CBS denies it paid singer for interview

Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

CBS and representatives for Michael Jackson denied Wednesday that the network paid the pop star a special fee in exchange for the interview he granted to "60 Minutes" correspondent Ed Bradley.

In a quid pro quo, CBS told Jackson that it would not revive the singer's entertainment special unless Jackson agreed to do the highly coveted interview.

Network executives had shelved the special in November when Jackson was arrested on suspicion of child molestation. CBS confirmed that it paid Jackson for the entertainment special that will air on the network Friday but would not say how much. Sources close to Jackson have said he netted more than $2 million.

But the network took the unusual step of issuing two separate statements -- from its news and entertainment divisions -- refuting a New York Times article that said Jackson was paid an additional $1 million to sit down for the interview and perform on the special. Jackson's criminal attorney, Mark Geragos, and a Jackson business advisor, Charles Koppelman, also said Jackson received no extra payment.

The New York Times issued a statement in response, which said: "Our story was accurate. We stated CBS' position in the second paragraph as well as in other paragraphs."

Spokesman Toby Usnik declined to comment further.

The controversy comes at a time when lines between news and entertainment have blurred. Indeed, Jackson was paid several million dollars by Fox Broadcasting Network -- not Fox News -- in February for pro-Jackson interviews and footage put together by Jackson's own camp.

Similar deals were proposed to the Jackson camp in recent weeks, said Koppelman, noting that if Jackson had been seeking money for his interview, "we probably could have done an interview with another network and gotten a tremendous amount of money. Everybody wanted to do an interview."

CBS did admit to striking a deal to get the interview, telling Jackson's camp that the singer would have to publicly address the charges elsewhere on the network before the entertainment program, originally scheduled to air Nov. 26, could be revived. "To air the entertainment special in isolation would have been to ignore the elephant in the room," CBS spokesman Chris Ender said. Ender underscored again that Jackson was not paid for the interview.

Koppelman negotiated the deal for the special. He said Jackson's payment for the Friday special was the same amount the two sides agreed to in early September, before the charges were filed and before the CBS News interview was scheduled. "There was no additional payment," Koppelman said.

The September deal "has not substantially changed since then," said Jack Sussman, CBS' senior vice president in charge of specials.

Geragos said negotiations for the "60 Minutes" interview "had to do with the time and place and how long. Money was never mentioned. If I was told once, I was told numerous times, there was a wall between news and entertainment."

But everyone has a different version of why CBS News got the interview. A source in Jackson's camp said the singer was eager to do the interview with "60 Minutes" instead of its competitors, because if CBS chose not to air the tribute special, Jackson would have had to repay the network the $1.5 million it had advanced as a fee for the show.

Koppelman said it was because producer Michael Radutsky made "thousands of phone calls, he was unrelenting. He spoke to every member of my family, every assistant I have."

When Geragos decided Jackson should try to tell his side of the story, Koppelman said, he put the lawyer and the producer together, adding that " '60 Minutes' is such a respected show."

But the Sunday interview was given to "60 Minutes," Geragos said, because Bradley had been scheduled to do an earlier interview with Jackson, in February, at the singer's Neverland Ranch, which Jackson abruptly canceled. "He felt like he owed [Bradley] something," Geragos said.

Geragos added that contrary to the New York Times report, Bradley never discussed money with Jackson in February. The CBS newsman was set up and waiting for the interview when Jackson received a phone call reportedly from Marlon Brando. Soon after, the interview was canceled, but not because of a money dispute, said Geragos and CBS' Sussman, both of whom were there. "It had to do with [Jackson] not feeling comfortable doing the interview at that point," Geragos said.

CBS News said Bradley is on vacation and not reachable.

The origins of Friday's entertainment program date to November 2001, when a Jackson concert, taped at New York's Madison Square Garden, aired on CBS and drew high ratings. In early 2002, Sussman said, the two sides agreed to a second show, but it was postponed. "The deal we struck with him, he couldn't deliver on, so we put that deal on hold," Sussman said.

Earlier this year, he said, the Jackson camp approached CBS about reviving a more modest deal, for a one-hour special.

Jackson was originally to have been paid $5.2 million for the broader special. But the fee was renegotiated down to $4.7 million minus production costs, which under the deal Jackson would pay, said advisors close to the singer. CBS advanced Jackson $1.5 million, the advisors said, and later paid another $1.2 million of the fee. The final portion of the deal, the production costs, which Jackson was to cover, were expected to run about $2 million.

With Jackson the source of such intense public curiosity, the swirl of rumors around him is unlikely to fade.

Geragos said he spent much of Wednesday batting down reports that Jackson had married for the third time.

Jensen reported from New York, Philips from Los Angeles.

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