LOS ANGELES, Nov. 20 (UPI) -- It is difficult to say whether pop star Michael Jackson's newest legal difficulty will adversely affect sales of his new greatest hits CD, "Number Ones" -- particularly since people in a position to analyze the question were not eager to go on record about it immediately after authorities announced a warrant for Jackson's arrest on child molestation charges.
"Number Ones" went on sale Tuesday in the United States. The CD -- which contains such Jackson hits as "Beat It," Billie Jean," Black or White," "Rock with You," "Smooth Criminal," "Thriller" and the new single "One More Chance" -- was reportedly selling well in England, but no sales figures in the United States were available on Wednesday.
Sony Music, the parent company of Jackson's label, Epic Records, did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the Minneapolis-based retail chain Best Buy told United Press International it was too soon to know what impact the news would have on sales of the new Jackson product.
"It's obviously something that we'll keep track of," said Brian Lucas, "but at this point it's too early to comment on anything."
"Number Ones" comes to the market at a time when CD sales across the board are problematic for major record companies. A British tracking firm, Informa Media, recently forecast that retail sales of recorded music in 2003 would be down 8.9 percent from 2002.
Conventional wisdom in the entertainment industry holds that there is no such thing as bad publicity, and it is possible that front-page coverage of the new charges against Jackson will help to sell a few copies of "Number Ones" -- or the similarly titled DVD, which contains 15 Jackson music videos.
But considering that Jackson's record sales have been steadily declining during the 10 years since he was last embroiled in a highly-publicized molestation scandal, it is unlikely that executives at Epic were swapping high-fives over the prospect of seeing Jackson go to trial on multiple counts of molestation.
If prosecutors are able to gain a conviction, lagging record sales will not be at the top of Jackson's list of problems. A single count carries a possible prison term of anywhere from three years to eight years,
Fox News reported that a 12-year-old boy may have told his psychiatrist that Jackson gave him wine and sleeping pills before allegedly molesting him. Citing a source, Fox reported that the boy's family has hired Larry Feldman, an attorney who represented the family of the 13-year-old boy at the center of the molestation scandal involving Jackson in 1993.
Fox also said the boy in the current case was a cancer patient whose last wish was to meet Jackson -- who reportedly paid the boy's medical bills and gave the family other financial assistance. However, sources told Fox that Jackson has known for months that the boy and his family had "complaints" about his relationship with them, and had tried to appease them with trips and entertainment.
A spokesman for Jackson issued a statement calling the criminal charges "scurrilous and totally unfounded," and promising that the accusations will not stand up in court.
"Michael would never harm a child in any way," said the statement, issued by Stuart Backerman. "When the evidence is presented and the allegations proven to be malicious and wholly unfounded, Michael will be able to put this nightmare behind him."
Because authorities executed a search warrant at Jackson's Neverland Ranch in Santa Barbara County on the same day as his new CD was released, there was speculation in the press that the raid was timed to coincide with the release. But Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon scoffed at that suggestion.
"Like the sheriff and I are really into that kind of music," said Sneddon at a news conference with Santa Barbara County Sheriff Jim Anderson. "We had no knowledge of (the release date) prior to the time that we executed these warrants."
Sneddon also fielded questions suggesting that he was eager to bust Jackson, after the singer avoided criminal charges in the 1993 case.
"When that case went to bed 10 years ago it was out of my mind," said Sneddon. "You people keep calling my office for comment on every bizarre thing he does."
Sneddon confirmed reports that attorneys for Jackson were negotiating with authorities on terms under which he would turn himself for booking on the charges. But he would not confirm reports that the Jackson camp was lobbying for an arrangement that would allow the singer to surrender privately, avoiding being photographed in handcuffs.
"We haven't said that," Sneddon cautioned -- leaving open the possibility that one of the best-known entertainers in the world might soon be seen around the world in manacles.
That is an image that cannot possibly be good for business.