Part of any successful celebrity defense is the PR defense – starting well before any trial. In Michael Jackson’s case, that initiative has been seized by a team of advisors who portray the charges as the ultimate in character assassination. Jackson, freed on $3 million bail yesterday, intends to portray the prosecution as a personal struggle between himself and chief prosecutor, Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon. Sneddon, they allege, has it in for the singer because of a failure to nab him over child abuse allegations 10 years ago.

“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.”

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.”

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