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HOW NOW, JACKO?
After a Grueling Ordeal, Press Speculation Is Divided on Entertainer’s Future
Following a 14 week trial and a week of jury deliberations, Michael Jackson has been acquitted of all 10 counts against him, including conspiracy, giving alcohol to a minor, molestation and attempted molestation.

The jurors didn’t like the accuser’s mother, it turns out, and many didn’t find her or her son’s story credible. While three jurors had to be convinced by the others to return the “not guilty” verdicts, all in the end agreed with one who said yesterday, “He’s just not guilty of the crimes he’s been charged with.”

As die-hard fans cheered and released balloons and white doves, juror 10, Pauline Coccoz told reporters, “We had a closetful of evidence that just came back to us with, ‘It’s just not enough.’ Things just didn’t add up.”

Jackson, clearly shaken but stoic as he could be, managed a few small expressions of gratitude to fans before climbing into his car to return to Neverland and go to bed. A vanquished Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon said, "Obviously, we're disappointed in the verdict. [But] I'm not apologizing for anything."

So, what’s next for the one-time King of Pop now that he’s been cleared? Opinion, naturally, is divided.

"It's a freak show," Walter Yetnikoff told the Wall Street Journal, referring to Jackson’s career. (Yetnikoff, of course, was head of CBS Records in 1982, the year Jackson released Thriller.) "Why would one assume that could be resurrected? My assumption would be it couldn't be. I hope I'm wrong."

"It's an uphill battle," music attorney Londell McMillan told the New York Times. "Culturally, he'll never be the Michael Jackson that we knew him to be. One thing we do know is his voice is permanently ingrained in the minds of most music listeners. But he'll never be the kind of trendsetter and icon he used to be."

And image and brand consultant Morris Reid, managing director of Washington firm Westin Rinehart, told Reuters, “What [Jackson] needs to do in the U.S. is rehabilitate himself as a human being. But the brand of Michael Jackson, the uber-entertainer, beloved all across the world and the U.S.—that's over. He needs to apologize. We're a forgiving society, but we only forgive you when you ask for forgiveness. And guess what? You've made mistakes, Michael. Own up to them. Acknowledge the fact that it was a bad decision to have little boys in your bedroom, unsupervised.''

But some feel that Jackson does have a shot at making at least a modest comeback and earning money that could stave off a possible financial disaster. Suggestions are all over the press, and most often include either an international concert tour or a stint in Las Vegas.

“Even when his popularity wanes here, his popularity overseas has been sustained, and that's probably the place he can do the best,'' talent manager Ken Kragen, an organizer of the ``We Are the World'' benefit 20 years ago, told Reuters, saying whatever Jackson does, it will likely generate “enormous attention,” especially within the next several months. “The best thing for him to do would be something that's unexpected.”

"He's always been a genius; now he just needs to maximize his gift," producer Rodney Jerkins, who has worked with Jackson, told the NYT. Gaining new fans would be “a hard mission to accomplish at his age,” he said, but added, "I think he should really tour, focus on the fans he has and pick up new fans through word of mouth."

Added Rolling Stone Deputy Managing Editor Joe Levy, in remarks printed by Reuters, “One thing that hasn't gone away is people's memory of the music he made 20 or 30 years ago, and scandal hasn't taken that away. The best thing he could possibly do...is to go out on tour and sing the music that made him famous. That is something that people still want to hear.” Levy added that “The payday would be bigger and the reaction of the fans less complicated” if Jackson were to tour overseas.

Whatever his future career plans, one thing is clear: Jackson has sworn off having children in his bed. "He's not going to do that anymore," attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. said on NBC's Today. "He's not going to make himself vulnerable to this anymore. He's going to take it one day at a time. It's been a terrible, terrible process for him.”
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