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by Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The Simpson Case and the Decline of TV News (19997)

(PNS) -- A couple of years ago Fox News duked it out with NBC to see which one would be the first to land and air a Simpson interview on the 10th anniversary of the murder case. So Fox's latest Simpson media dance was not merely a cheap stunt by a network to cash in on the notoriety of a disgraced superstar turned double-murder defendant. The case punched and continues to punch every hot button in the book: race, class, celebrity and sports idolatry, domestic violence and especially tabloid sensationalism.

The major TV networks and newsweeklies took the tabloid's favorite obsessions -- sex, drugs, violence and the antics of high profile celebrities -- and eagerly applied their shock reporting to the Simpson case. In the process, they turned much of the public into gossip junkies. In the decade since Simpson's acquittal, newspapers and the TV networks have force-fed the public with a bloated diet of Simpson style gossip and rumor in the Laci Peterson, Robert Blake, Phil Spector and other celebrity or sensational murder cases. This was a carbon copy of the type of saturation coverage they perfected in the Simpson trial.

The skewed tabloid depiction of Simpson, helped generously by Simpson himself, subtly and sometimes openly conveyed the message that Simpson was guilty. This made most Americans expect and demand that Simpson be convicted. The carefully orchestrated TV shots of jubilant blacks high-fiving the verdict reinforced public anger. The avalanche of books on the trial pounded hard on the injustice of the verdict, and in highly publicized interviews their authors rammed home the notion that a black murderer walked free.

The public longingly hoped that the jury in the civil trial that followed the criminal trial would nail Simpson. It did, but it was a pyrrhic victory. He was not jailed, and for a decade has not paid a penny of the millions that the jury awarded the Goldmans and Browns. This further enraged millions. Simpson's acquittal and the stiff of the victims' families confirmed that the rich, famous and powerful have the deep pockets to hire a "dream team" defense team, a small army of high priced, high profile attorneys, expert witnesses, experts, and investigators who routinely mangle the legal system to stall, delay and drag out their cases, and eventually allow their well-heeled clients to weasel out of punishment and payment.

Since most Americans can't afford anything resembling the legal star treatment Simpson got, it affirmed their belief that justice is for sale and the rich, famous and powerful always escape punishment. Even when prosecutors manage to win convictions against celebrities such as Winona Ryder and Martha Stewart, their money, fame, power and legal twisting often guarantee that they do minimal jail time in a cushy country club prison, or none at all.

A number of states passed stiff laws mandating arrest and jail sentences for domestic assaults. Police, district attorneys and judges nationwide promized to arrest, prosecute and sentence domestic batterers. Fortunately, the Simpson case insured that domestic violence would remain a compelling public policy issue that the courts, lawmakers and the public could never again ignore.

Then there's the interminable racial divide. If a poll were taken today, a majority of whites would still rage that Simpson is a murderer who skipped away scot free, and that the trial and his acquittal were a farce and a travesty of justice. In the same poll, a majority of blacks would rage that Simpson was victimized by a white racist criminal justice system and the verdict was a just one.

Since the trial, periodic news clips have shown a cheerful, and relaxed Simpson golfing, vacationing, signing autographs and football collectors cards and taking an ill-fated stab at a reality show. Simpson comes off as a devil-may-care guy who laughs at and thumbs his nose at the public. This hasn't done much to endear him to anyone.

In the decade since the Simpson case, race continues to divide, and celebrity chit-chat sells bigger than ever. The Simpson case hit too many social, racial and emotional hot buttons for it to ever permanently die away. Whether or not Simpson confessed on Fox and cashed in on a multi-million dollar book deal, the mere mention of him and the case would still be enough to get tongues wagging.

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Albion Monitor   November 21, 2006   (

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