The Los Angeles Times’ decline reminds me of what happens when you spill a bag of groceries down a flight of stairs. It keeps going and going, and then when you think it has stopped, another can of tomatoes bounces out.
For many observers, this week’s can of tomatoes is yesterday’s announcement that it will put advertising on its section front pages. For me, it was today’s piece about the rock singer who thinks she was Marilyn Monroe in a past life.
Robert W. Welkos, a long-time reporter for the paper and, among other achievements, co-author of the brave 1990 series exposing Scientology, today sees his byline over a 2,000-word piece about an obscure rock singer in an unknown Canadian rock band called Pandamonia, who has been provided with past-life regression therapy to deal with her belief, beginning at age 11, that she is Marilyn Monroe.
The Times apparently thought this story was pretty important. It gives Welkos a full page in the Calendar section, illustrated with an enormous glamour-shot of Marilyn along with photos of the singer, Sherrie Lea Laird and her daughter (who, get this, believes she’s Marilyn Monroe’s mother) and the therapist, Dr. Adrian Finkelstein. Finkelstein, who Welkos takes pains to point out is “currently accorded privileges to practice at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center,” is peddling a book about the return of Marilyn entitled Marilyn Monroe Returns! The Healing of a Soul, which is currently ranked #268,228 on Amazon. So, you know, this is news, baby!
(Pandamonia has no CDs for sale on Amazon, and from its own website seems to be a band that plays mostly in Toronto pubs and sells its songs via downloads. Welkos says Pandamonia is playing this week in LA, although the tour dates page on the band’s website doesn’t agree.)
The tone of the piece is completely credulous. Oh, Welkos does allow as to how “neither the American Psychiatric Association nor the American Psychological Association have taken an official position on past life regression therapy.” But when Finkelstein and Laird say that Laird “had never done the kind of research that might explain the persistent familiarity she felt for Marilyn,” Welkos does not question this assertion.
Welkos, and the Times’, only test of Laird’s trustworthiness is that she is not being paid by Finkelstein to promote his book — even though she is doing a press conference Friday to promote the book, which presumably will give this would-be rock star more visibility. Oh, and that Laird’s “fellow band members were concerned about her coming forward at this time for fear that it would hurt the group’s credibility.” Gee, if Pandamonia’s members decide to give up music, maybe they could become editors for the LA Times.
Certainly, Times readers would benefit from a past-life regression from Robert W. Welkos — from the reporter he is today to the reporter who, with Joel Sappell, demolished Scientology 16 years ago. That Welkos would have had some good questions for Dr. Finkelstein, such as: How much money did Ms. Laird pay you for this “therapy?” What about your website? How much money do you make selling “memberships?” How much do your DVDs, tapes, CDs and books bring in? The site looks like a giant come-on, doctor; care to comment?
Look, like the American Psychiatric Association, I’m not taking a position on reincarnation, which is a religious belief. Nor am I saying that past-life regression is bunk, because I don’t know enough about it. My questions are simply logical ones. Like, how is it that of the billions of dead souls out there, most of the past-lives stories center around dead celebrities like Marilyn Monroe?
Hundreds of books have been written about the tragic actress. Practically everyone who knew her has written a memoir about her. They’ve multiplied since evidence began to emerge that she had affairs with John F. and Robert F. Kennedy. I’ve run across many TV documentaries about her life, her death, conspiracy theory about whether she was murdered. I don’t consider myself a hugely obsessed Marilyn Monroe fan, but just through pop-culture osmosis, I could probably recite 100 facts about her life. But the LA Times wants us to buy this?
After treating hundreds of patients with regression therapy, Finkelstein, who runs the Malibu Wholistic Health Center, came away convinced that Laird wasn’t lying and wasn’t psychotic.
Indeed, he noted, she was able to answer — under hypnosis — hundreds of carefully researched questions about Monroe’s life. He noted that some of her answers could have been known only by the real Monroe, such as being able to identify the actress’ maternal aunts in a family photograph.
The psychiatrist also pointed out similarities that he said existed between the two women’s facial features, hands, feet, voice patterns and handwriting. Finkelstein stressed that Laird was not a poser who wanted to embody Monroe but was someone struggling to reconcile years of pain and disturbing memories: “She didn’t want to be Marilyn Monroe, period. She wanted to be herself, unlike so many pretenders, beautiful girls who stepped forward and wanted to be her.”
Ah yes. The old “statements against interest” form of evidence. If you say you’re Marilyn Monroe, but you don’t want to be Marilyn Monroe, then you really must be Marilyn Monroe. Welkos also applies empirical proof to her claims:
Connected at birth?
LAIRD was born 11 months after Monroe’s death. But Laird said she doesn’t believe that contradicts her reincarnation theory. Laird said her mother suffered a miscarriage and two months later became pregnant. “The same baby was me,” Laird said. “She lost me, but I came back.”
Finkelstein came to another startling conclusion that may be harder to swallow, for some, than Sherrie Laird being Marilyn Monroe.
He believes her daughter, Kezia, is the reincarnation of Gladys Baker, Monroe’s mother.
He noted that Kezia was conceived within days of Baker’s death in 1984.
“It seems that immediately upon her death, Gladys made a ‘reservation’ to be born to Sherrie,” Finkelstein writes in his book.
“That’s his biggest gift for me,” Laird said in an interview. “[Kezia is] Gladys…. You actually do get a chance to work things out with loved ones.”
Surely Welkos, with his months of research into Scientology’s greedy practices, knows what the effect of this article will be. He is going to drive hundreds of new customers into Finkelstein’s lucrative online bazaar. Not only will the good doctor sell more books, he will sell more of everything he hawks on his site. Next we’ll be hearing about the poor victims who never wanted to be reincarnated as JFK, RFK, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix and Judy Garland. People will pay millions to hear their sad stories of the uncontrollable thoughts about the Bay of Pigs, Viva Las Vegas, and playing guitar with your teeth.
And, perhaps 20 years from now, the reincarnation of Otis Chandler. He already walks among us! He’d just be a baby now, but in a few years he is going to learn how to read, and he’ll be mysteriously drawn to a copy of the LA Times. He’s going to see it and, boy, is he going to need therapy!
(UPDATE: Now I’m embarrassed. Until today [9/26], I didn’t see that I had misspelled the word “embarrassing” in the title. Well, I guess that shoots my application to become a copy editor for the Times.)