Last month, Michael Jackson used a Harlem rally with Al Sharpton as his opportunity to launch into Sony music chief Tommy Mottola. Jackson labeled Mottola a "racist and "devilish as he accused Sony, his label of more than 25 years, of under-promoting his latest CD, Invincible, and sabotaging his career. To make sure the media got the point, Jackson waved around a picture of Mottola that depicted him wearing horns.
There was no shortage of media coverage of the outburst, but unfortunately for Michael, the media didn't see things his way. His accusations "failed to generate compassion from the media or the music world, according to Time (July 22).
In fact, judging from a sampling of media coverage, the outburst "has spectacularly backfired on him (Newsday, July 19). Most media accounts dismissed the episode as just one more example of his notoriously bizarre and eccentric behavior. The Los Angeles Times (July 17) wrote, "Even for someone whose name is synonymous with bizarre behavior, Jackson's latest outburst was startling - especially in its use of the race card."
However, a number of music industry insiders were able to shed a bit more light on Jackson's suspected intentions. Some saw this as Jackson's way of trying to apply pressure on Mottola regarding a renegotiation of Jackson's contract with Sony, which is scheduled to end after his next offering, which is likely to be a greatest hits package with a few new songs. An industry exec told People (August 5), "This is Michael trying to accomplish in the press what he was not able to accomplish in the negotiating room."
In addressing Jackson's allegations that Sony didn't do enough to promote Invincible, the coverage most often brought up the fact that the CD had not sold well. But most stories did not attribute this to a lack of promotion on Sony's part. Instead, several pundits just stated flatly that the CD wasn't good, or as good, as Jackson's previous work. This, in turn, led many to point out that Jackson's career is not what it once was.
Although Mottola never responded to Jackson's allegations, other Sony reps did, referring to the outburst as an inappropriate publicity stunt. A number of reports refuted Jackson's allegations by pointing out just how much Sony did do to promote Invincible. The Los Angeles Times (July 9) wrote that, based on the amount of sales made as a return of Sony's marketing investment on Invincible, the record label's efforts amounted to "the most expensive marketing campaign in music history."
There were more than a few jabs at Jackson regarding his accusations of racism. First, the issue dredged up all of the past issues regarding the change in his skin color over the years. Second, while several articles agreed that there is racism in the music business, it was viewed as disingenuous for perhaps the richest musician ever to claim the role of victim. Many suggested that Jackson had rediscovered his race now that it was convenient to do so.
Two other recurring themes in the coverage were that Jackson needs to face the reality that he is no longer the King of Pop, having peaked commercially about 20 years ago, and that he has an image problem that is associated with his slumping career. CNN suggested, "Ultimately, Jackson's biggest problem might be less with Sony, and more with public perception of the man making the music. Neither issue was helped by Jackson's allegations.
Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.