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Tales From a Media Circus

Blame it on the lack of room servicein Santa Barbara, or the predawn battles for press seats, but three months intothe Michael Jackson trial our nation’s top courtreporters are going a bit bonkers. Witness the recent fracas between VanityFair’s Maureen Orth and FoxNews.com columnistRoger Friedman. Sources say thecatfight began when Friedman, who frequently labors under the delusion thatothers are stealing his scoops, accused Orth of being a “clip queen”during a recess. “I hate to tell you this,” Orth replied coolly,“but you’re a laughingstock. I didn’t even know you were areporter.” The fight escalated, but most observers agree it ended in adraw. But the peace was broken a few days later when Friedman’s cell phonewent off in open court, causing a bailiff to escort him to the overflow room fora week’s detention. Unbowed by his new surroundings, the Jacko-lovingjourno immediately began griping about the prosecution so loudly that thebailiff had to move him to the back of the room, which Orth delightedly renamedthe “dunce’s corner.”

But that exchange waschild’s play compared to the antics between a Jackson-employed PI and CourtTV’s crazy-eyed anchor Diane Dimond. A few weeks agoDimond—who not only broke the story of Jackson’s latest arrest butwas waiting at the gates of Neverland when the police arrived—allegedly learned thata $50-per-hour private eye named Jesus Castillo was lurkingaround her hotel, muttering to hotel employees that “she had better watchherself.” True to form she confronted him. “There was Diane Dimond,in a business suit and heels chasing this PI up the steps with her microphoneand camera crew demanding to know why he’s threatening her,” says aneyewitness. “It was hilarious. The guy kept running away, but hecouldn’t ditch her.” A source inside Castillo’s agency admitted to Radarthat the firm had been hired by Jackson, though watching wags joked that the manat the hotel was actually just a bartender. Asked about the incident, Dimondsaid simply, “I take all threats seriously and, if possible, confrontwhatever creep is making them.”

Amidst all the stress, otherjournalists have found more traditional ways of coping. A few weeks ago a feistyyoung reporter for a local TV station disappeared into a van with her cameraman,sources say. It turned out she was covering more than her beat. Alarmed by thevehicle’s violent rocking, a fellow newsman went to investigate. Needlessto say, a day later, the red-faced reporter was moved off the Jackson beat. Theyshould all get so lucky.

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