It was probably better for all of us when Michael Jackson was the silent star — the gloved one, the mysterious Jacko, who was heard everywhere and only occasionally seen.

Now we've got Michael Jackson, outraged star on a mission. it's an odd role for this guy.

He's going after the record companies — Sony Music and its chief Tommy Mottola, in particular, for racism.

This racism is evidently all about ripping off black artists.

I worked in what used to be known as the record business. It's true. Artists did get ripped off and many of them were black.

But that was then. Mottola has always been especially supportive of African-American artists, and if Jackson is feeling ripped off, I would wager it's a mess of his own devising.

This is a guy who had enough money that he could pay off a kid who accused him of child molestation with $20 million, and not miss it.

Those kinds of civil suit settlements are supposed to hurt, but there was no evidence at the time that it hurt Jackson in the slightest. Shortly afterwards, he went out and bought one of the most valuable music publishing catalogs — the Beatles'.

And if anybody thinks that child molestation case has slipped away into the recesses of time where one can say, "Nobody's really sure what happened between Michael and that boy." let me just tell you... I read the secret report of what the boy told authorities Jackson did to him. It was so devastating that Jackson elected to forego a trial and just fork up the cash.

Can people rise above their own tawdry past? Sure. Should Jackson have his past thrown in his face if he raises a legitimate beef with his record company? No.

But who is Jackson to complain about racism in the music business? Is there any evidence that anything but the color of money has had any bearing on his adult career?

Jackson has a money beef with Sony. How much was spent on his failing album, how much was spent to promote it, what he will get back, and how much he will be expected to pay out of his own pocket if the album ultimately fails, as it may well do.

Jackson used to be black. Then came the period where he appeared white, but scratch the surface and he's green... through and through. This is all about money. It looks like, for the first time, the thriller is in a genuine panic about money.

Welcome to the real world, Michael. Never-never land is over.

That's My Word.

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