Published December 29, 2003
Sunday night’s Michael Jackson interview with Ed Bradley on “60 Minutes” could have been a little more enlightening, couldn’t it?
For one thing, Bradley didn’t get into the whole issue of control over Jackson’s finances and fortune — shaky at best — being sought by several camps, including the Nation of Islam.
But I am told that Leonard Muhammad, NOI chief of staff and newly minted Jackson confidant, was present during the Bradley taping on Christmas Day. Jackson’s loyal publicist, Stuart Backerman, was not.
I told you first that Muhammad had quickly become a Jackson adviser in the last two weeks. A subsequent report claimed that Jackson had actually become a member of the Nation of Islam.
Nevertheless, when I reached Muhammad on Sunday by phone in Los Angeles, he told me: “We have not tried to recruit Michael. Nor has he expressed any interest in becoming a member of the Nation of Islam.”
Jermaine Jackson, Michael’s brother, is a Muslim but not a member of the NOI, according to Muhammad.
Muhammad also termed rumors “absurd” that the Nation’s leader, Louis Farrakhan, is looking into ways to gain control of the Beatles catalog by bailing Jackson out financially. He added that whatever friendship he had with Jackson did not necessarily extend to Farrakhan.
“If someone’s a Catholic that doesn’t mean he knows the pope,” Muhammad said.
Since I first told you exclusively that Jackson had been befriended by the Nation of Islam, a lot has happened in the pop star’s world. According to my sources, all through the Christmas holiday, NOI chief of staff Muhammad has stayed close to Jackson. All communication with the singer has gone through him, insisted several sources this past weekend. Out, at least temporarily, are Jackson inner circle members like Dieter Wiesner and Ronald Konitzer.
According to sources close to the situation, Konitzer has not been able to reach Jackson for somewhere between 12 days and two weeks.
In power, at least for the moment, are Jermaine Jackson and his father, Joseph. Interestingly, I am also told that a key player in influencing Michael is the steadfast nanny of his children, a Jamaican woman named Grace.
“Grace and Jermaine are very close,” says a source. “And he’s used her to whisper in Michael’s ear about the Nation.”
In our conversation yesterday, Muhammad — who was easygoing and articulate on many subjects — declined to comment further on Jackson. Sources close to him, however, say he is not an official Jackson employee but that he has spoken often with Jackson’s attorney, Mark Geragos, as well as with Konitzer.
The level of paranoia concerning Jackson and the Nation of Islam is running high. For example: Geragos alleged recently that a pipe bomb was found outside his home, prompting NOI critics to suggest this was a not-so-veiled warning to the attorney.
At the same time, Geragos told Larry King (whose Christmas interview with the family of Bing Crosby was an utter disgrace) that he was sure the original Nation of Islam story about Jackson had been planted by District Attorney Tom Sneddon’s office. Since I reported that story, I am happy to say there could be nothing further from the truth. But Geragos’ movements and quotes are getting interesting, to say the least.