Jackson Family Members Break Silence, Defend Michael

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Members of Michael Jackson's family broke their silence Monday and publicly defended their son and sibling against allegations of sexual abuse during a news conference called to promote a television special.

At the outset, a publicist warned that the allegations against the singer were off-limits for discussion during the session held at the Academy Plaza Theater and attended by Jackson's parents, two of his brothers and a sister.

But when he opened the floor to questions, few of the 200 members of the media in attendance wanted to talk about anything else.

"Aren't Michael's current problems going to hurt the family when it tries to do more for children?" asked one journalist.

"We don't think so," said Joseph Jackson, Michael's father, who sat in the middle of the stage in a leather armchair.

"Isn't it very difficult for you not to address the situation with Michael right now because your brother is facing such serious allegations?" asked another reporter.

"We support our brother wholeheartedly," said older brother Jermaine Jackson, who said the entire family is planning to visit Michael very soon as he continues his worldwide tour.

Another reporter asked the family to comment on why "children seem to be more than just a cause with Michael, why they seem so big a part of his friendship circle."

Tito Jackson, another brother, answered: "Children are the future of the world."

An exasperated reporter addressed Katherine Jackson, Michael's mother, saying: "Mrs. Jackson, I have a son. If my son was being written about as your son is being written about, I would want to defend him. Is there anything you would like to say?"

Finally, the matriarch of the Jackson clan then gave the press corps what it had come for: a candid, unrehearsed reaction to the allegations against her son.

"I'd like to let the world know that I'm behind my son. I don't believe any of this stuff that's being written about him because I raised him and I know that's just a statement people are making," she said.

"I love him. I've talked to him several times since this has come out and I plan to go and visit him. He knows when I'm coming."

Earlier in the press conference, Jermaine Jackson read out loud a statement by the family that the "entire family stands firmly at his side."

"We would like to take this opportunity, when our family has come together in unity and harmony, to convey our love and unfailing support for Michael," he said. "Further, we wish to state our collective, unequivocal belief that Michael has been made victim of a cruel and obvious attempt to take advantage of his fame and success."

The event attracted journalists from China, Germany, Great Britain and the Philippines, who joined their counterparts from the American media to catch both a glimpse of the Jacksons and the latest twist to a story that has made international headlines since it broke last week.

Phil Reeves, West Coast correspondent for The Independent of London, said the British are fascinated by the controversy surrounding Jackson and described their interest as "enormous."

"To some extent Michael Jackson can expect this kind of intense interest in his affairs, that's the price of fame," Reeves said.

"More alarming is what may happen to his 13-year-old alleged victim and that's what remains to be seen."

More than 20 television camera crews quietly took their positions in the front rows and dozens of journalists took turns asking the Jacksons questions.

The family posed for photographers at the end of the news conference.

It was in marked contrast to the mob that gathered when alleged "madam to the stars" Heidi Fleiss pleaded not guilty to felony pandering and drug possession charges earlier this month.

So violent was the crush of media scurrying to cover that court hearing that it left many astonished by the onslaught.

"We were very pleased and we were very grateful for the cooperation of the press," said John McLaughlin, a spokesman for the Jackson family.

Before the news conference was called to order, early Jackson 5 music was piped into the theater, most notably "I'll Be There," which features Michael's young voice.

A music video titled "2300 Jackson Street" was subsequently aired which featured home movies of the Jackson family playing touch football and singing together, all filmed amid gauzy lighting.

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