Everything you always wanted to know about Michael Jackson, Diane Sawyer wasn't afraid to ask. Sawyer kept asking and Jackson kept answering last night on a special edition of ABC's "PrimeTime Live" that marked the first time Jackson and wife Lisa Marie Presley sat down together for a chat on live TV.
Yes, they do sleep together, said -- in fact, insisted -- Presley in the last quarter of the hour. "Do we have sex?" she asked, anticipating Sawyer's question. "Yes, yes, yes," Presley replied. Sawyer got around the onus of asking such a tabloidy question by playing taped sound bites from Jackson fans who said it was the thing they most wanted to know.
Earlier, Sawyer asked Jackson very tough questions about rumors that he sexually molested a 13-year-old boy whose silence reportedly was bought with a multi-million-dollar payment to the boy's parents. "Never, ever," Jackson said of the allegations. "I could never harm a child. . . . I'm not even interested in that." How much money was paid to settle the civil suit? "The terms of the agreement are very confidential," Jackson said.
He also said all kinds of children sleep in his room, and when Sawyer tried to get him to promise there'd be no more sleep-overs, he declined: "It's all moral and it's all pure," he said. Presley said children love Michael so much they even follow him into the bathroom.
Sawyer didn't merely gloss over the myriad sordid tales about Jackson and his bedroom activities. She spent most of the first half of the interview on them. This was obviously to dispel suspicions that she'd be lobbing softballs so that the program would make a nice polite plug for Jackson's forthcoming album. Well, she didn't lob softballs, but a nice, polite plug is still pretty much what it was.
If only the networks would devote as much sober and somber air time to some of the great issues of the day as ABC devotes to Michael Jackson, first with an Oprah Winfrey interview and now with Sawyer's. Could we, perchance, perhaps, just possibly consider the case closed now and get on with our own miserable yet refreshingly normal little lives?
Presley seemed to want to speak much more than she was allowed. She came across as a rather chilly personality, hardly a blushing bride, at one point saying of the rumor that she is attempting to induct Jackson into Scientology, "It's crap." She also said people could "eat it" if they didn't believe what she and Jackson were saying about themselves.
She does have her father Elvis's haunted sullen eyes. And Jackson has, for some mysterious reason, Nanette Fabray's pinchy pointy nose. Jackson looked pale as ever but less bedraggled; his hair didn't dribble down onto his face. Also, he seemed to be trying to talk with a lower speaking voice.
Seeing them there together side by side, it was hard not to think of a line Barbra Streisand sang in "Funny Girl": "To tell the truth, it hurt my pride,/ the groom was prettier than the bride."
At times, he and Presley poked each other in ways meant to look playful, and Jackson made devil horns with his fingers behind her head. They said they plan to have children some day but indicated Presley is not pregnant now. Even in the depths of what Sawyer called Jackson's "agony" over the child abuse rumors, "I was never suicidal," Jackson said. "I love life too much. . . . I have rhinoceros skin."
Ah yes, that skin. Sawyer asked about its lack of pigmentation late in the program, and alluded to all of Jackson's plastic surgery. Presley said her husband is an artist and that "he re-sculpted himself." Jackson then said of all the stories that have been printed about him in the tabloids, "It's garbage, it's junk, it's stupid." And so on.
A music video for the song "Scream," featuring Jackson and his sister Janet dancing around in a spacecraft, ate up four minutes of the program. In the video, Michael and Janet morph into one another. Janet jumps off a toilet and Michael swats hockey pucks at vases. It's his protest against all the media attention and speculation, we were informed.
Also shown was the wildly wacko, even for Jackson, promotional film designed to herald his new album "HIStory: Past Present Future Book I," which features adoring hordes worshiping a huge statue of Jackson. Sawyer compared the filmmaking to Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi propaganda epic "Triumph of the Will." Jackson said the film was not at all political. "It's art, it's art," he said.
He also declared, "I wanted everybody's attention." That wasn't hard to believe.
Elizabeth Taylor showed up again, as she did on the Winfrey-Jackson program, only this time on tape, seemingly photographed through a towel, and attesting still further to Jackson's wonderfulness as a human being. There was also extremely listless and wooden footage of the Jackson-Presley nuptials, such as they were.
Sawyer probably brought as much dignity to the project as anyone could, but when you get right down to it, the program seemed a real squandering of resources. Any questions about Jackson left unanswered should probably remain unasked too.
Fittingly, under the circumstances, the announcer at the end of the program sounded just a trifle sheepish when he said, "This has been a production of ABC News," like maybe he wanted to add, "believe it or not." CAPTION: Prime-time love: Near the anniversary of their marriage and the eve of his album, Jackson and Lisa Marie talk to Sawyer. CAPTION: Lisa Marie and Michael, during their interview last night with Diane Sawyer.