No, the headline is not misleading, Hillary did meet Michael Jackson, not the gloved one but the Talk Radio Legend.
After we had Bill Clinton on our program in 1991 as he began his run for President, The Michael Jackson Show, had credibility with the White House once he was elected. In 1996 when I heard that the First Lady was writing the book “It Takes A Village,” I called the publisher to ask about booking Hillary on the show. A few weeks later the publicist told me that we were on the First Lady’s schedule when she came to Los Angeles to promote the book so we set a date.
Now booking a First Lady, President or even former President is a bit more complicated than your average celebrity, rock star or book author. A month before the interview a secret service agent from the Los Angeles office asked me to provide information on anyone that might be coming in contact with Mrs. Clinton. I gathered the birthdates and social security numbers from about 8 staffers and called her with the information. After giving the agent my details I jokingly said, ‘Tell me what you find.’
A week passed by when the same agent came to the station to do a site survey. I escorted her around the building showing the studios, green room, bathroom and alternative exits and entrances. Before leaving she said, ‘Oh by the way, your record is clean’ and then handed me a cool secret service coffee mug.
The interview was taking place on a Monday at nine in the morning. The Sunday before, I met the secret service advance team at the station so they could do a more extensive survey, mapping out the route that the First Lady would use to enter the building and other details. These were serious dudes.
On Monday morning the station was buzzing about Hillary Clinton’s visit. Around seven, Roger the security guard called to say there we several secret service agents in the lobby. I went out front to meet them, there they stood, three agents and a German shepherd. At this point it hit me that this was a bomb sniffing dog and it was no game! We headed towards the studio, one agent and dog going their own way, two agents and myself to my office. They informed me that they the First Lady would be arriving through the side entrance in the alley. This was closest route to the studio and green room.
Around half past eight I along with our station general manager, George Greene, were standing by the back entrance awaiting Hillary Clinton’s arrival. Even though George was a loyal republican, he was as excited as the rest of us to have the First Lady on the show. While we’re waiting for the motorcade, George taps me on the shoulder and points up to the roof of the furniture store across the alley. I look up to see a couple of snipers with rifles surveying the area. Bomb sniffing dogs, now snipers…very serious stuff.
Hillary Clinton finally arrives, we greet her start walking towards the green room and there, squeezed in the hallway are station employees waving and saying hello. Of course there were three agents keeping them at bay. I get her settled in the green room when of her aides says that she needs to ask me a question. We step outside and she tells me that the first lady only uses a certain type of headphone. I’m thinking, ‘This is radio, we only have one type of headphone.’ I tell her that I’ll see what I can do knowing that I’ll go back empty handed. Five or ten minutes later I walk into the green room to tell Mrs. Clinton, ‘I’m sorry but we do not have the headphones you like.’ She smiles and says, ‘No big deal just give me whatever you have.’ Once again I’m reminded whether it’s celebrities, rock stars or First Ladies, their people are often more demanding than their bosses.
It’s time, so I escort Hillary into the studio. Michael Jackson is a pro, has been around a long time and knows how to put any guest at ease. He warmly greets her and after a minute or two of small talk he says, ‘Let’s sell some books!’
The interview is going well, Michael asks great questions, Hillary takes calls from listeners and I’m finally relaxed. Several months earlier, my co-producer Lyle Gregory developed a close friendship with Roger Clinton, the President’s brother. He and his wife Molly just had a new baby and asked Lyle if they could come up so Hillary could see her nephew for the first time. I don’t remember if we told the secret service but we told Roger to stop by.
On air, the interview continues with Hillary using all her savvy to answer questions while her facial expression is one of a thinking person. There is occasional laughter but for the most part it’s a serious discussion. A commercial comes, the First Lady looks up and sees through the studio window Roger holding her new nephew. She breaks out in a huge smile, face glowing and waves them to come in the studio. They hug, she holds the baby, commercial ends and continues talking with Michael.
Watching and hearing our political leaders often turns, at least for me, to white noise. Seeing the First Lady shed that role for a few minutes while meeting her nephew reminds us that beneath spin and rhetoric, our leaders are human beings.
Oh, remember that cool secret service mug, a few weeks later someone in our building stole it!