I am fairly amused by Maureen Orth's big-deal story about Michael Jackson that Vanity Fair has been trumpeting the last 24 hours. You'd think from the headlines that Orth had been working night and day on this.
But maybe she's just been reading the Fox411.
We are grateful for the bone she tosses us early in the piece, when Orth kindly mentions this column revealed that Jackson's Heal the World Foundation was out of business. Thanks, Maureen!
But the 10,000-word piece relies heavily on information found right here, including almost all of the financial information about Jackson we reported last July. Everything about Michael being leveraged, about the $2-million watch he couldn't afford, about the Beatles catalog and his Sony loans -- all of it is in our archives.
Also, the papers from Myung Ho Lee's court case against Jackson, including the budget breakdown of his expenses were detailed here and then picked up by the New York Post, which credited this column last summer.
When I called Orth to complain about the similarities in material, she insisted that all her work was original, that she'd never heard of this column or read the July 27, 2002, story in the New York Post that credited us.
"I've been writing about Michael Jackson since 1993," she said.
In fact, if you take out everything Orth learned about Jackson from the Fox411, you're not left with much. Just the voodoo stuff (which amounts to a couple of paragraphs) and regurgitated information about Jackson's alleged 13-year-old victim of molestation.
Orth reels off the name of Frank Tyson, Jackson's "assistant," and throws in that his real last name is "Cascio." That was here, too, although there's something Orth obviously didn't understand from her reading of the Lee papers: Cascio's father got $600,000 from Jackson to start a restaurant that does not exist to this day. Frank Tyson/Cascio also goes by the name of Frank Armstrong when he's registered in hotels with Jackson.
Myung Ho Lee was so desperate to contact Jackson at one point he sent young Frank a pleading letter at the New York Palace Hotel to put them in touch. Maureen, if you want the letter, I have it.
But here's what Orth simply ignored rather than deal with: GQ, another Conde Nast magazine, laid out a compelling story in 1994 in which the family that settled with Jackson was accused of extortion by investigative reporter Mary A. Fischer. Fischer is very much still around and has access to a tape recording of members of the family conspiring to ruin Jackson.
Does this mean Jackson is innocent of child molestation? I have no idea. But I do know there was more to this story than Orth reports. She fails to mention that family now owns a $2.5-million home in the Hamptons, a fancy high-rise apartment in Manhattan and a condo in Santa Barbara. She also omits Fischer's strongest revelation: that the child was submitted to the drug Sodium Amytol in order to secure his allegations. This is not a truth serum, as some believe, but a potent cocktail used for creating memories with impressionable patients.
"Right after the GQ piece came out, the district attorney's office dropped the criminal case against Michael," says a source. "They had a flimsy case and they knew it."
Fischer, by the way, is said to be livid at Orth, who did use some of Fischer's work in a 1995 Vanity Fair piece. Fischer, friends say, worked for five months reporting her GQ story only to see it wind up in Vanity Fair.
I know the feeling. I spent months last year digging up legal papers on Jackson, making hundreds of phone calls and sending/receiving endless faxes, only to see it laid out in Vanity Fair as news. Hot stuff, huh?
As for Orth's assertion Jackson is "finished" with Sony, this is a conclusion that could only have been drawn by columns I wrote six months ago. However, I was told yesterday by insiders that since the departure of Tommy Mottola from Sony, things have cooled off.
Jackson's lawyer, John Branca, is now in negotiations to get Jackson a new deal at Sony, at least for one new album as well as a boxed set he was preparing for the company. Even though right after Mottola left, Sony business-side people said it would never happen, it is happening.
Orth does not mention that Sony's chief, Nobuyuki Idei, loves Jackson and wants him to stay. Idei was planning a video game based on Invincible last spring when the Mottola-Jackson feud exploded into the press. Idei was so angry he engineered the end of Mottola.
So what about Orth's voodoo story? Anything's possible, right? But Steven Spielberg and David Geffen have always been friendly with Jackson. John McClain, Jackson's permanent manager and longtime family friend, works at DreamWorks Records for Geffen and Spielberg. This highly unusual arrangement is because of their largesse. And let's not forget that since the voodoo "curse," DreamWorks has won three Best Picture Academy Awards. Spielberg has had three hit films. So I guess it didn't work.
Finally, I am told that Jackson's other manager, Trudy Green, resigned the account a few days before the Martin Bashir interview broke on Granada TV. Why? Jackson never mentioned to any of his advisers that Bashir was even interviewing him. Green didn't find out until she got a call from someone at an American network who told her Granada was offering the rights to the show.
Green, according to my sources, called Branca, who was stumped. "By that time there was nothing anyone could do," my source says.
Now Jackson is being managed by a highly suspect group in Germany, but that's another story. It's one that I'll write, and maybe Vanity Fair can use it later this year as source material. I'm happy to be of service.
It was an all Michael Jackson night as Maureen Orth was interviewed by Bill O'Reilly on his popular Fox show at 8 p.m. last night. Then, Michael's older sister, LaToya, came to his defense on Larry King. There's no end to the circus now!
I have to thank O'Reilly for invoking my name with Orth. She seemed surprised and didn't really know what to say. She could have just been gracious in her piece and conceded that the Jackson financials had been previously published. Oh well.
Meanwhile, LaToya looked great and managed to say absolutely nothing of substance for a solid hour. Larry never asked her why she stopped bleaching her skin (she's black again), or why her nose is as fixed as Michael's. She just did her rah-rah thing for the family, and why not? She's living at home. She has no choice.
Toward the end of her visit, LaToya gave Larry a tie and suspenders set as a gift, which was totally inappropriate (He accepted it). She then started squirming out of her dress, pulling the sides down sexily to reveal bare shoulders. It was really weird, but of course, it was supposed to be.
On Monday night I was kind of surprised and incredibly flattered when Regis and Joy Philbin popped into a dinner for my new Red Carpet magazine at the swanky new Barbaluc Restaurant on the east side. The Philbins came with Michael and Laurie Gelman; they are New York's most beguiling and well traveled foursome.
There was a lot of talk about a "mentalist" named Gerard Senehi who was bending spoons and glasses and reading people's minds. He freaked Reege out when he lit a cigarette, had it fly through the air and land in his mouth.
On Tuesday morning I was taken aback when Reege -- who, let's face it, is one my heroes -- mentioned the mag on the air and showed it to guest co-host Jane Krakowski. He's a mensch, our Reege!
Some other people who turned out in the subzero weather to get Red Carpet: Page Six's Richard Johnson, Paula Schwartz of the Times, Jill Brooke of Avenue Magazine, raconteur George Wayne, The Daily News' Ben Widdicombe, Jeannie Williams of USA Today, Jeffrey Slonim of Allure and Steven Cohen of The CBS Early Show. Norah Lawlor put the swell evening together, which was a plus for the Red Carpet contributors who finally got a free meal: Regina Weinreich, Phoebe Hoban, Kim Kowalski, Jenn Prodan, and Kevin Kushel. Red Carpet is on sale nationally this week, by the way, with beauteous Nicole Kidman on the cover.