The New York Times

A Dogged TV Reporter Defends Herself in the Jackson Case

By Lola Ogunnaike

Though only 52, Diane Dimond, the veteran television reporter, is well aware of what her tombstone will read: “Here lies Diane ‘You Know, the One Who Covered Michael Jackson’ Dimond.”

For more than a decade, Ms. Dimond’s name has been inextricably linked with Mr. Jackson, who was acquitted on Monday of all charges in a 14-week child molestation case. It was Ms. Dimond, then a reporter for the tabloid show “Hard Copy,” who broke the news about accusations of an inappropriate relationship between Mr. Jackson and a young boy in 1993. “August 24th, 1993,” she said in telephone interview from her hotel room in Santa Maria, Calif., where she has spent more than three months covering Mr. Jackson’s trial. She sighed deeply and said, “That’s when this whole thing started.” Mr. Jackson would eventually settle that case out of court for millions, and while he was all too eager to move on, Ms. Dimond was not.In fact, the settlement only piqued her interest. “You don’t pay that type of money to get on with your life and your career,” she said. When Mr. Jackson was charged with child molestation in late 2003, Ms. Dimond was back on the case.

Over the years it has been claimed that Ms. Dimond’s coverage of Mr. Jackson was strident, biased, pro-prosecution. Questions about her objectivity have only increased during her two years as an investigative reporter for Court TV. The channel is also home to the talk-show host Nancy Grace, whose guilty-until-proven-innocent approach flies in the face of traditional television news.

Ms. Dimond “definitely engendered a great deal of anger from the public that attended that case and from other reporters,” said Laurie L. Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, who has often appeared on CNN as a Jackson trial analyst. “She had very strong views about the case, and many people thought that she already made her mind up.”

But Ms. Dimond, a married mother of one and a grandmother of two, remained steadfast. “I defy any of these people that say I’m pro-prosecution to point out one program where I don’t give both sides,” she said, her voice rising. “I’ve never said he’s a pedophile. I’ve never said he’s guilty. I have said that it’s inappropriate for a 46-year-old man to sleep with other people’s children. He says it’s innocent. My response is that society doesn’t see it that way.”

If some were disappointed in Ms. Dimond’s coverage, Court TV’s chairman and chief executive, Henry Schleiff, was pleased with his reporter’s effort. “So long as it is based on the evidence and not some other prior prejudice, I think it is perfectly fair for a reporter or an anchor to disclose their opinion,” said Mr. Schleiff, who has no plans to temper Court TV’s coverage in the future.

While covering the case, Ms. Dimond said, she was stalked by an undercover private investigator and subjected to verbal abuse from a handful of rabid Jackson fans. Among the publishable things she was called were “whore, liar, slut, racist, she-devil,” said Ms. Dimond, who eventually won a restraining order against one particularly vocal Jackson supporter, B. J. Hickman. Ms. Dimond said that the jeers did eventually get to her one afternoon midway through the trial. “I don’t know what caused it,” she said, “but I just went into the ladies’ room and had a cry, and then it was over.”

Ms. Dimond bristled at the notion that she is obsessed with the self-proclaimed King of Pop. “People have this weird impression that I’ve done nothing but Michael Jackson for 13 years, but that’s ridiculous,” said Ms. Dimond, who previously covered the war on terror for Fox News Channel and the 2000 presidential campaign for MSNBC, as well as the Baby M surrogate mother case for WCBS-TV in New York. “But what’s a reporter to do when you get a tip in July of 2003 that they’re investigating Michael Jackson again for the same damn thing. Should I have ignored it?”

What did she make of the acquittal? “I thought the state’s case lacked focus,” she said. Later she added that Mr. Jackson could now “go on and live his life carte blanche and do whatever he wants with whatever-aged person.”

Ms. Grace, who was quite vocal about her belief that Mr. Jackson would be convicted, made a big show of eating crow on the air on Monday night. The next evening, at a party for her new book, “Objection!,” Ms. Grace said, “Lady justice was kicked in the pants.”

Ms. Dimond was careful to distinguish her work from Ms. Grace’s. When asked whether it was fair for a television host to declare a man guilty before a jury of his peers could reach a verdict, Ms. Dimond danced a bit, but finally offered, “No, I don’t think it’s right at all.”

What does she think will become of Mr. Jackson? A Las Vegas revue, Ms. Dimond said, could be a logical next step. “Sit on a stool in the middle of a blackened stage with a fedora in your hand, some tap shoes and sing,” she said. “Hey, maybe he should hire me. Oh yeah, he hates my guts.”

A spokesman for Michael Jackson could not be reached for comment.

As she packed the last of her boxes and prepared to return home to New York, Ms. Dimond said she did not know what the future held for her. If she had to do it all over again, she said that she would.

“If someone calls me in another 10 years and someone tells me they’re going to raid whatever house he lives in then,” Ms. Dimond said, “I am there.”

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