Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Reporter on Jackson Case Quietly Ends Court TV Term

From The NY Times August 31, 2005 Wednesday - Late Edition
Written by Felicia R. Lee

She is just about the last person you would expect to go quietly. But she has. Diane Dimond, whose dogged coverage of Michael Jackson was a controversial signature for Court TV throughout his recent trial, has left the cable channel -- amicably -- to focus on writing a book on Mr. Jackson's legal challenges.

Over the years, Ms. Dimond's critics have said her coverage of Mr. Jackson was strident and pro-prosecution, criticism that only sharpened during her two years as an investigative reporter for Court TV. But both she and the channel say the complaints had nothing to do with her departure this week, a few months before her contract was scheduled to expire in December.

''Diane came to us with a story,'' Patty Caruso, a spokeswoman for Court TV said. ''That's what we hired her for, and the story's over. We love her. We're hosting her book party on Jackson in November. We did not give in to the Jackson camp.''

In July, Court TV renamed its daytime schedule ''Court TV News,'' with coverage of legal news and trials, and began ''Court TV Seriously Entertaining,'' with new nonfiction series, specials and original movies for evenings and weekends. In the process, the channel said, it was restructuring its investigative unit, which Ms. Dimond headed; she said the unit was being shut down.

''I had a tremendous ride at Court TV,'' Ms. Dimond said. ''It was terrific. I was in that courtroom every day for 14 weeks. But it cost a lot to have an investigative unit. The unit was there because of me. I was a freelancer for them, and I came to them with a story.''

For more than a decade, Ms. Dimond's name has been linked with that of Mr. Jackson, who was acquitted in June of all charges in a child-molesting case.

In a 1993 case, Ms. Dimond, then a reporter for the tabloid TV show ''Hard Copy,'' broke the news about accusations of an inappropriate relationship between Mr. Jackson and another young boy. Mr. Jackson eventually settled that case out of court for millions of dollars.

The settlement, Ms. Dimond said in a recent interview, only piqued her interest in the pop star, so when he was charged with child molesting in late 2003, she jumped to cover the story.

Ms. Dimond's recent coverage, though, drew fire, both from some members of the public and from other reporters, said Laurie L. Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who often appeared on CNN as a Jackson trial analyst.

Indeed, while covering the case this year, Ms. Dimond -- a mother and grandmother whose more than 20 years' reporting experience has included stints at Fox News, CNBC and MSNBC -- said she was stalked by an undercover private investigator and verbally abused by some Jackson fans.

''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 in the interview this spring, just after Mr. Jackson's acquittal. ''I've never said he's a pedophile. I've never said he's guilty. I've said it's inappropriate for a 46-year-old man to sleep with other people's children. He says he's innocent. My response is that society doesn't see it that way.''

Ms. Dimond has a contract with Simon & Schuster to write an account of Mr. Jackson's legal battles from 1993 until now, to be called ''Be Careful Who You Love: Inside the Michael Jackson Case.''

An audience of Dimond diehards will be watching for it; a Yahoo TV group message board has been buzzing with dismay over Ms. Dimond's parting of the ways with Court TV.

''I am a fan of CTV but I will tell it like it is,'' one message stated. ''I think CTV made a BAD choice, and I don't think they will ever have a reporter like Diane Dimond EVER AGAIN on their network.''

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