As the media feeding frenzy over the accusations aimed at Michael Jackson continued for a third day, the singer’s record label and tour sponsor are privately concerned that even if the pop star is cleared of wrongdoing, the specter of inappropriate behavior remains.
While Sony Music and Pepsi continue to publicly voice support for Jackson, refusing to believe the allegations are true, the question remains: At what point do supporters start distancing themselves from the singer? Many industry professionals believe Jackson’s career has been irrevocably harmed by the allegations brought by a 13year-old who claimed he was molested by the pop star.
And despite claims by Jackson spin doctors of business as usual, sources on tour with the singer say he is devastated by the news and is deeply concerned about how the public is reacting.
The singer postponed the second show on the Bangkok stop, with Jackson’s doctor Stuart Finkelstein saying the singer was dehydrated from the heat and is being treated with fluids. The show was rescheduled for Thursday.
But it is the industry that is reacting to the claims with a mix of skepticism and denial.
“Advertisers are always concerned about image,” said Ken Kragen, an industry veteran and personal manager for Travis Tritt, Kenny Rogers and Trisha Yearwood. “But Michael is big enough that the fallout (of advertisers dropping their support) would not happen unless there is something solid (to the allegations).”
Kragen said the decision by the Jackson camp to go public and react swiftly to the allegation was a smart one. “It was good that they reacted quickly,” Kragen said. “And by revealing the ($ 20 million) extortion plot, it puts the allegations in a different light.”
Kragen speaks from experience. Rogers was the victim of an extortion attempt, and because he confronted the situation head on and went public, the singer and his career emerged unscathed.
But the speed with which the search warrants were issued (Aug. 19) and executed at Jackson’s Santa Barbara County ranch and his Century City condominium (Saturday) fuels speculation about the validity of the charges.
But Barry Tarlow, a prominent criminal defense attorney who represents celebrities and is an expert on search warrants, cautions against rushing to judgment.
“It is wrong to draw some kind of conclusion that (Jackson) is guilty based on the fact a search warrant was issued,” Tarlow said. “There are rubber-stamp magistrates who routinely approve search warrants. They’ll sign anything stuck in front of them.”
A Sony representative wouldn’t comment on how the company is reacting internally to the Jackson matter. But insiders suggest that top brass at the label, and their Japanese counterparts, wonder if any other accusations are about to surface.
“It’s not something they are comfortable with,” said the Sony rep, describing the reaction by Japanese execs. “It’s causing them some serious concerns. They are much more worried about such (allegations) than executives here in the U.S. would be.”
The Sony insider noted that Jackson may not have the same type of relationship with the present Sony regime that he enjoyed with Walter Yetnikoff, former chairman of Sony Music. “Michael may not be as comfortable talking about it as he would have (been) with Walter.”
A Jackson family meeting held Tuesday night at their Encino estate produced a statement that claimed “Michael is the victim of a cruel and obvious attempt to take advantage of his success.”
Although the singer’s security consultant Anthony Pellicano has been the point man for the Jackson camp, providing information about an “extortion attempt gone awry,” little is known about the exact nature of the allegations. Police have remained tight-lipped and Pellicano only discusses the blackmail aspect.
Allegations of a custody battle involving the 13-year-old boy’s divorced parents surfaced late Tuesday. Attorneys for the boy’s father sought a court order on Aug. 17 barring contact with Jackson. Pellicano has stated publicly that the charges were made by a woman, but not the boy’s mother, implying there is an undisclosed aspect to the case.
Execs at Pepsi have held steadfast to their belief that Jackson is falsely accused, professing their support by issuing statements that “the accusations could not possibly be true.”
But a source at the company say Pepsi is likely to support the singer “until (the allegations) are proved, or if more accusations are lodged by other potential victims.
“Then (Pepsi) would quietly begin to distance themselves from the singer, either by not renewing agreements or asserting a ‘change in marketing direction.’ ”
Whatever the fallout, industry figures agree that Jackson has to make sure his side is told truthfully at all costs.
“Above all,” said a crisis PR exec who requested anonymity, “Michael must articulate his point of view, not through handlers, but by speaking out himself. And he’s got to tell the truth.”