The Rev. Al Sharpton, who launched a crusade with Michael Jackson and lawyer Johnnie Cochran last month against what they called longtime record company exploitation of black artists, and who hosted Jackson’s rally for the cause on Saturday, distanced himself from Jackson’s accusations that Sony Music chief Tommy Mottola, who heads Jackson’s label, is a racist. ”I have known Tommy for 15 or 20 years, and never once have I known him to say or do anything that would be considered racist,” Sharpton tells the New York Post.
Jackson, who rarely makes public appearances, made three on Saturday in New York. At a rally at Sharpton’s National Action Network in Harlem, Jackson railed against recording companies but singled out Mottola for criticism, saying he’s ”mean, he’s a racist, and he’s very, very, very devilish,” according to published reports. He also accused Mottola, who is Mariah Carey’s ex-husband, of using ”the n-word” in reference to an unidentified black Sony artist, though Jackson wouldn’t say who the musician was.
Later, Jackson appeared atop a double-decker bus that circled the midtown Manhattan block that houses Sony’s headquarters. Published reports say that 150 fans cheered him on, and one handed him a poster with a picture of Jackson (labeled ”The Good”), one of Mottola with devil horns and a forked tail (”The Bad”), and an unadulterated photo of Mottola (”The Ugly”). And Saturday night, Jackson appeared at a downtown nightclub to pick up an award from members of his fan club, holding a poster that read, ”Go back to hell, Mottola,” the Post reports.
Sony responded with a statement calling Jackson’s comments ”ludicrous, spiteful, and hurtful. It seems particularly bizarre that he has chosen to launch an unwarranted and ugly attack on an executive who has championed his career…for many, many years.”
For his part, Sharpton tells the Post he was ”taken aback and surprised” by Jackson’s characterization of Mottola, though Jackson had called him ”the devil” in comments last month. ”In fact, he’s always been supportive of the black music industry,” Sharpton says of Mottola. ”He was the first record executive to step up and offer to help us with respect to corporate accountability, when it comes to black music issues.”
Sharpton tells the Post he was ”inundated” with calls from angry African-Americans in the music industry after Jackson’s comments were published Sunday. One of them, producer Steve Stoute, tells the Post, ”To call Tommy Mottola a racist is just ridiculous — he’s one of the biggest supporters of black music I know.”
Jackson’s anti-Sony tirades over the last month have widely been seen as an attempt to get out of his contract with the label, which he has accused of insufficiently promoting last year’s ”Invincible,” which has sold only about 4 million copies worldwide. Sony reportedly spent $50 million to $60 million producing and promoting the album. But Courey Rooney, a black producer who worked on ”Invincible,” tells the Post, ”Michael Jackson playing the race card is a cop-out — a last-resort move by a guy who is frustrated that his big project didn’t work.”
Sharpton, who is hosting a summit tomorrow on the issue of racism in the music industry, tells the Post he believes he can keep separate Jackson’s anti-Mottola sentiments from Jackson’s overall critique of the industry, which Sharpton says he ”stands firmly behind.” Then again, he says, ”Nobody tells Michael Jackson what to do.”