Observations from the Field

(CBS/ AP)
For the past 7 days now, I have done nothing but cover the death of Michael Jackson and sleep (at least 4 hours each night). While I was always a fan of his music, especially the amazing hits from the 80's, I never closely followed the surreal saga that was his life off stage. However, I find the drama that has played out over the past week to be incredibly compelling. Some of it is tabloid for sure, but it is also a great human drama and tragedy. The other thing that has amazed me is how much of the "news" about Jackson is being driven by the celebrity web site TMZ. They generally traffic in all things celebrity and it's far from what many would consider reputable journalism. However, TMZ broke the news of Jackson's death and has basically been one step ahead of EVERY news organization since. Some are calling Jackson's death the event that will "legitimize" TMZ. That remains to be seen, but right now they are out front.

Some thoughts on Diana Ross and Debbie Rowe:

When Michael Jackson's will was released today, there were two bombshells. First, he asked that his mother be given custody of his children. However, if she wasn't able to care for them, he wanted them to go to Diana Ross. Jackson's biographer, Randy Taraborelli, says the two were extremely close. In fact, when a young Michael Jackson first lived in Los Angeles, he lived with Ross at her mansion and she became a surrogate mother. He was able to see how she raised her kids and apparently decided she did a pretty good job. The two also memorably starred in the 1978 musical "The Wiz." However, Jackson's biographer says the two have not been in contact in recent years. That Jackson distanced himself from almost everyone after his molestation trial in 2005. Taraborelli does say that he thinks Ross will be delighted that Jackson thought of her in this way.

As for Debbie Rowe, Jackson's former wife who gave both to two of his children, she was specifically cut out of the will. When Jackson signed his will in 2002, he and Rowe had split and were at odds over custody and visitation rights for the children. In 2005, Rowe was called as a prosecution witness in Jackson's molestation trial. However, many believe her testimony is what led to Michael Jackson's acquittal. Shortly thereafter, the two reached an agreement whereby she gave up her parental rights for a reported multi-million dollar settlement.


Ben Tracy Ben Tracy has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2008. He is based in Los Angeles and covers the western United States, primarily for the "CBS Evening News with Katie Couric" and "The Early Show."

  • Ben Tracy

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