NBC News' Dateline Used Supermarket Tabs As Sources

NBC News' Dateline may have crossed the line Monday night not only in good taste, but in ethics as well. There's a lot they didn't tell you about their reporting on Michael Jackson. Let me tell you now.

For one thing, the show did not admit that they had offered Jackson $5 million for the rights to his documentary outtakes. This is something we reported here exclusively. Also, Dateline did not mention that they had offered to bump their own special — the one which ran Monday night — if they got the rights to those outtakes.

Instead, Dateline made a big deal of Fox TV paying for the outtakes, which will be shown on Thursday, as if NBC would never stoop to such a thing. But I have the deal memo right here that shows NBC Business Affairs honcho Marc Graboff offering Jackson the $5 million.

I also have seen a deal memo instructing another NBC executive, Claudia Eaton, to dangle a "pre-emption" of the entire Dateline show as bait if Jackson agrees to the $5 million offer. Eaton, by the way, is the NBC exec in charge of Access Hollywood, the NBC-owned syndicated tabloid show. The memo offers Access host Pat O'Brien as a possible host for the NBC news show.

What's more, Dateline then attacked F. Marc Schaffel, the producer of the outtakes video, dragging up his history as a porno producer. They didn't interview Schaffel, or attempt to, Schaffel's friends say.

Those same friends also say that Dateline made the digression because Schaffel wouldn't make that $5 million deal with them. Dateline also did not mention that a great number of rock music acts — such as Britney Spears and Counting Crows — use porno directors for their videos.

Friends of Schaffel, who produced Jackson's "What More Can I Give?" project, say he is considering legal action against NBC.

Dateline also didn't tell you Monday night that a good deal of their reporting was based on tabloid journalism — and I mean real supermarket tabloid journalism, the kind of stuff Tom Brokaw has probably never read in his life.

Author Randy Taraborrelli, for example, is the author of a Jackson unauthorized biography published by the late, lamented Birch Lane Press, a publisher that grew out of the old tabloidy Lyle Stuart company. Furthermore, Taraborelli's Jackson book was published in 1991, long before many of Jackson's scandals broke.

Dateline's other big journalistic "coup" was getting an interview with the editor of a new book called Freak: Inside the Twisted World of Michael Jackson. What Dateline didn't bother to say is that that book is published by American Media, the company that owns the National Enquirer, The Star and The Globe. The book has no author per se.

I'd like to know what Tom Brokaw thinks of NBC using the National Enquirer as its source material. Chet Huntley and John Chancellor must be rolling in their graves.

As for the rest of the Dateline special, the many redundant and repetitive references to Jackson's plastic surgery were unnecessary. I think everyone knows that Jackson's had a lot done to his face. What NBC might have done was look into Jackson's finances.

This column reported last July that Jackson is in serious financial peril; that he is severely leveraged and owes $200 million to Sony Music for a countersigned loan against the Beatles catalog, which Jackson owns. Neverland is highly mortgaged.

Michael's own personal music catalog is used to keep him afloat. He needed a $2 million loan to buy a watch he took on permanent approval from a Beverly Hills jeweler. Sotheby's has just sued him for over a million for paintings they claim he bought but didn't pay for.

The tabloids have never done that leg work. And NBC apparently trusts them for its back up.

Neither did the Dateline crew bother to try to identify who Michael's "friends" were in their "exclusive" home video. Seen in many of the pictures was a young man named Frank Cascio, who now is about 22, but who has been hanging around with Jackson since he was a teenager .

In court papers, connected to the lawsuit from former business manager Myung Ho Lee, it states that Jackson had loaned Cascio's father $600,000 to start a restaurant in New Jersey. The restaurant does not exist, making one wonder what the money was used for.

Dateline also got a real "scoop" with a man identified as Ray Chandler. The mystery — literary reference intended — is who Ray Chandler really is. His actual name is Ray Charmatz. He's the uncle of the 13-year-old boy who brought the sexual molestation charges against Jackson 10 years ago.

In Mary A. Fischer's excellent 1994 article about the case, she suggests that Chandler/Charmatz conspired to extort money from Jackson. Fischer also wrote that since the boy's parents were barred in the $20 million settlement from writing a book, Chandler/Charmatz was soliciting publishing deals.

No book was ever published in the United States, but a book was published in Europe with confidential material only the family could have had access to.