The effect of the media on any newsworthy event cannot be undermined. While recent trends of massive coverage on meaningless celebrity news, (such as shopping sprees or dating trends), have changed the definition of the term newsworthy, certain stories will always be deemed as a priority. Unfortunately, many of these types of stories are negative, such as natural disaster, corruption, and murder. Murder stories typically are short blurbs on television, where a newscaster will briefly state that someone, (usually someone without fame), has been killed. An exception to this type of coverage is the media coverage surrounding a celebrity accused of murder. The most famous example of a case that shows the effect that media can have on a murder trial is the 1994-95 OJ Simpson trial (Linder, 1).
One of the things that a news source assesses before running a story is whether or not the audience will want to hear about it. In the case of news regarding celebrities the answer is almost always yes. According to James Houran, an academic clinical psychologist, one in three Americans are moderate to advanced celebrity worshippers (Rosenstein, 2).
“There’s a celebrity stalker in all of us,”
This fact is one reason as to why the OJ Simpson case received so much media attention. The American people as well as people from other countries took a great interest in the trial of a man who had a fairly high celebrity status. Even Boris Yeltsin, former leader of Russia, asked president Clinton when he stepped off his plane, “Do you think OJ did it?” (Linder, 2) This kind of strong interest by the viewing public lead many credible news sources to almost forcibly comment on and give updates regarding the case. Ted Koppel, the former anchor for ABC’s news program Nightline, remembers the coverage of the trial as a story that the network felt that it had to do. He said that they tried to only cover the story once a week, despite the fact that he felt that the story did not deserve such extensive coverage (“The OJ Verdict,” 3). Later, after the hype of the story had died down, Koppel officially apologized for the excessive coverage that Nightline had given to the OJ story. He did also mention, however, that on the days that the case was mentioned the shows ratings jumped up 10%, showing the complete obsession that the American people have on celebrity news. The problem is, this extensive media coverage on stories that involve a court case, can alter the outcome of the trial, as witnessed in the murder trial of OJ Simpson.
The one way in which the media most affected the OJ Simpson trial the most was by making the trial a race issue. Questions such as “Can a black man receive a fair trail?” began to be asked and the focus on the coverage went further and further from reporting actual facts. The media began to publish stories before confirming the actual facts, therefore misleading the viewing public. The people writing and reporting the stories did not know what they were talking about in terms of the actual court procedure. They just wanted to have big headlines that would grasp the viewers’ attention and boost ratings. According to Charles J. Ogletree Jr., a professor at Harvard Law School, the practice of the media taking all testimonies, disregarding the credibility of the source and printing it as fact was an embarrassment to the first amendment (“The OJ Verdict,” 4). He saw the coverage of the trial as a complete destruction of the legal system of the United States and admits that by making the trial an issue of race, news sources were able to push more stories and in turn affect the trial. (A complete interview with Mr. Ogletree can be read here). It is important to remember that the jurors in the case were exposed to the extensive media coverage as well. There is no way that this did not affect them. If a juror went home and watched the news run a story regarding the American public’s opinion on the case, he or she would be possibly making their decision based on the news story. This, of course, goes completely against the American Court System and leads to a decision reached by the wrong means. This is especially true when the news sources do not check their facts and the statistics that they present are flawed. This therefore leads to an unlawful decision, as well as unprofessional journalism.
It is important for people to realize the huge effect that the media had on the OJ Simpson Trial. Everything from the now infamous white bronco car chase to the famous glove scene in the courtroom. The glove scene is actually a prime example of how the media affected the public’s view of the trial. This example is minor but it shows the lasting effect that the media can have on history. The famous quote by OJ’s lawyer Jonnie Cochran of, “If the glove don’t fit you must acquit” is actually a misquote. The actual quote is simply “If it doesn’t fit you must acquit” but the word glove was added in order to make the quote a better headline (“OJ Simpson,” 2). When the verdict for the case was finally read, (after the longest court case in California history), half of the United States population was watching (Repa, 1). This shows the massive level of public interest in the case, as well as the effect that the allowing of cameras into the courtroom had. The decision to allow the cameras into the courtroom was a controversial decision. One must wonder if the allowing of the cameras for the OJ case had an effect on the decision to not allow cameras into the trial of the men accused of the September 11 bombings. No matter the case it is important to remember that the media does affect the world that we live in, and it is important to you, as a viewer, to continue to think for yourself, and not base your opinions solely on what the newspapers and television tell you.
Linder, Doug. “The Trial of Orenthal James Simpson.” http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/FTRIALS/Simpson/simpson.htm 2000: 1-4.
“OJ Simpson” CNN Sep 28, 1995: 1-2.
“OJ Simpson Glove Video”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2YbY9eYmdM.
Repa, Barbara. “Anatomy of a Trial Review.” California Lawyer 2009: 1-2.
Rosenstein, Bruce. “The Good, Bad and Ugly of America’s Celeb Obsession.” USA Today Dec. 19, 2003: 1-6.
“The OJ Verdict.” PBS News. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/oj/themes/media.html Oct. 4 2009: 1-10.