MICHAEL JACKSON’S FRIEND IN DEED

In the aftermath of his trial, one might expect Michael Jackson’s high-profile friends to back away at his limping approach. But not billionaire Democratic financier and grocery store kingpin Ron Burkle. A longtime friend of Jackson’s, Burkle reportedly helped the singer renegotiate his $300 million debt in a way that wouldn’t force him to sell his half of the Beatles’ song catalog. Now that Jackson’s been acquitted, Burkle has turned his attentions on his pale-faced pal’s declining mental health, we hear.

“Michael is on his way to Switzerland for medical treatments, and then he’s off to spend time on Burkle’s yacht,” says a source close to Jackson. “Ron thinks that Michael needs time to relax and get away from all that kiddie porn and pedophile nonsense.” Our source says the yacht (which Burkle, who’s worth $2.3 billion, apparently leases) is the same one he uses to entertain former president Bill Clinton, his close friend and paid consultant. Burkle’s spokesman, Frank Quintero, declined to comment on his boss’s fondness for the radioactive singer, but the magnate is hardly the first Forbes-lister to help keep Jackson’s finances and bizarre lifestyle afloat over the years. For those keeping track, Jackson’s unlikely past benefactors include:

• Saudi prince Al-Walid bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz al Saud, ranked fifth-richest man in the world by Forbes for his $23.7 billion fortune. Al-Walid partnered with Jackson in Kingdom Entertainment, a consortium devoted to building children’s theme parks and other family-oriented ventures, in 1996. The two later had a falling out. (Years later, the prince gained further notoriety by offering a $10 million donation to New York City in the wake of the 9/11 while at the same time insisting on the U.S.’s culpability for the attack. Then-mayor Rudy Giuliani returned the check.)

• South Korea–based investor Myung-Ho Lee who, as Jackson’s business adviser, helped him secure a $200 million loan from Bank of America. Jackson reportedly spent part of the money making astronomical payments to faith healers for large-scale animal sacrifices in his name. (Lee eventually sued Jackson for millions of dollars the singer owed him. The case was settled.)

LITERARY SMACKDOWN: MAILER VS. KAKUTANI

Dreaded New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani—for whom “the death of the author” is less a new-critical trope than a career goal—is said to be livid over Norman Mailer’s quasi-racist remarks about her in the new Rolling Stone. Buried in Douglas Brinkley’s epic profile of the ailing literary lion in the mag’s summer double issue is a scathing, if somewhat incoherent attack on Kakutani, wherein Mailer suggests she would have been given the axe long ago were it not for the Gray Lady’s affirmative action policies.

“Kakutani is a one-woman kamikaze,” Mailer gripes. “She disdains white male authors, and I’m her number-one favorite target. One of her cheap tricks is to bring out your review two weeks in advance of publication. She trashes it just to hurt sales and embarrass the author. But the Times editors can’t fire her. They’re terrified of her. With discrimination rules and such, well, she’s a threefer…. Asiatic, feminist, and, ah, what’s the third? Well… let’s just call her a twofer. They get two for one. She is a token. And deep down, she probably knows it.”

We’re told Kakutani, once dubbed “Bitchiko” by Bret Easton Ellis, is so furious about the slurs she’s thinking about filing complaints with the Academy of Arts and Letters and other stuffy literary groups to which Mailer belongs. We would have suggested challenging the 82-year-old to a boxing match, but Kakutani did not return calls seeking comment.