Michael Jackson and CBS

Michael Jackson and CBS
: If CBS News paid for a Michael Jackson interview, that is utterly reprehensible.

But I’m not sure the network did.

The New York Times story alleging the deal is clear in the headline — “Michael Jackson’s $1 Million Interview Deal,” it says online — but is far less clear in the story.

Says The Times:

But Mr. Jackson’s business associate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the “60 Minutes” interview was part of what was originally a $5 million deal to put on an entertainment special for CBS during a sweeps period and that CBS had already advanced the singer $1.5 million of that fee.

CBS postponed the special, which was incomplete, after the authorities issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Jackson on multiple counts of child molesting. But the Jackson associate said that in renewed negotiations, CBS agreed to pay another $1 million to the star to grant the interview so that the network could finally broadcast its entertainment special. It is now scheduled to be broadcast on Friday evening.

The way I read that, they paid him for the entertainment special and didn’t even pay him the full amount of the deal.

The only thing they have to contradict that is an unnamed Jackson associate (a dubious description if I’ve ever heard one!) arguing that “in essence they paid him” for the interview. The story then concedes that is is “unclear how much Mr. Jackson will ultimately earn from the programs.”

But wait: You just said that he was to be paid $5 million for the entertainment special. He has been paid half of that amount. The special is now scheduled to air (a cynical act in and of itself).

All this is not to say that there are not dangerous and dubious connections being made between news and entertainment deals these days. The same network reportedly offered entertainment deals for Jessica Lynch that were tied to news interviews. That’s paying for news. If the Jackson deal was tied to the interview, that, too, would be paying for news.

But so far as I can see, The Times doesn’t have a smoking gun.

: UPDATE: Roger Friedman at FoxNews also takes The Times to task for basing the story on an anonymous source. And Friedman speculates that that source is a disgruntled former Jackson manager who now runs sex clubs.

: UPDATE: Felix Salmon dissects the Times piece, head-scratcher by head-scratcher.

Methinks this is turning into a case for the Public Editor!

Into the Ombuscave, Okrent. On with the Ombudscape! Fire up the Ombudsmobile!