The Myth of Michael Jackson and MTV

Music legend has it that CBS Records president Walter Yetnikoff pressured MTV into playing Michael Jackson by threatening to pull all the music videos by his label’s artists from the station’s playlist and going public with the information that the music channel would not play a clip by an African-American artist. That stance is contested by then vice-president of programming Les Garland, who said that the first time he saw the video for “Billie Jean,” he knew MTV had a hit. As Garland wrote in an email to me, “Michael Jackson was not the first artist of color to be on MTV … that is total myth and so is the bullshit about CBS records threatening to pull off all their videos blah blah blah.”