Music Article

Circus of the Star

Michael Jackson calls the lurid charges against him ''a big lie.'' The media call them big business.

On Wednesday, Nov. 19, the day before Michael Jackson was arrested for allegedly molesting a 12-year-old boy and cancer patient, New York public relations guru Dan Klores got a call asking if he'd represent Jackson. Klores considered the offer, then declined. He didn't want to spend ''fifteen hours a day'' on the matter, he told EW. Asked what could be done to manage the crisis, he said, ''It's essentially hopeless.''

The bombshell news of Jackson's arrest last week catapulted the faded pop star onto front pages worldwide faster than you can say ''Smooth Criminal.'' It marked the sensational culmination of a decade of bizarre and hair-raising antics that have turned Jackson into a riveting one-man freak show even as his career becomes increasingly irrelevant. His arrest coincided with the surprisingly quiet release of his new greatest-hits album, Number Ones.

Of course, No. 1 on almost everyone's mind wasn't Jacko's new CD (it sold a disappointing 121,000 copies in its first week) but the star's disturbing recent track record — famously starting with the accusation, in August 1993, that he had molested a 13-year-old Los Angeles boy. Jackson dodged that bullet by forking over a reported $20 million payment to the teen's family. But just when he should have been practicing serious spin control, Jackson spun further out of control. Setting aside any exploration of the ongoing grotesquerie he's made of his face, consider Jackson's actions in the past two years alone: In July 2002, he rallied the help of political activist and now presidential candidate Al Sharpton for a whimpering public demonstration decrying the unethical practices of then Sony Music Chairman-CEO Tommy Mottola, whom Jackson labeled ''devilish'' and a racist and whom he blamed for the poor sales of his 2001 album, Invincible. Six months later, he provoked international outrage when he dangled his 9-month-old son, Prince Michael II (a.k.a. ''Blanket''), from a fourth-floor balcony of a Berlin hotel. And, most damningly, this past Feb. 6, Jackson unabashedly told British journalist Martin Bashir, in the televised documentary ''Living With Michael Jackson,'' that he sleeps in the same bed with some of the young boys he hosts at his Neverland Ranch in Santa Ynez, Calif. (One of whom, it's worth noting, was identified as a 12-year-old cancer patient and appeared on camera giving Jackson — who he called ''Daddy'' — a loving endorsement.)

But even more head-spinning is this: In the wake of his arrest, Michael Jackson is hotter than he's been since his Thriller heyday. Media mavens, from the tackiest tabloid reporter to the nattiest network news anchor, are in overdrive scrambling to fill column inches and airtime with Jacko scoops and talking heads. ''Pressure on newspeople is enormous,'' says Harland Braun, former attorney for Robert Blake. ''So lawyers you've never heard of wind up on television talking about cases that they have no connection to.''

And not just lawyers. Everyone from doctors, writers, and psychiatrists to convenience-store clerks who once waited on Jackson are weighing in on TV and in print. ''God knows, there is no shortage of Entertainment Tonights and Inside Editions who are desperate to get someone in front of their cameras,'' says Allan Mayer, a crisis management consultant for Sitrick and Co. ''It's a new American phenomenon,'' quips Klores. ''The talking-head industry. People think it will help their careers.''

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