A few months ago, reporter Diane Dimond told Court TV chairman Henry Schleiff that she was working on a great story and would need him to commit money and manpower to help dig it out.
But even in the privacy of his office, she wouldn't tell Schleiff what the story was.
Intrigued, he gave Dimond the go-ahead. Schleiff was rewarded in late November when she broke the story of authorities searching Michael Jackson's Neverland ranch for evidence, the precursor to molestation charges filed against the pop star.
Dimond's work has put the network out front on what is certain to be one of the biggest legal stories of this year. But her tough reporting has left Dimond vulnerable to charges that she's too identified with the prosecution and that Court TV's coup could crumble if the case against Jackson does.
Jackson's arraignment on charges of molesting a boy under age 14 is scheduled for Jan. 16.
"There are a lot of people who adore him," Dimond said. "He's like Jesus Christ. I've become the vilified one because I've dared to report it. I don't give my opinion. I put things in perspective."
She was drawn in to Jackson's world a decade ago when reporting for Hard Copy on the first molestation accusations against him.
Dimond, an Albuquerque, N.M., native, worked as a radio reporter in Washington in the 1980s before becoming bored with government news. She was a local TV reporter in New York, then landed at Hard Copy.
Dimond said she has been frozen out by Jackson's representatives, who don't return her calls.
Her reporting has been detailed and informed with an insider's knowledge that few others in television have matched.
"Obviously, what she has accomplished here is so superior to everyone else. She must be good, and she is good," said lawyer Brian Oxman, a Jackson family friend who has represented some of them in court.
Although he has high regard for her work, Oxman said Dimond's good sources in the prosecutor's office have blinded her to weaknesses in their case.
Dimond said she had heard from friends that Oxman spread rumors that she had an affair with Santa Barbara district attorney Tom Sneddon, a kind of rumor that is among the most vicious to a reporter. She denies any such impropriety.
"The only thing I've said is that's she's pretty cozy with the DA," Oxman said. "If someone thinks that means something else, I suppose people might interpret that to think there's something else going on. I don't know. I just know that she is very cozy with the DA."
Dimond said she doesn't mind people believing that she's tight with the prosecution.
"I've got sources everywhere," she said. "Let 'em (think that). They're not right. It's good to let people think they have you figured out."
Dimond won't reveal her opinion on Jackson's guilt or innocence.
"I've learned a lot that I've put on the air and learned a lot that I could never put on the air because I couldn't substantiate it," she said. "But I'm going to keep my opinion to myself."
She has never met Jackson. They had one close call: While waiting outside a California arena where Jackson was to accept an award a few year ago, she spied him getting out of an SUV with tinted windows.
Accompanied by her Hard Copy crew, Dimond shouted a question at him. Jackson turned toward her, stared briefly, then walked away.
Gregory renews his support
BOSTON _ Having just ended a 40-day fast to show support for Michael Jackson, comedian Dick Gregory says he's resolved to do what it takes to prove his friend is innocent of child molestation charges.
Gregory, the 71-year-old entertainer-activist, says he has known Jackson for more than 20 years.
"I would leave a child of mine with him, sure I would," Gregory said in a telephone interview from his hotel room in Alexandria, Va.
For the past 40 days, Gregory lived on a daily diet of a gallon of water mixed with eight lemons, and 1 1/2 cups and of maple syrup.