Jackson defends sleeping with children

Saturday, December 27, 2003

— Michael Jackson told CBS' "60 Minutes" that he still believed it was acceptable to sleep with children and that he would "slit my wrists" before he would hurt a child.

Jackson, arrested Nov. 20 on suspicion of child molestation, denied the charges against him during an interview with Ed Bradley conducted Christmas night and set to air Sunday. CBS released a portion of the interview Friday.

Jackson, 45, is charged with seven counts of performing lewd or lascivious acts on a child under 14 and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent. He remains free on $3 million bail.

Asked by Bradley if it was still OK to sleep with children given the charges against him, Jackson answered, "Of course."

"Why not?" he said. "If you're going to be a pedophile, if you're going to be Jack the Ripper, if you're going to be a murderer, it's not a good idea. That I am not."

The pop singer, interviewed in a Los Angeles hotel room, said the police search of his Neverland Ranch in California had been overdone and so violated his privacy that it will never be the same for him.

"I won't live there ever again," he said. "It's a house now. It's not a home anymore. I'll only visit."

Meanwhile on Friday, CBS also announced that it had rescheduled a Jackson music special that had been abruptly postponed last month after the molestation charges surfaced. The special will air Jan. 2.

The interview was a coup for "60 Minutes," which has been enjoying a ratings renaissance the past few months in its final year under the direction of founding executive producer Don Hewitt.

Bradley had been pursuing an interview with Jackson even before the molestation charges. The CBS newsman traveled to Neverland last February for an interview, but Jackson got cold feet and canceled it at the last minute.

The existence of the musical special, which had been scheduled for the day before Thanksgiving and was largely complete before being postponed, was an unusual factor in landing a widely sought interview.

CBS would not have rescheduled the entertainment special if Jackson hadn't addressed the molestation charges with the network's news division, CBS entertainment spokesman Chris Ender said.

The criminal case won't be discussed during the special, "Michael Jackson Number Ones." The special was to include Jackson performance footage, but that filming wasn't completed before November's postponement. The special was also to include interviews with Dick Clark, Beyonce Knowles, Mary J. Blige and others about Jackson's effect on pop culture.

Bob Steele, an expert on newsroom ethics, said news organizations should maintain independence and conduct interviews on their news value alone.

"If CBS was creating a deal in any way for a news interview with Jackson that is dependent on the entertainment special or vice versa, that certainly seems to compromise journalistic independence," said Steele, a scholar for journalist values at the Poynter Institute.

Kevin Tedesco, "60 Minutes" spokesman, said he couldn't imagine any news organization that would not pursue an interview with Jackson.

"It's a big story," he said.