Following the spellbinding TV interview in which he chatted fondly about lying down with children, one glaring question remains: What was Michael Jackson thinking? "I was shocked, frankly, on three levels," says L.A. attorney Larry Feldman, who represented the 13-year-old boy who in 1993 alleged that Jackson had molested him. "One was that Michael Jackson would place himself in an environment in which he was alone, sleeping with children. Second, that he would discuss this on television for the world to hear. And lastly, that parents would allow their children to sleep there." Jackson is shocked too, but for different reasons entirely. "Today I feel more betrayed than perhaps ever before," he said on Feb. 7, a day after the ABC documentary had confounded some 27 million viewers. His brother Jermaine made a similar claim on Fox TV. "I look at it," he said, "as a modern-day lynching."
So why did Jackson agree to let British journalist Martin Bashir trail him around for eight months? "I think Michael just kind of trusted him," says a Jackson-camp insider. Now Jackson, 44, is fighting back. In an effort to counter Bashir and his Granada TV production company, he sold FOX TV hours of his own footage with Bashir and his sleepover pal Gavin Arvizo, a 12-year-old cancer survivor, for $5 million. He will help craft it into a two-hour special to air Feb. 20. He also has filed complaints with two British media watchdog groups charging that Bashir breached codes of conduct by showing footage of his three children—Prince Michael I, 6, Paris Michael, 4, and 11-month-old Prince Michael II—and by interviewing Arvizo without the consent of the boy's parents. In addition, a source close to Jackson says, "legal action against [Bashir and Granada] has not been ruled out."
Of course, neither has legal action against Jackson. His blithe talk of hosting juveniles in his bedroom revived discussion of the 1993 case and prompted the Smoking Gun Web site to post court documents from that time in which the boy alleges that Jackson "put his tongue in my mouth" and "rubbed up against me in bed." In a letter calling upon Santa Barbara D.A. Tom Sneddon to investigate the pop star's more recent contact with minors, A. Sidney Johnson III, president of Prevent Child Abuse America, the nation's largest such organization, wrote, "Michael Jackson has raised enough red flags for us to be concerned about protecting the welfare of children he comes in contact with, including his own." Sneddon put out word that his office's criminal investigation of Jackson is "open but inactive," just as it was at the time Jackson settled the '93 civil case with an estimated $15 million to $20 million payment. Sneddon also encouraged anyone who felt victimized to come forward.
Meanwhile, Arvizo's divorced parents used the British tabloids to air their differences, both personal and philosophical. "Michael has pet names for all of my children, and Gavin even calls him Daddy," said mom Janet Ventura-Arvizo, 34, who was once so poor that she temporarily lived in a horse stable with her children. "He is the father they never had." She said Gavin and siblings Star, 11, and Davelin, 16, "are hoping to spend a lot more time with him in the future." Dad David, 37, countered that Janet, a former waitress, "sees prestige for herself from the connection." He said that while Jackson "has been very generous to the kids, [he] should not be sharing a room with them."
Bryan Michael Stoller, who is co-directing the feature film They Cage the Animals at Night with Jackson and sees him weekly, maintains that it is incorrect to characterize Jackson's sleeping quarters as a bedroom. "People are imagining a 15-by-15-sized room," he says. "The words he should have used were his 'private residence.' It's like somebody living in a condo." Stoller says that Jackson's two-story quarters are outfitted with a grand piano, arcade games, an 80-inch big-screen TV, a plasma screen and assorted gizmos. Moreover, says Jackson family confidant and attorney Brian Oxman, "what is left out is that the big double door is left open and there are attendants present all the time."
Still, common sense—if such words can be applied to Michael Jackson—would advise the pop star to steer clear of any appearance of impropriety. "Somebody could easily file a child-abuse claim against him to get money," says L.A. family attorney Robert Cohen. "He has opened the door to these charges. This is not a career enhancer." Then again, one never knows with Jackson. At Britain's Virgin Megastores last week, sales of his '82 Thriller album surged 473 percent, and 1995's HIStory was up 383 percent, pushing both albums onto the large chain's Top 100 chart. (Bashir himself has reportedly declined a multimillion-dollar offer from ABC.) As for what's ahead, Cohen cautions, "let's not rush to judgment. Jackson may be bizarre, but that doesn't mean he's a criminal."
Lyndon Stambler, John Hannah, Todd Gold, Pamela Warrick and Frank Swertlow in Los Angeles and Simon Perry in London
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