The O.J. Simpsons case tops the list when it comes to criminal cases covered by the media. Dabbed “trial of the century”, the case set high standards for round-the-clock media coverage. The case was more of a drama replete with bizarre incidents. Simpson, a celebrated sportscaster, actor, and retired professional footballer got over ninety-five million viewers glued to the screen to watch police chase him in his infamous white Ford Bronco after he was accused of two accounts of murder. The drama moved to court where there were all kind of characters from good to evil, and the media covered all of it. The courtroom was televised for over 100 days converting numerous viewers into Simpson trial junkies. The media is believed to have significantly influenced the case and finally the ruling. At a certain point in time, the grand jury has to dismiss court hearing due to excessive media coverage. Some key witnesses also sell their story to the media thus making the case even more difficult because the court could not use them. Finally, the case comes to a close with Simpson being acquitted, but many believe the media played a significant role in influencing the trial.
O.J. Simpson Background
Born James Simpson in 1947 in San Francisco California, he would later be given the name Orenthal by his aunt. The name is report to be of a French actor she adored. He would later be known by his peers as “The Juice” as he gradually scaled the heights of football stardom. Despite displaying immense talent and promise at Galileo High School football team, his poor grades would prove to be an impediment to joining a major college football program. However, he would soon excel at a competition at the city college of San Fransisco and become a superstar through football. He won the Heisman Trophy and set NCAA records. A year later, he joined the professional Buffalo Bills. He would put on an exemplary performance, go on to lead the NFL four times and set many league records ("O.J. Simpson", 2017).
Having gained tremendous popularity among football fans, it was inevitable that Simpson would become successful in his post-playing career. After retiring in 1979, he landed roles for several commercials, movies, and later became a broadcaster for the NFL on NBC brand as well as Monday Night Football. Interesting enough, in a 1974 film called The Klansman, Simpson had played a man framed for murder. He divorced his wife of 12 years the same year he retired, and in 1985 he married Nicole Brown with whom they would have two children. In the same year, Simpson got elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The relationship between the two was nothing but blissful. Nicole would reach out to family and friends about her husband’s physical abuse. A huge fight happened in the 1989 New Year Eve’s party in which Nicole alleged that Simpson threatened to kill her. Simpson would be charged with spousal battery to which he pleaded no contest. In 1992, Nicole filed for divorce. Two years later, Simpson would find himself entangled in the murder of his ex-wife and her acquaintance ("O.J. Simpson", 2017). The paper focuses on the case and how the media came into play throughout investigations, hearings, and the final verdict. The main aim is to establish the impact of the media on case outcomes.
Description of the Crime in its Historical Setting
The “trial of the century” has an important place in history books especially when it comes to sensational court cases. The O.J. Simpson case is also a clear indication of the impact of the media in an ongoing investigation or case. While some witnesses and evidence strongly indicated that O.J. was guilty, the ‘Dream Team’ argued that the evidence was planted on the grounds of racism by a white detective with a history of being racist and rogue. Some members of the public thought O.J was guilty while some including the African Americans argued that he was framed.
The fact that the ruling; not guilty squeezed the air out of the nation in 1995 cannot be overlooked. A civil trial three months later would find Simpson guilty of causing the wrongful deaths of the two murder victims and would order him to pay the victim’s families for damages caused. He had to part with $33 million.
Theoretical Analysis of the Crime Events
O.J. Simpson was the first suspect after Nicole Brown (his ex-wife) and her acquaintance Ronald Goldman were discovered lifeless at Nicole’s place in Los Angeles. The wounds indicated they were stabbed by an assailant. At this time, Simpson was aboard a plane to Chicago. The driver who took him to the airport in a limousine would later testify in court claiming no one answered the door when he knocked at Simpson’s door only for him to see a man fitting Simpson’s descriptions in the dark. Simpson would later reappear from the house with a package (believed to be the murder weapon) that he did not allow the driver to touch or see. Simpsons was called back for questioning in Los Angeles. Sources claim that he did not ask when, how or who killed her upon being informed of her death (Linder, 2018).
Simpson was questioned by the Los Angeles police as soon as he returned and a deep cut on his right hand was a major concern. Initially, he claimed not to know how he got the cut. He later told the police that he got cut while reaching into his car on the night of the murder then reopened it while breaking a glass in fury after he was informed about the tragic incident while at his hotel room in Chicago. His attorneys (known as “The Dream Team”) would later twist this story. The police concluded that the interrogation was clumsy as neither follow up questions were asked nor were potentially fruitful inquiries made. None of this information would be used at the trial.
The police later discovered incriminating evidence against Simpson and therefore gave him an ultimatum to surrender to which he agreed. Part of the evidence would include blood stains on his driveway, bronco, socks, and gloves. Simpson raised eyebrows in a shocking turn of events when he tried escaping only to be tracked down and pursued by police in a car chase. He had left a letter at his house that seemed like a suicide note. The police pursuit was televised nationally to over 95 million viewers. Simpson was seated at the back of a white Ford Bronco driven by his friend Cowlings, also a former NFL player. The slow speed chase would finally end with Simpson giving in to the police that evening. He denied that he tried to vanish despite being found in possession of his passport, a disguise (false beard), a gun, and $9,000 in cash. Simpson pleaded not guilty to the charges (Linder, 2018).
Media Involvement and Coverage of the Case
The Simpson case was newsworthy to the media because he was a celebrity, and they ensured they never missed anything. Right from the start, the media heightens the drama by showing his freeway chase which attracts millions of viewers. The press did extensive coverage of the trial as their ratings hiked. Therefore, the media continually proves that violence is an essential component of news selection (Jewkes, 2018, p. 65-66). However, this would be detrimental on the part of the Jury. In fact, they had to postpone some hearings due to too much media interference. Racism also came to play. The media would soon start asking the public if a black person can get a fair ruling. The Dream Team would also tap into racism (Brown, Duane & Fraser, 1997). The media would also publish stories before confirming the facts. They even bought stories from two key witnesses thus the court could not rely on that information.
Other than using racism, Simpson’s defence team also had a strategy to undermine the evidence of the prosecution. They questioned the prosecution’s timeline and pointed out that the primary evidence was planted, corrupted or both. Concerning O. J’s motive, they claimed he had arthritis and was incapable of murdering two individuals. When Simpson was ordered to put on the gloves, he seemed to struggle with them then pointed out that they didn’t fit him. Although the gloves might have shrunk due to the blood, millions of viewers were convinced that the gloves did not fit O.J and therefore were not his. Papers would also show him wearing ill-fitting gloves. Most people who saw this were somehow convinced that he was being framed. Johnnie Cochran, one of his attorneys, became famous for giving the headline; "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit." Simpson was set free. After the ruling, some newspapers circulated photos of Simpson wearing a size 12 shoe that he denied owning. Perhaps this affected the ruling for a civil court that took over the case three months later that found him liable for causing the wrongful deaths of the two murder victims.
Perspective Concerning Media Effects on Case Outcomes
The public’s fundamental source of information about a crime is the media. The media is responsible for the headlines and thus influences the attention of the public in regards to a crime (Muraskin & Domash, 2007). When the media becomes involved in a case, the jurors are equally exposed, and this affects them. If a juror were to go home to watch the news and find a media house covering a story about the case they’re handling, they are likely to be influenced by the public’s opinion. The juror might make a decision based on the story covered, which is against the court system. The decision will have been achieved by wrong means, yet sometimes the statistics presented by the media is flawed thus unprofessional journalism leading to an unlawful decision ("Analysis - Rating The Media's Performance | The O.j. Verdict | FRONTLINE | PBS", 2005).
Coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial can be considered as a nahillation of the United States legal system. The press pushed stories including the issue of race that affected the outcome of the case. The glove scene influenced the view of the public on the trial which eventually affected the verdict that was being watched by half the population of the U.S.A. That only shows how the media can have an impact on history. The decision to allow media into the courtroom was controversial. Perhaps, this explains why the September 11 bombings trials were not televised. The media does affect the world, but our opinions should not rely on what the media feeds us.
Analysis - Rating The Media's Performance | The O.j. Verdict | FRONTLINE | PBS. (2005). Pbs.org. Retrieved 16 February 2018, from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/oj/themes/media.html
Brown, W., Duane, J., & Fraser, B. (1997). Media coverage and public opinion of the O. J. Simpson trial: Implications for the criminal justice system. Communication Law And Policy, 2(2), 261-287. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10811689709368625
Jewkes, Y. (2018). MEDIA & CRIME (3rd ed., pp. 65 - 66). Sage Publications.
Linder, D. (2018). The Trial of Orenthal James Simpson: An Account. Famous-trials.com. Retrieved 16 February 2018, from http://famous-trials.com/simpson/1862-home
Muraskin, R., & Domash, S. (2007). Crime and the media. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
O.J. Simpson. (2017). Biography. Retrieved 16 February 2018, from https://www.biography.com/people/oj-simpson-9484729
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