Former Albuquerquean has gotten scoop on big stories
By Rick Nathanson – Journal Staff Writer
After 20 years in the national spotlight as a news reporter and anchor, Diane Dimond admitted that “sometimes I wondered if I should get out of the business- but then Michael Jackson popped into my life again, and here we are.”
Dimond, who grew up in Albuquerque, was an investigative reporter with the syndicated TV show “Hard Copy” in 1993 when she broke the story that entertainer Michael Jackson had been accused of sexual misconduct with an underage boy. One year and a $25 million settlement later, the charges were dropped and Jackson and Dimond both went about their respective businesses.
Ten years later Dimond, now working at Court TV, got a call from a source saying, “‘we got another kid,’ ” she recalled.
“I asked if this one was going to stick and if they were going to raid Jackson’s Neverland Ranch again. I told them I want to be there when that happens, and I want to be the only reporter standing on the road.”
On Nov. 18, Americans sat riveted before their televisions as Dimond, the lone reporter on the scene, filed a live report for Court TV as a caravan of police vehicles drove onto the sprawling Neverland Ranch to execute a search warrant.
“I feel sorry for the guy,” Dimond said of Jackson. “He doesn’t live in reality, and reality is now biting him in you-know-where. It’s kind of painful to watch.”
But watch it she will. Dimond, host of Court TV’s “Hollywood At Large,” will be among the high-profile journalists reporting on the Jackson case as it continues to wind its way through the criminal justice system.
There is little chance, however, that she will get to interview the entertainer, who has repeatedly rejected interview requests from her over the years. “His attorney, Mark Geragos, and I have a long relationship, but as soon as he got on the Jackson case, he wouldn’t talk to me, either,” she said in a recent interview.
Covered it all
During her years as a radio and then a television reporter, Dimond, 51, has covered Capitol Hill, the White House, the Pentagon and the House of Representatives.
She anchored live reports of the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton, whom she called “a man who squandered his opportunities, a man who was driven by his demons, a man who was always distracted.”
She subsequently covered the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush, Al Gore and Ralph Nader, and she became known as the correspondent who spent 35 straight days outside Gore’s Washington residence as the nation awaited the final controversial ballot recount.
Dimond first garnered national attention outside the Beltway, covering the groundbreaking saga of the “Baby M” surrogate mother case in New Jersey. She acquired and aired the actual interrogation tape of O.J. Simpson by Los Angeles police officers. And she was the first to report on rape allegations at the Kennedy compound in Palm Beach, Fla., and to identify William Kennedy Smith as the accused.
She has also received critical acclaim for her interviews with infamous prison figures, including James Earl Ray, the convicted assassin of Martin Luther King Jr.; Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, the former Green Beret physician convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and two daughters; Kenneth Bianchi, the “Hillside Strangler”; and Richard Allen Davis, who abducted 12-year-old Polly Klass from her Petaluma, Calif., home and then raped and killed her.
“By the time I got to James Earl Ray, he was vacant,” Dimond said. “Vacant eyes and vacant words. He never completed a sentence. He was a simple, not particularly intelligent man, and he was a beaten man from being in prison for so many years. He was also obviously ill.”
Ray, who recanted his initial confession, continued to deny that he killed King. Ray died in prison in 1998.
MacDonald, Dimond said, “was spooky and controlling, but fascinatingly attractive,” and Davis “was the creepiest” of them all.
“He was a big bear of a guy with Albert Einstein hair, only black, and a lot of beard and facial hair. He was dressed in an orange jumpsuit. His feet were in shackles and his hands in cuffs, and there was a chain connecting both to the floor. I was told he might lunge at me. I knew there was pure evil sitting in that room. There was nothing redeeming about this guy. He laughed like a hyena when I told him he might be the most hated man in America.”
Life in Albuquerque
Dimond was born in Burbank, Calif., an only child to parents Ruby and Allen Hughes. Ruby, 74, still lives in Albuquerque. Allen, 77, died March 9. The couple operated the Hughes Meat Co. in Albuquerque, which sold meat wholesale to hospitals, schools and other institutions.
The family moved to Albuquerque when Diane was in the third grade. She attended Mark Twain Elementary School, Jefferson Middle School, and Highland High School, graduating in 1970.
“Diane performed in plays when younger at the Albuquerque Little Theatre and the Barn Theater in Cedar Crest,” said her mother, Ruby. “She didn’t like sports at all. Now she’s trying to be a golfer. I don’t believe she’s going to make it.” Her main interests, said her mother, were reading, writing, literature and journalism.
While Dimond was in her junior year of high school, her friend, Linda Hebenstreit, whose father owned the local CBS television affiliate, KGGM, got her a job as a weekend receptionist at the station.
“One day the news director came out to the front desk in a panic. All of the writers went out to dinner and got into a car accident. He asked me if I could write and I said ‘you bet!’ Of course, I’d never done it before, though I did like to write and had even entered writing contests. So I wrote copy based on the wire service stories, and the anchor read it on air. I was hooked. I loved it when it came out of the anchor man’s mouth. My God, he’s reading my words!”
Dimond started hanging out more in the news room, and the staff took advantage of it, putting her to work writing news copy. KGGM, which also owned a radio station at the time, liked Dimond’s voice and taught her to do promos and station identifications. Before long, she was reading the news on KGGM’s radio station.
She also began dating the KGGM-TV anchor, Chuck Dimond. They got married and relocated to Phoenix, where Chuck had another job offer. The couple had a daughter, Jenna. They soon decided to come back to Albuquerque, where Chuck returned to KGGM. Diane, however, could not.
“Back then they didn’t want married people working in the same place, so I went across the street to KOB radio and got a job as a reporter, covering courts and cops.”
It was there in 1976 that Dimond won a Silver Gavel Award from the American Bar Association for a series of reports revealing that the Sheriff’s Office had misused federal law enforcement grant money.
“I learned there and then what goes into making an investigative report,” she said. “It was exciting, like being a private detective. It felt exhilarating. It felt important.”
It also made her feel like her career was taking off, and she should too. Divorced from Chuck Dimond by this time, the single mother left for Washington, D.C., driving a 6-year-old metallic blue Dodge Charger with mag wheels.
“I arrived on Christmas Eve 1976 and rented a room at a YWCA residence hall,” she said. “There were a bunch of old ladies sitting in the lobby around a piano singing ‘Joy to the World’ and just sobbing. And I thought, ‘what have I done; what am I doing here?’ ”
She figured it out pretty soon and landed a job as a news anchor with National Public Radio.
“I told her she ought to go to college, and we were prepared to send her to college,” said her mother, Ruby. “But she didn’t want any part of it. I thought she was crazy to go off on her own like that. She was so young. But she knew from the beginning she could do it. She just waded in with both feet.”
From NPR, Dimond went to RKO Radio Network, covering Capitol Hill, the White House, various Washington agencies and the presidential campaign of Walter Mondale.
She made the move to television in 1986 at WCBS, the CBS flagship station in New York. From 1990 until 1997, she was an investigative reporter for the syndicated program “Hard Copy.” Thinking she needed a break, she slowed down and worked on a TV show pilot for Warner Brothers and performed some anchoring duties for the Warner-owned program “Extra.”
In 1998, she partnered with Geraldo Rivera on CNBC’s nightly newscast “Upfront Tonight.” After a few years, she again contemplated taking a break from the news grind, but the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks rocked the nation and she went to work for the Fox News Channel, providing continuing live coverage on the war on terrorism.
Dimond subsequently joined Court TV as a guest anchor and substitute host for “Catherine Crier Live.” She now hosts the network’s “Hollywood at Large” program while continuing to fill in as a host for Crier, and for Court TV’s daytime trial coverage. In addition, she can be seen on NBC’s “Today” show as an analyst covering the ongoing Michael Jackson case.
Dimond has been married for 13 years to fellow broadcast journalist Michael Schoen. They live in Rockland County, New York, in a small village on the Hudson River.
“This is a tough business, but I love it,” she said. “Each time I think about leaving or taking a break, it never seems to happen. I get bored easily. I just can’t stop. It’s not in my constitution. I’m like a shark, always moving in the water.”
And besides, added Dimond, “I don’t know how to do anything else.”