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CBS Denies $1 Million Payday to Michael Jackson for Interview

Michael Jackson Under Seige: Day 43: CBS and Jackson’s camp yesterday denied a published report that the network added $1 million to the license fee it paid the singer for a prime-time music special to get him to talk to “60 Minutes” about the child molestation charges he faces.

“Categorically false” is how CBS News, in a statement, labeled the report, and Jackson adviser Charles Koppelman, who first brokered the music special in September, called the New York Times report “nonsense.”

In other Weird and Wacky World of Michael Jackson news, the Nation of Islam held a news conference yesterday to announce it has no “official” business with the so-called King of Pop. And the Santa Barbara County sheriff held another one to play video and audio of his people being polite to Jackson during his arrest – countering the singer’s claim that he was “manhandled” by police. The sheriff said that Jackson has seriously undermined his credibility.


In the Times story, headlined “Michael Jackson’s $1 Million Interview Deal,” an unnamed former business associate of Jackson says CBS agreed to pay the extra money to the star to reschedule the special that was supposed to air in November, coinciding with the release of Jackson’s new album, “Number Ones.”

CBS shelved the special last month after the Santa Barbara district attorney put out a warrant for Jackson’s arrest. (He was later charged with seven counts of child molestation.) A “60 Minutes” interview to address the charges against him was part of the package, the source told the Times, adding, “in essence, they paid him” for the interview.

But Koppelman, a former EMI Records suit, insists no such renegotiation took place and says it was Jackson’s people who were trying desperately to get the special back on the schedule.

“That was us…. We wanted it on the air, and before Christmas, to sell zillions of albums. That was the whole point of doing it to begin with. The fact that it’s on the air now makes us happy, but we will not get nearly the bang for the buck we wanted to get.”

He vehemently denies that CBS upped its payment by $1 million to jump-start the special.

“The deal I made was the deal we ended up with,” he said. He would not discuss the license fee CBS paid for the entertainment special other than to say that the New York Times figure of $5 million was wrong; some sources familiar with the talks said the figure was less than half that amount. CBS has the right to air the special twice, but Jackson owns the program and can sell it overseas.

“Candidly, if CBS would have run it before Christmas, we would have given [the special] to them for nothing, and that’s the truth,” Koppelman said. “We wanted to promote the CD. And Michael owns the show, which will air all around the world and again help promote the CD and, ultimately, we will have a DVD out.”

When it pulled the special, CBS said it did so because of the gravity of the charges against Jackson, adding that it reserved the right to reschedule it once the legal process had run its course.

But last week, CBS announced that Jackson had agreed to address the charges against him with “60 Minutes” correspondent Ed Bradley; the network also announced it had rescheduled the Jackson music special for tomorrow night.

CBS spokesman Chris Ender acknowledged that CBS had told Jackson’s reps that they could not air the special unless Jackson sat down with the news division to talk about the charges against him, but he denied all suggestions that the news interview was a case of tit for tat.

Koppelman, however, says that CBS had suggested, about three days after Jackson’s made-for-TV arrest, that the singer make a statement about the charges at the start of the entertainment special to get it back on the network’s schedule. Jackson’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, nixed that idea, Koppelman said.

The unnamed principal source of the Times report said he was talking to the media because he had not been paid his commission for negotiating the deal for the entertainment special and had been denied access to Jackson since Leonard Muhammad, a senior official in the black separatist group Nation of Islam, had become involved in the singer’s affairs.

“In addition to being riddled with inaccuracies, it [the New York Times article] is based entirely on one anonymous and admittedly disgruntled source with a clearly stated agenda,” CBS said in its statement.

“For the record, CBS News does not pay for interviews and did not pay Michael Jackson or anyone connected to him for this interview, directly or indirectly.”

We wish we could tell you about all of the other strangeness surrounding this story and the various responses it received yesterday. Such as how the New York Times reported that Bradley tried months earlier to get an interview with Jackson, for which, the story seems to say, CBS also promised the singer $1 million. Bradley even set up at Jackson’s Neverland Ranch and was greeted by Jackson, only to have Jackson balk until they showed him the money that Bradley assured him would be paid according to the Times. But it all ended badly, with Bradley going away scoopless.

Koppelman and Jack Sussman, CBS vice president for specials and CBS’s liaison to Jackson, tell a different story. Sussman calls it a “complete and utter fabrication.”

Sussman says there was no $1 million offer for that interview either and that Bradley never had that conversation with Jackson; Koppelman said Jackson would never “in a thousand years” have demanded to see money. They say Bradley set up at Neverland Ranch and Jackson came out to say hello and chat briefly off-camera before going to get his hair and makeup done. But he received a phone call that the two men say freaked him out and he never came back. According to Koppelman, the call was from Marlon Brando, warning him not to do the interview.

See what I mean? We could go on and on, but editors say otherwise.

The New York Times yesterday put out this statement about its report: “Our story was accurate. We stated CBS’s position in the second paragraph and other paragraphs.”

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