Reporter Jim DeRogatis On R. Kelly Charges

Feb 23, 2019
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

R. Kelly entered a Chicago police station last night and turned himself in. The R&B star is charged with 10 counts of the aggravated sexual abuse of four victims. Three were underage girls. Kelly's been accused of having sex with minors before - he was once married to a 15-year-old - and keeping women in a cult. He is expected to appear at a bail hearing today.

Jim DeRogatis has been doing tough reporting on R. Kelly for almost 20 years, ever since he received an anonymous fax claiming the star was abusing young girls. Jim DeRogatis, who writes books and hosts the show Sound Opinions for WBEZ in Chicago, joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us, Jim.

JIM DEROGATIS, BYLINE: Yeah. It's always a pleasure to talk to you, Scott.

SIMON: These allegations, as we note, go back decades, and he's been able to mostly escape them - was exonerated once. What's changed in recent weeks?

DEROGATIS: Well, obviously, we have the Time's Up movement and an activist movement based in Georgia. The times have changed. You know, I think the big picture is what I'm interested in. And I've spent, you know, 18 years writing this book I never wanted to write - it's finally coming out in June - about R. Kelly, "Soulless."

You know, I don't think, Scott, in the history of popular music - I know you're a fan - you know, that there has ever been a predator on this level. I know the names of 48 women whose lives have been seriously hurt or ruined by the biggest-selling R&B star of his generation - approximately a hundred million records sold - in view of the world's spotlight with no recriminations.

There were two additional women added to the indictment yesterday. I now can call it an even 50. I mean, that's extraordinary.

SIMON: What forces have been surrounding R. Kelly and protecting him from being brought to justice?

DEROGATIS: I am told by someone in a position to know - it's in my book - that he generated for himself 243 billion - $243 million, almost a quarter of a billion dollars, in his 30-year reign atop the charts. For Jive Records, the longtime label - then it was folded into RCA - that would be almost a full billion dollars. Money - money and a complete lack of morality - no concern for almost exclusively underage black girls.

You know, they were not the victims of a Harvey Weinstein - movie stars who we see and love and relate to. These were women no one seemed to care about, even in Chicago, you know, our beloved Chicago - you and me, Scott, right...

SIMON: Yeah.

DEROGATIS: ...For 30 years. You know, what kills me is journalism. It is impossible to walk two or three blocks in the South or West Sides without meeting a young woman who has a story - a story about her, her cousin, her auntie. I met three of them yesterday, jetting between Michael Avenatti's press conference and the State Attorney Kim Foxx's.

Everyone in Chicago knew, but no one did anything - not the Baptist power structure, not the court system. The cops really tried. The cops knew his cruising places and would sit there and keep an eye out for him. And they were not - I mean, they were the Rock 'N' Roll McDonald's. They were Evergreen Plaza shopping mall. You know, I mean, it's like - it's extraordinary.

SIMON: Well, we've only got half a minute left. But let me just note he released a song about you this week before he was arrested, right?

DEROGATIS: No, that was in July.

SIMON: Oh.

DEROGATIS: "I Admit" is a 19-minute epic where he admits nothing. He admits that parents throw their daughters at him. And he says, Jim DeRogatis, whatever your name is, you've been trying to down me for 25 years now. He got the math wrong, but he's right.

Scott, I mean, I'm a music critic, but I'm also a reporter first and foremost. I wouldn't be doing my job if I hadn't been trying to expose this man. It's just a damn shame it took 28 years for anybody to listen.

SIMON: Jim DeRogatis, thanks so much.

DEROGATIS: You're most welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.