A long forgotten newspaper interview may save Michael Jackson's bleached hide in his child molestation case.
The interview by reporter David Gardner in London's Daily Mail was conducted with the mother of the boy featured in the Martin Bashir documentary "Living with Michael Jackson." Gardner also interviewed comedy club owner Jamie Masada, who had brought the boy to Jackson's attention three years earlier.
Because the documentary aired in Britain three days sooner that it did in the U.S., Gardner was able to catch the mother before she and her kids were whisked off to meet Jackson in Miami on Chris Tucker's private jet. The interview was published in London on Feb. 8 and in Sydney on Feb. 9, but never made it to our shores.
Both the mother and Masada wax enthusiastic about Jackson in the interview. This was before the mother's claims that she was being manipulated or her comments were scripted by Jackson's team. In fact, my sources say she received $4,000 for her story from the Daily Mail, which she turned over to her own mother.
But the statements made by the mother and Masada could come back to haunt them. At the time, people were furious that Jackson was holding hands with the boy on TV and talking about kids sleeping in his bed. Gardner, aware of the outrage, asks Masada about possible child abuse.
"[The boy] said they had fun and played games. [The boy] is not a naive kid. He would have said if something bad had happened," he said
Here, we have very early confirmation of what many consider the boy's abrasive and aggressive qualities. He is no wallflower, as director Brett Ratner pointed out in this column some months ago. Ratner said that when the boy visited the set of "Rush Hour 2," he refused to vacate the director's chair and cursed Ratner out in the process.
The boy also reportedly shot his mother in the leg with a BB gun and told the Department of Child Services she was guilty of abuse. This, the defense may argue, is not a kid who hangs back for 10 weeks and says nothing.
The mother of the boy — widely portrayed as a scheming, Machiavellian grifter looking for a payday — arguably sinks her own ship in the Daily Mail story. She boasted to Gardner about her hopes that Jackson would include her kids in his entourage "when he travels around the world."
That comment, when probed by defense attorneys, is certainly a set up for why the Jackson team thought the mother would agree to go to Brazil for a cooling off period. Suddenly, the obtaining of passports doesn't seem so far-fetched.
The mother also sang Jackson's praises in the Gardner piece, unprompted or coached by anyone.
"Michael has brought something special to our lives," the mother told Gardner.
She also underscores her own son's grand jury testimony that he asked Jackson if he could call him "Daddy," since his own father was gone.
"He has pet names for all my children and [my son] even calls him 'Daddy.' He is the father they never had. He is a saint to them," she said.
At the time, it apparently didn't bother her that her daughter was exempt from nicknames and that Jackson dubbed her sons "Apple Head" and "Blow Hole."
Gardner, a respected British journalist, was first on the scene with the family, thanks to the early UK broadcast. He observed that the mother was doing all she could to encourage the relationship between Jackson and her kids. And no matter what the mother eventually told a grand jury a year later, she didn't have any objections to the kids staying overnight with Jackson on Feb. 8, 2003.
"I am not worried about Michael at all. He has been so good to all of us. Sometimes they stay overnight. I am totally comfortable with that," she said. "They are happy with him and have a lot of fun. I don't need to be there all the time."
The mother said the traveling was something Jackson actually had promised them.
"This is what he told them all will happen. It's a dream come true for them. He is their angel," she said.
But this column reported that after her child custody hearing for more financial support from her ex-husband was over on March 11, 2003, the mother became enraged that Jackson had not fulfilled perceived promises. My sources say she told Jackson associate Vincent Amen: "Michael promised my kids careers."
The defense will argue that the family was eased out of Neverland and Jackson's life after that weekend and that the mother, embittered about returning to her regular life, concocted the story of child molestation.
The mother, by the way, told Gardner that at one point she and her children were so poor they lived in a horse stable in Bakersfield, Calif. and slept on hay. But nothing about the stable has ever been mentioned again, even in grand jury testimony. She almost certainly did not tell Gardner that she had been the recipient of monies from several fundraising drives over the previous three years, including one by the Los Angeles Police Department.
Ann Gabriel, aka Ann Kite, worked for Michael Jackson for a total of six days: Feb. 9 to Feb. 15, 2003. But yesterday she was called as a prosecution witness in the Jackson trial as an expert. If her open court testimony was at all similar to what she told a grand jury last year, Gabriel made a lot of mistakes.
In her grand jury testimony, published on the web by The Smoking Gun, Gabriel made two statements that continue to define her self-enlarged role in this story.
She claimed that Las Vegas attorney David LeGrand told her on Feb. 9, 2003, that the Jackson team had the accuser's family on tape and that the mother would come off "like a crack whore."
Gabriel also claimed that Jackson aide Marc Schaffel told her he was worried the family would sell their story to a British tabloid.
Each of those statements is problematic. For one thing, no videotape of the family was made until Feb. 20, one day after Gabriel had been fired. On Feb. 9, no video of them existed at all.
As for telling their story: Too late! Gabriel's statement that Schaffel was worried could not be correct. Why? On Feb. 9, two days after the family returned to California with Jackson from Miami, the Sunday Mail in London ran an interview with the mother and with the man who introduced her to Jackson, Jamie Masada. The mother, according to my sources, asked for and received $4,000 from the reporter, David Gardner.
This was on Feb. 9. Three months later, the boy suddenly recalled that between Feb. 20 and March 10, something in appropriate did happen. The boy, knowing the whole world was watching, didn't mention anything for about 10 weeks. Either Masada is a poor judge of character or the boy fabricated his story.
And Gabriel, insiders argue, made several other preposterous claims on the stand yesterday. One of them was that Schaffel somehow participated in "embezzling" $1 million from Jackson. The same insiders got a good laugh at this one. Schaffel is known for keeping meticulous records. He is currently suing Jackson for millions he's owed.
"If he'd actually embezzled money, I don't think he'd be suing for it now," sniffed a source.
Tomorrow: Can they get a witness? Plus, an Oscar wrap up...