Jackson v the district attorney: Star posts $3m bail as PR machine spins lurid tale of vendetta

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The Independent US

Michael Jackson was temporarily a free man again yesterday after posting bail on child molestation charges.

With seven weeks until the singer's first scheduled court appearance on 9 January, his team of advisers began a public relations offensive that aims to portray the charges as a kind of ultimate character assassination.

"The big lie against Michael Jackson is anchored in the most vicious allegation imaginable, one that resonates across every culture: the spectacle of harming a child," said his spokesman, Stuart Backerman. "That spectacle invites outrage, and it should. But this spectacle is rooted in a lie." He added: "Michael is going to defend himself with the force of his spirit, as would anyone falsely accused of something so monstrous."

The Jackson camp wants to portray the legal battle as a very personal struggle between the 45-year-old singer and his chief prosecutor, Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon. In their view, Mr Sneddon has it in for Mr Jackson because he failed to nail him over child abuse allegations 10 years ago, and is determined not to let him elude his grasp a second time.

Mr Jackson has shownfeelings of hostility towards Mr Sneddon. A 1995 song entitled "D.S.", on his History album on Sony's Epic Records, took aim at the district attorney, calling him "a cold man" over and over and hinting that he might have Ku Klux Klan sympathies. "They wanna get my ass/Dead or alive/You know he really tried to take me/Down by surprise," the song lyrics run. The sleeve notes refer to a "Dom Sheldon", but on the record Mr Jackson can be heard singing "Tom Sneddon".

Mr Sneddon has denied any vendetta. "We're going to handle it like any other case," he said after Mr Jackson was booked at the Santa Barbara county jail on Thursday.

The district attorney has made little effort to hide his contempt for the one-time King of Pop. In a news conference this week, he said that "there's a sense in the public" that Mr Jackson had bought his way out of the last round of molestation allegations. He made fun of the notion that the new arrest was payback for the 1995 song, or an attempt to wreck Mr Jackson's career while he was promoting a new album. "I got more important things going on in my life than to listen to a song by a guy everybody calls Jacko Wacko," he said.

Mr Sneddon has also exposed himself to the criticism that he has been playing the case a little too much for laughs. Asked at the news conference for his advice to parents considering sending their children to the Neverland ranch for a sleepover, he responded, with a terseness that appeared to have some humorous intent: "Don't do it."

Temperamentally, Mr Sneddon and Mr Jackson could not be more different. The district attorney is a no-nonsense, conservative family man, a 21-year veteran whose enthusiasm for the job earned him the nickname "Mad Dog". He clearly has no time for Mr Jackson's musical gifts or his iconic pop-culture status, much less his noted eccentricities and multiple plastic surgeries. Mr Jackson appears to regard the criminal justice system as a bullying intruder into the childhood fantasy world he has constructed at Neverland, complete with zoo, funfair and milk and cookies at bedtime.

The public relations spinning will be paramount over the next 45 days, during which the details of the criminal complaint against Mr Jackson remained sealed by court order. Thereafter, it will be a matter of expert lawyering - Mr Jackson with his highly paid defence attorneys, and Mr Sneddon with his experience and "just the facts, ma'am" demeanour.

The 61-year-old district attorney said he certainly was not in it to advance his career. "I'm not running for re-election. I'm retiring in three years. And I've been successful, I have a good career," he said in his television interview. "I'm not worried about getting another notch on my belt."