I don't want to get into a war with ABC News and "Good Morning America," but they are getting bad information from Michael Jackson's prosecutors and accusers, according to my sources.
ABC reported this morning that five Jackson employees, who may be named as co-conspirators in his child molestation case, received huge payouts from Jackson to watch the family of Jackson's accuser. ABC also claims that one of them, Frank Tyson, received $1 million in cash from Jackson and picked it up himself at a bank.
Not only is this untrue, my sources said, but it is completely documented to not have happened. Here's what they told me happened.
Tyson, whose family has been friendly with Jackson for almost 20 years, was asked by the pop star to pick up $1 million from the US Bank on Santa Monica Boulevard in Santa Monica, Calif. Tyson was accompanied by his friend, Vinnie Amen and Jackson videographer Marc Schaffel.
The money had been transferred by FOX Entertainment to Neverland Valley Entertainment as part of a payment for a rebuttal video to Martin Bashir's ABC documentary "Living With Michael Jackson." The rebuttal video aired on the FOX network on Feb. 20, 2003.
My sources tell me that Jackson asked Tyson to retrieve the $1 million in cash as a way of bypassing his own accountants. "He wanted cash for various things," my source said.
As I've written in this space before — and we've seen on various videos — Jackson's spending habits are far different from those of the average American. He is also known to subvert his own advisers when he wants something. If the money had been paid to him through normal channels, Jackson would likely not have seen it. The accountants would have used to it pay his bills, setting aside about half of it for taxes.
Tyson, I am told, was paid possibly a total of $65,000 during the weeks he worked for Schaffel and Neverland Valley Entertainment on video productions. During that time he was also responsible, with Amen, for chauffeuring the 13-year-old accuser and his family on shopping trips, babysitting the boy and his siblings, and even accompanying the mother to family court when she was asking her ex-husband for more child support.
Tyson and Amen were paid with checks by Neverland Valley Entertainment, all of which were obtained by submitting invoices. The invoices and copies of the checks will all be used as evidence if Jackson's case goes to trial.
As for Schaffel, and managers Dieter Wiesner and Ronald Konitzer, payments to them would be presented to the court as regular fees and have nothing to do with monitoring the family.
Sting, who looks better at 52 than anyone has a right to, wants you to take his picture.
He's running a contest on his Web site for amateur paparazzi. The winner gets the chance to become a Richard Avedon, or at the very least a Kevin Mazur, a snapper who was featured in Vanity Fair (but still isn't invited to their Oscar party).
The winner also gets a free return trip to Los Angeles, all the digital camera equipment he can stuff into a bag and a chance to have sex with Sting while his wife, Trudie Styler, is off in Rome filming a miniseries.
Wait, did I say that? Skip that last part.
While Trudie is away, Sting is indeed behaving himself, even though everywhere he goes, the first 10 questions are about Tantric sex and Sting's now-legendary stamina.
When he filmed the very odd first episode of John McEnroe's talk show last week, that made up the entire conversation. Nothing to do with the Rainforest Foundation or any of Sting's humanitarian efforts. Almost nothing to do with his singing career, records, year-long concert tour or latest album.
It was just sex, sex, sex. Sting revealed that he would not be comfortable wearing a thong. He also remained in good humor when asked to sing backup for McEnroe's wife, Patty Smythe, instead of performing one of his own songs.
I was with Sting backstage at his Jones Beach gig about 10 days ago, while Annie Lennox was doing her part of the show. Billy Joel showed up, too, with his fiancée Kate Lee and some friends from Long Island.
In his dressing-room suite, Sting poured us both drinks and Billy proposed they start a supergroup along the lines of Blind Faith, the short-lived 1969 collaboration among Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker.
"There hasn't been a group like Blind Faith in years," he said.
"There's a reason for that," Sting replied.
There was no mention of Asia, The Traveling Wilburys or the current supergroup Velvet Revolver. Billy hummed the old Sam & Dave hit "You Got Me Humming," while Sting tried on shirts for the show.
We offered to leave, but he said, "Don't go, really. I don't like to be alone. I was left alone a lot as a child."
It's in his book, you know.
He entertained an old tour driver, whom he was very happy to see again.
"I was afraid to come backstage before tonight," said the driver.
"Never be afraid," said Sting. "You're family."
By then Sting was wearing a tapered black silk shirt with large white cuffs. He has the lanky body of a 19-year-old boy, which is very depressing if you're wearing Gap polo shirts and thinking about getting a Carvel softie before the show starts.
He also has a head of very thick, full, blond hair with no sign of a forming bald spot (although there is some receding temple stuff going on, always nice to see). It turns out that the recipe for fine living is yoga, sex and a little red wine, plus the love of a good woman and six children to keep in line.
Sting will be on tour through next June 2005. When he told me this, I blurted out, "Huh? Why?"
He replied, "That's my job. Why do you write?"
The answer, of course, is to pay the bills. By now Sting has enough money to never record or tour again. He has a massive apartment in New York, a beach house in Malibu, a castle in England and a villa in Florence.
The royalties from P. Diddy's remake of "Every Breath You Take" ("I'll Be Missing You") alone could keep him in white cuffs forever. But that's the deal, you see — he likes to work.
Billy, who hasn't released an album in 11 years, told us he's working on "sketches" of songs.
"Sketches?" Sting said with a raised eyebrow.
He's released an album every two years since breaking up the Police in 1982. He has three Oscar nominations for best song. He wrote songs for the failed Disney cartoon, "The Emperor's New Groove." Sketches?
Around then, Billy suggested that he play something in Sting's show. They decided he could commandeer the B3 organ during "Every Breath You Take." The crowd would go crazy seeing their local Long Island hero.
Right before the show started, Sting drank a cup of hot tea in the wings. Any special reason?
"No," he said, with a smirk.
He just likes tea. Where's the mythology when you really need it? He made some alien bird calls to loosen up his voice. That was it. No big deal.
Dry ice suddenly billowed up from the stage and the house lights went down.
"It's time," he said, and wandered out to his starting position like a man opening a kiosk or a shoe store for a day's work.
Over the course of two hours, Sting's extraordinary energy level never flagged. He sang most of his hits — "Roxanne," "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You," "Fields of Gold" — and performed a hot duet with Lennox on "We'll Be Together." The crowd roared for "Englishman in New York."
I remembered how back in 1978, programmers at our local New York rock radio station — where rock lived but was dying #8212; refused to play "Roxanne" because they couldn't pigeonhole it. Now it's like "God Bless America."
And Billy? He had such a good time that when "Every Breath" came to its extended conclusion, Sting had to drag him off the stage by the lapel. He may even have gotten an autograph.
I now have not one, but two, new-looking but totally nonfunctional Samsung S105 cell phones on my desk.
They are shiny and silver on the outside, but incapable of displaying anything on their LCD screens. Samsung and T-Mobile, my carrier, are unimpressed. The phones are about a year old, and my plan is under contract. So it's up to me to figure it out.
Samsung, you see, no longer makes this phone. Swell. Like you, I have the desk charger, the extra batteries, the battery charger, etc. None of them is compatible with the E105, the new Samsung phone that has replaced the S105, and the E105 retails for about $250 minimum. Grrr!
Luckily, someone on eBay has a fresh S105 they're willing to sell me ... When this one breaks (one of the old ones now flashes a digital fried egg on screen), I will send them all to the president of Samsung with my regards.
Meanwhile, the little caller ID box from Bell Sonecor attached to my desk phone, also maybe a year old or less, simply conked out last week. No reason. Batteries were fresh. Everything was plugged in. Off I go to Best Buy, which only carries phones, not I.D. boxes.
The clerk suggests Radio Shack.
"They carry electronic stuff, I think," he says.
Across the street, Staples has the replacement, made by AT&T. Looks the same. Plug it in, we're OK, except for one problem.
The directions include not a mention of how to set the clock. Nothing.
Is it me? I shake it, inspect it, re-read the manual, download a new one from the handy AT&T Web site, and still there is not a notation for the clock.
It is set four hours and 14 minutes in the future, an hour east of Gibraltar. I figure I'm lucky I got it at all.