatis, some of whom are being kept out of communication with their families or anyone outside Kelly’s circle. Parents said they believe that Kelly “controls every aspect” of their daughters’ lives.
One of the parents was quoted as saying, “I was really impressed with him at first, because I have always been an R. Kelly fan.” It’s odd that she seemingly knew nothing about his sex offense allegations.
Bizarre sex claims have followed Kelly -- incident after incident -- with little broadcast news coverage. In 2002, NBC’s Today show made a brief announcement that the singer was “behind bars” facing child pornography charges. According to the Chicago Tribune, in 2008 R. Kelly was “tried and acquitted” on 14 charges that involved a sex tape he made with his underage goddaughter.. The Daily Beast, in 2016, called the singer a “noted sexual predator” and said that R. Kelly “has a history of preying on underage girls.”
And in 2014, Slate ran a story called, “Why Does Alleged Sexual Predator R. Kelly Still Have a Career?” Josh Levin, author of the piece, said that while Bill Cosby had been destroyed by the media, Kelly “continues to get a pass.”
This is the same person that Kimmel wanted to “learn from” in his interview. Throughout the banter on the episode between Kimmel and R. Kelly, Kimmel asked the singer, “How do you know you’re a sex genius?”
Much of that controversy also predated his interview with Jimmy Fallon, on The Tonight Show in 2015 Fallon called R. Kelly “the reigning king of R&B.” And GMA introduced him as “R&B winner R. Kelly,” who “stopped by GMA for a very special performance.” Both shows gave the singer between 3 and 5 minutes of glossy air-time, with no mention of any controversy whatsoever.
So how exactly did these parents and these girls miss the many allegations against Kelly? The networks might have had something to do with it. According to Nexis transcripts, ABC’s Primetime Live ran a interview with R. Kelly, on October 7, 2004, that defended him against the allegations, and quoted him as saying, “I am not no demon. I’m no devil. I’m no criminal.” Jay Schadler asked him questions about “being a Christian man,” his music, and his mother. Kelly also said, “If I could have I would have married my mom.” Very few questions were asked about the allegations.
A year later, in 2005, ABC News showcased R. Kelly’s participation in the Hurricane Katrina relief album Come Together Now: “R. Kelly is among the many artists adding their voices to a hurricane relief album.” While five other artists were mentioned, R. Kelly was placed above all the rest.
On June 20, 2009, NBC Dateline ran a story memorializing pop star Michael Jackson. The episode showcased him as the “Prince of Pop.” When asked, music journalist Toure admitted that R. Kelly was one of the many artists following Jackson’s “blueprint” of stardom, along with other artists such as Beyonce and Britney Spears. The irony may be highlighted in the November 22, CBS 48 Hour Investigation from 2003, where the host linked Michael Jackson to R. Kelly, calling them both “underage sex suspects.”
In 2016, Fallon allowed R. Kelly a spot on his December 23, Christmas special, where Kelly sang a song from his Christmas album. This appearance came just days after BET reported that a petition had been launched to ban the singer from a music festival, Soulquarius, because of his past allegations.