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Beat It

Michael Jackson loses his chief spokesman. A day after 18 million watched Jacko's ''60 Minutes'' chat, rep Stuart Backerman either quit or was fired

Was Michael Jackson's appearance on Sunday's ''60 Minutes'' a public relations coup or public relations disaster? The interview, in which the singer refuted the child molestation charges filed against him, may prove to be the most-watched show of the week (it drew more than 18 million viewers according to early Nielsen estimates), and it led CBS to announce an air date (this Friday) for the delayed musical special touting Jackson's new album. But it may also have confirmed viewers queasiest opinions of Jackson, since he said he still doesn't think it's inappropriate for him to share a bed with a child.  What's more, the interview may have exacerbated the behind-the-scenes turmoil in Jackson's camp, which led to the departure on Monday of his longtime spokesman Stuart Backerman.

 

''I resigned today over strategic differences with the way things are going," Backerman told Reuters. He didn't specify those differences, though he added, "The one thing I will say is that I love Michael Jackson and his fans.'' Jackson's lawyer, Mark Geragos, however, tells a different story, saying he fired Backerman for talking to the media at a Dec. 20 rally held at Jackson's Neverland ranch. ''He was terminated by me personally for talking when I told him not to,'' Geragos told the Associated Press. ''I was not fired,'' Backerman told AP, saying he left reluctantly.

 

A Backerman colleague told the New York Times that the reason for Backerman's departure was the increasing presence of members of the Nation of Islam, the controversial Muslim sect headed by Louis Farrakhan, in Jackson's camp. ''The Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan's son-in-law have taken over completely and are in full and total charge," a senior Jackson employee told the Times, referring to Leonard Muhammad, who is Farrakhan's chief of staff as well as his son-in-law. ''They are working out of Geragos' office; in essence they're telling him what to do." Another Jackson employee said, ''They're negotiating business deals with him. They're negotiating media deals, who can talk, how much. You've got a lawyer who's scared to throw them out. Michael doesn't know what to do with them.''

 

Geragos, however, told the Times, ''Nobody has told me what to do and what not to do. Leonard, I believe, is someone Michael consults with, just like in excess of 25 people." Still, Geragos acknowledged to AP that Muhammad stood behind him at a Dec. 18 press conference regarding Jackson's case. Jackson associates told the Times that Muhammad is, in fact, working in Geragos' office, where he participates in phone calls involving Jackson's media and legal strategy, and that Muhammad teamed with Geragos to negotiate the deal with CBS for the ''60 Minutes'' interview and the ''Number Ones'' entertainment special. The associates also said that Muhammad has moved into Neverland, and that NOI members are serving as Jackson's security detail.

 

Jackson business manager Charles Koppelman and accountant Alan Whitman denied to AP that they'd ceded control of Jackson's finances to the NOI, and the group issued a statement Monday saying it had ''no official business or professional relationship with Mr. Michael Jackson'' but wished him well.

Originally posted Dec 30, 2003
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