NEW YORK -- 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 in California for evidence, a precursor to child-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 2004 -- no small matter for a news network devoted to crime and punishment.
Her tough reporting has also left Dimond vulnerable to charges that she's too identified with the prosecution and that Court TV's coup could backfire if the case against Jackson crumbles.
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."
Court TV has eagerly hyped its work on the story. In television's incestuous world, Dimond has appeared on several other networks as a Jackson expert. When reports surfaced about Jackson allegedly being treated roughly by Santa Barbara authorities, one of the first calls another news network made to check them out was to Dimond.
She was drawn into Jackson's world a decade ago, when she was reporting for "Hard Copy" on the first molestation accusations against him.
Dimond, an Albuquerque 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."
"You hear the word `tabloid' now and it doesn't make people wrinkle up their nose in disgust the way it used to," she said. "I think that's because, whether they want to admit it or not, the networks have embraced a kind of populist journalism."
In her reporting, Dimond says, she's been frozen out by Jackson's representatives, who don't return her calls.
She has pointedly cast doubt on contentions by the Jackson defense. For example, child welfare officials said they were told by the alleged victim and his mother last February that nothing inappropriate had occurred, a story the family has since changed. Dimond says this initial investigation came before the boy told anybody, including his mother and therapist, about the alleged abuse.
Dimond has reported that the boy and his family were essentially held captive at Neverland for weeks. She questions Jackson's accusations that police roughed him up, noting that he didn't appear to be in pain when waving to his fans.
Her reporting has been detailed and informed by an insider's knowledge that few others in television have matched.
Dimond says 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."
Schleiff says he admires Dimond's reporting. A week after the Jackson story broke, Court TV expanded her role at the network to include a regular anchor job for "Hollywood at Large."
"I think she's been aggressive, I think she's been solid, and I think she's been fair," he said. "I know she's been diligent."
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."
Radio highlights6 a.m. WUMB-FM (91.9) -- "E-Town" with Nick Foster. Guest: Greg Brown.
7 a.m. WGBH-FM (89.7) -- "Classical Weekend." Haydn's Piano Trio No. 37 in D minor; Lambert's "Aubade Heroique"; Chopin's 24 Preludes; Weill's Berlin Requiem; Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony (Op. 58).
9 a.m. WCRB-FM (102.5) -- "Kids Classical Hour": The Elements -- Earth, Wind, and Fire.
1:30 p.m. WHRB-FM (95.3) "Metropolitan Opera Live." Bruno Campanella conducts Rossini's "Barber of Seville," with Ruth Ann Swenson and Juan Diego Florez.
3 p.m. WUMB-FM (91.9) -- "Downeast Ceilidh" with Marcia Young Palmater. Fiddle music.
7 p.m. WPLM-FM (99.1) -- "Strictly Sinatra." Sinatra swings with Basie.
10 p.m. WGBH-FM (89.7) -- "The Blues" with Keb' Mo'. Future blues: The 21st century and beyond -- Seattle (Part 13 of 13).