Did Porn, Sony Or McDonald's Sink Jackson Charity Single?

By | July 15, 2002 at 12:00 AM

Michael Jackson’s list of grievances with Sony Music has grown from complaints about the promotion of his Invincible album to include accusations that the label blocked the release of his “What More Can I Give” charity single.

Jackson predicted last fall that the “We Are the World”-type song – recorded with a sizable list of participants including Mariah Carey, Ricky Martin, Usher, Beyoncé Knowles, Shakira and Nick Carter – would raise $50 million for victims of September 11.

Eight months after Jackson announced he was ready to release it, the issues surrounding why the song never came out are starting to come to light. What was seemingly just one portion of Jackson’s larger issue with Sony seems to have caused a fair amount of turmoil. The Los Angeles Times reported on Friday that the project was abandoned after it was discovered that the song’s executive producer had a background in porn.

According to the Times, the porn connection caused McDonald’s to back out of an agreement to sell the single in its restaurants. Sources in Jackson’s camp, for the most part, tell a similar story, but the man at the center of the dispute said that there are other factors involved.

Jackson hired Marc Schaffel to executive produce the song and included him in plans to shoot its video, which was to be styled after Bono’s “What’s Going On” charity project. Jackson’s vision, according to the video company hired to realize it, was to depict artists in the studio as well as at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Though Jackson was originally slated to direct, Schaffel handled most of the arrangements and was Jackson’s point person, representing the singer in conference calls and meetings, according to sources close to the project.

But when it was discovered that Schaffel had directed and produced porn, Jackson’s camp wanted him out. Jackson’s legal and management team sought to terminate the singer’s business relationship with Schaffel in a November 15 letter sent to Schaffel’s lawyers and obtained by MTV News.

While the Times and Jackson insiders said Schaffel was involved in gay porn, the producer said his past work has depicted heterosexuality just as much as bisexuality and homosexuality, and he characterized his style as softcore “Spice Channel stuff.” He acknowledged that his background ruffled some feathers, but insisted he wasn’t terminated.

“How can I be fired when my company owns the rights to the song?” he asked. (Jackson’s camp disputes Schaffel’s ownership of the song but admits that he has possession of the master tapes as well as the video footage.)

Instead, Schaffel maintained that Sony is using his porn background to hide its real reason for not putting out “What More Can I Give,” which he said was delayed due to the marketing plan for Invincible.

“Sony didn’t want the single to take away from the record,” he said. “So they wanted to make sure it didn’t come out at the same time. After that, they had other excuses. I don’t think the porn was a legit excuse. But let’s say that it is. No one picketed, and I still get hundreds of e-mails from fans wanting to know what the problem is. No one cares what I did before.”

Sources close to the project disagree and said that having Jackson linked with porn would have been disastrous for his already troubled image.

“One press organization, an entertainment television show, found out about it,” a source close to Jackson said. “And they threatened to expose it. It got stopped because it was made clear that they would never get to work with Jackson again. But then it was like, ugh, we don’t want to work with it anymore, because it would be an uphill battle and it was not part of the bargain.”

The extent of Sony’s involvement with the single’s release remains unclear, as some sources at the label said Sony was only in talks and never actually agreed to release it. Jive, by some accounts, had also expressed interest in putting out “What More Can I Give,” indicating that Jackson might have shopped the song around. Schaffel maintained that despite the lack of a formal agreement, Sony was involved, since many of the artists participating were signed to Sony subsidiaries Columbia and Epic.

“Do you think any of these major artists would have stopped what they were doing and recorded their parts without Sony authorization?” Schaffel asked. “They can’t do anything without an OK from Tommy [Mottola].”

For its part, a spokesperson for McDonald’s said that the fast food chain never had an agreement to sell the single in its restaurants. “We did have discussion about a potential deal,” spokesperson Lisa Howard said, “but it fell apart [late last year] based on strict business prospects, in this case, timing, distribution and cost.”

Sony had no official comment.

Related Content