LOS ANGELES – Ripping the news media for pandering to a "gossip-hungry" audience, Santa Barbara County prosecutors urged the state Supreme Court to uphold a gag order in the Michael Jackson (search) child molestation case.
They said the court-imposed gag order was important to maintain an untainted pool of potential jurors. They also noted the Jackson case has generated intense public interest and is a constant focus of the tabloid and mainstream media.
"What is reported as 'fact' becomes the nucleus of intense speculation, conjecture and discussion among commentators, particularly in the tabloid media, and the audience they appeal to," District Attorney Thomas Sneddon (search) and Deputy District Attorney Gerald Franklin said in their letter to the court, filed Thursday.
The prosecutors said they were submitting the letter in response to a request from news organizations, including The Associated Press, to lift the gag order. That order bars anyone connected to the case from talking about it.
The Supreme Court is deciding whether to hear the case and has asked both sides to submit arguments by Friday.
Sneddon and Franklin wrote they initially sought the gag order to stop what they viewed as the "unseemly and prejudicial enthusiasm" of Jackson's former defense lawyer for talking to television talk-show hosts such as Larry King and Geraldo Rivera (search).
The letter alleged the former attorney, Mark Geragos (search), used those shows to share "his own belief in the 'factual innocence' of his client and the 'greed-motivated' purpose of the victim's family to 'shake down' Mr. Jackson."
Geragos remains bound by the gag order despite leaving the case last month.
Attorney Theodore Boutrous, who represents the news organizations, said he would respond in writing Friday. In an interview, he said the prosecution's attack on the news media access was unusual.
"The district attorney has staked out an extraordinary and extreme position that flatly violates the First Amendment (search)," Boutrous said. "The notion that public information should be limited in cases where public interest is the highest offends First Amendment values."
Prosecutors have attempted to keep secret many developments in the case. One sealed document — the bench warrant for Jackson's arrest — was released Thursday.
That warrant had been kept sealed because court officials tried to keep news of Jackson's indictment a secret until his April 30 arraignment, where the singer pleaded not guilty to charges of child molestation and a conspiracy count involving allegations of child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. His appearance at the arraignment made the warrant unnecessary.
Sneddon and Franklin argue the gag order so far has succeeded in keeping facts that ultimately could be presented to a jury out of the public eye. That means a jury will determine Jackson's guilt or innocence based on the evidence presented to it, their letter states.
"And that's the way it should be," they said.