As legal battles go, the Michael Jackson settlement is sort of like a technical knockout: The fight has ended without a big, bloody, dramatic finale -- and both sides are claiming victory. Jacko's attorney, Johnnie Cochran Jr., insisted that the Jan. 25 settlement, for an undisclosed but presumably gargantuan sum, ''is in no way an admission of guilt.'' But the legal world isn't necessarily the real world. ''This doesn't prove [Jackson's] innocence,'' says one record-company executive, ''it just proves that he's one of the richest guys in the world.'' Even so, there are always winners and losers:
*Michael Jackson: Loser. ''Beat It.'' ''P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing).'' ''Billie Jean.'' Can you ever listen to these songs again without thinking dirty thoughts?
*The Kid: A draw. Although he doesn't have to go through the trauma of a court case, would you want to be saddled with his parents?
*The Father: Winner. But it leaves a bad taste.
*The Mother: Loser. Started the whole sordid saga by reportedly allowing her son to sleep in the same room with Jackson for more than three months.
*Jackson's spin doctors (Bert Fields/Anthony Pellicano): Losers. The Beavis and Butt-head of celebrity scandals.
*Jackson lawyer Johnnie Cochran Jr.: Winner. He turned the tables by whipping up sympathy for Jacko, and knew when to pull the plug on the case.
*Pepsi: Winners. Got off the Titanic before it sank.
*Sony Music: Losers. Whoops! $$$$$, there it goes.
*NBC's Jackson Family Honors: Winner. It'll be like slowing down on the highway after a car wreck. Everyone wants to watch.
*Janet Jackson: Winner. Amazing! Somehow she saturates the media without reminding us that she's part of that creepy family.
*La Toya Jackson: Winner. Suddenly, she's making sense.
*Court TV/CNN: Losers. Settlement? It's sort of like they just canceled the Super Bowl.
*The Tabloids/Media: Winners. Heck, who needs the justice system when you've got Hard Copy?
*Santa Barbara and L.A. Police: Winners. Hey, if there's a budget crunch, the cops can auction off those notorious photos.
*The Fans: Winners. Plenty of cheap copies of Bad in the used-CD bins.
*Elizabeth Taylor: A draw. Wins for standing by her friends, loses for having such dubious friends in the first place.
*Oprah Winfrey: Loser. Every powder-puff interview comes back to haunt you in the end.
*Neverland Valley Ranch: Loser. Suddenly resembles the set from Something Wicked This Way Comes .