Don't believe the stories you're hearing this weekend about why Michael Jackson's charity single isn't coming out. Sony Music's new excuse is that the single was shelved because it was suddenly discovered that the executive director of the project had a porno past.
But record and video producer Mark Schaffel – whom this column has interviewed off and on since last October (see Fox 411 archives) – tells me that his ties to adult videos were severed prior to working on this project. In any case, porno video directors often work with pop stars. Case in point: I can tell you that squeaky clean teen idol and heartthrob Britney Spears has often worked with infamous porno director Gregory Dark. So have Mandy Moore and other teen pop stars.
Most importantly, Sony's Tommy Mottola has stepped up the spin war with Jackson in the last 24 hours, emphasizing the latter's so-called sexual weirdness and the racism issue. But what's really going on here is a wholesale attack on Jackson to destroy him once and for all. It's a scorch-the-earth scenario in which the victim and all his associates are ruined.
For example: Schaffel, sources say, was told last fall that Mottola and Jackson's manager Trudy Green hired a private eye to dig up dirt on him when they were afraid that Jackson was listening to Schaffel's advice about his career. Jackson has all but dismissed Green and HK Management as his official managers. "He didn't think they were doing enough to push the new album, Invincible," Schaffel says. "And they were mad at me."
According to sources, Schaffel's friends were contacted by the private eye: "The only thing they were able to dig up was the porno stuff and now they're using it."
Mottola is not averse to using private detectives. As I reported in 1998, Mottola's former business partner Randy Hoffman once went surreptitiously "wired" to a meeting with a potential witness in a plagiarism case involving Mariah Carey. The detective sat outside in a car listening while Hoffman tried to lead the witness into recanting a story that would embarrass Mottola and cost Sony millions. Luckily the witness kept to his story.
Forget about porno or any other spin coming out of Sony this weekend. What's clear now is that Sony never wanted "What More Can I Give" to be released. The corporation didn't care about the money it might raise for the Sept. 11 victims. (Instead they released "The Concert for New York" and an album of standards by all their artists except Jackson.)
Schaffel, in an interview with this columnist, says that last fall when "What More Can I Give" was being planned, Sony execs Michelle Anthony and Polly Anthony (no relation to each other) called him and in a heated conversation accused him of advising Jackson in tactics to push the single.
"They didn't want 'What More Can I Give' competing with Invincible. They didn't want them to buy the charity single and then find it wasn't on Invincible."
The cancelling of "What More Can I Give" had nothing to do with McDonald's disapproving of Jackson, Schaffel says. "They didn't consider it a Michael Jackson record," he says. "They thought of it as an all-star tribute." Ultimately McDonald's had to back out, he says, because Jackson missed the delivery date and the fast food company was preparing for its holiday promotions.
This column also reported several months ago that Jackson, in borrowing of millions of dollars, had taken a $2 million loan from something called Royalty Advance Funding in Beverly Hills. According to sources, we now know that the loan was for the making of "What More Can I Give." Jackson was forced to borrow the money when Sony refused to pay for the recording and Jackson had already committed to the project.
Ultimately other Sony artists – such as Celine Dion, Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan, and Destiny's Child, all of whom sang on "What More Can I Give?" – are now being penalized by Mottola's failure to cooperate with Jackson's charity project.
Yesterday I reported that Jackson may soon reveal e-mails from Mottola in which the head of Sony Music threatens his livelihood and career unless Jackson does what he's told. I suppose the question now is why Sony Music – and Sir Howard Stringer, the venerable head of Sony Entertainment USA – isn't more interested in why two superstars – Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson – have been forced out of the Sony Music Group. It seems particularly strange since album sales are in decline and there are fewer stars than ever to go around.
According to a source, only Stringer would be able to make an investigation stick. "The people in Japan who own Sony are old and they're isolated. They don't follow American newspapers or gossip columns. If they want to know what's going on, they ask Tommy. If something goes wrong, Tommy goes over there and explains it to them. The Japanese are clueless."
Tomorrow night, live on HBO at 9 p.m. eastern time, Robin Williams does his remarkable one-man show from Broadway.
At Thursday night's performance, though, audience members' heads swiveled like they were in The Exorcist. The reason was that Williams was cracking jokes about Martha Stewart – and she was sitting in the sixth row.
"He just made reference to her regarding the stock market," an onlooker aid, "but she couldn't have been happy."
Williams's show – which I caught that night from a balcony seat as close to heaven as you could get in the Broadway Theatre – is a tour de force and not to be missed. He is the funniest man alive, urbane, trenchant and important. He has a gift of ad lib that all comics would kill for. There's a lot of sexual stuff in this show, and some mild use of four-letter words, so put the kids to bed when you tune in. But for heaven's sake, don't miss it.