Keeper Of the Famed
Sunday, October 8, 2006
Michael Jackson is going to call -- from wherever he happens to be at the moment, which is a bit of a mystery. He's going to talk about Raymone Bain, the Washington publicist who has just become his general manager.
But no . . . he's not going to call. A personal assistant delivers this news on a patched-in transcontinental phone line. Jackson would rather converse through a different type of technological apparatus -- one that doesn't require actually speaking.
Jackson wants to talk by fax.
But no . . . the fax machine is broken. So two days later, Jackson's assistant e-mails his answers to questions posed to him by The Washington Post. Questions about why he's decided to put Bain -- a woman who'd been mysteriously fired and then rehired in the midst of Jackson's 2005 child abuse trial-- in charge of his new company.
"I was impressed by her professionalism, her strategic thinking, and honesty," the e-mail reads. "I watched from afar the work she had done for other clients, for example how she ushered her clients to new levels, she helped diversify their interests from politics, to charitable events, to the world of fashion. One could not pick up a newspaper or magazine that did not feature Babyface, Boyz II Men or Serena Williams . . ."
Uncannily, this sounds exactly like a press release from Raymone Bain.
That's how good she is.
* * *
Bain, she of the micro-minis and the waist-length weave, knows how to spin a crisis, whether that crisis is Jackson's trial or Marion Barry's unfortunate encounter with a surveillance tape or Mike Tyson's staggering bankruptcy. She's a master of the care and coddling of famous folk, especially those who happen to find themselves in exceedingly hot water.
She's flashy of dress, but surprisingly reticent about herself. ("Why would anyone want to do a story about me? I'm so boring. All I do is work.") She insists she's not a public figure, and yet the camera always seems to find her, walking the red carpet in Tokyo with Jackson -- "my boss" -- or escorting him into the courtroom during his trial.
She is, after all, a professional who has made a career out of managing perceptions, zealously guarding both her clients' images and her own, a political junkie who got her start toiling in Jimmy Carter's White House, a Georgetown law school grad who never practiced law. She's a small-town girl who has represented some of the most glittering names in African American entertainment and sports: Muhammad Ali. Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds. Tyson. Boyz II Men. Serena Williams. Deion Sanders. Janet Jackson . . .
Like Condoleezza Rice, Bain is a product of the South's black middle class, a boomer raised on ballet and the Bible at a time when comportment, education and manners were used as weapons to blunt the effects of Jim Crow living. She is poised and manicured -- "prissy," according to her friends -- measuring her words with soft-spoken formality. Then again, she's not above picking up the phone to administer a verbal beatdown.