Jackson Saga: Michael Loses Mouthpiece

updated 12/30/2003 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/30/2003 01:50PM

Michael Jackson's chief spokesman, Stuart Backerman, resigned on Monday, citing "strategic differences" with other members of the embattled pop star's team over the handling of child molestation charges, reports Reuters.

Backerman's surprise announcement came a day after CBS's "60 Minutes" broadcast an interview with Jackson in which the star said he still saw nothing wrong with having children share his bed and claimed to have been taunted and manhandled by Santa Barbara police when he was arrested.

"I resigned today over strategic differences with the way things are going," Backerman told Reuters in an interview. He declined to elaborate on those differences. "The one thing I will say is that I love Michael Jackson and his fans."

According to The New York Times, another factor that may have played into Backerman's decision is that separatist African-American Muslim group the Nation of Islam is said to have overtaken Jackson's business and security affairs. The Associated Press reports, however, that the controversial group denies having any official part in the pop star's life.

Jackson's brother Jermaine has converted to Islam but is not a member of the Nation of Islam. Asked during a November appearance on CNN's "Larry King Live" whether his brother planned to convert, Jermaine Jackson said he did not.

The Nation of Islam, which in the past has been accused of anti-Semitism and inflammatory rhetoric, issued a statement Monday after receiving inquiries from the AP and other news organizations about their involvement with Michael Jackson. "The Nation of Islam, in response to several inquiries, has said today that it has no official business or professional relationship with Mr. Michael Jackson," said the statement. "The Nation of Islam joins thousands of other people in wishing him well."

Jackson's attorney, Mark Geragos, dismissed the reports and denied that Nation of Islam members had been working out of his legal office. Geragos also told the AP he personally fired Backerman last week because the spokesman spoke to the news media during a Dec. 20 Jackson family get-together at Jackson's Neverland ranch. Backerman's response to Geragos's claim was, "That's untrue," the AP reports.

Meanwhile, Sunday night's "60 Minutes" interview with Jackson attracted 19.7 million viewers, according to preliminary Nielsen figures. In addition, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department on Monday denied Jackson's accusation that he was mistreated when he was booked on Nov. 20. During the "60 Minutes" interview, Jackson said his shoulder was dislocated, and that he was locked in a bathroom for 45 minutes.

According to a sheriff's department statement, "Mr. Jackson was treated with courtesy and professionalism throughout the arrest and booking process." The department says neither the star nor his attorney has filed a complaint, according to the AP.

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