"Merchandising Murder: The O.J. Simpson Industry"

By Russell, Dennis E. | Journalism History, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

"Merchandising Murder: The O.J. Simpson Industry"


Russell, Dennis E., Journalism History


"Merchandising Murder: The 0. J. Simpson Industry." New York: First Run/Icarus Films, 1994. 48 minutes.

losh Freed's documentary is a provocative, at times insightful examination of how 0.1. Simpson was mass merchandised by the media, the business world, and individual entrepreneurs-all inthe name of cashing in on the public's "bizarre appetite" for anything involving the Simpson murder case. Freed argues that from the moment Simpson was arrested for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, Simpson became the "story of the century" for the press and a merchandiser's dream.

*Merchandising Murder" underscores the media's longstanding fascination with highprofile criminal trials. An early twentieth-century example of this phenomenon is the 1935 trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was charged with the kidnaping and murder of the Lindbergh baby. About 700 members of the press, including 129 photographers, covered Hauptmann's trial in Flemington, New Jersey. The trial has been characterized as a circus, with reporters and copy boys rushing up and down the courtroom aisles. According to Freed, merchandisers also made money off of the Lindbergh case by selling baby sweaters and miniature ladders outside the courthouse during Hauptmann's trial.

A press feeding-frenzy also surrounded the case of Dr. Sam Sheppard, who in 1954 was suspected of killing his pregnant wife Marilyn. In the weeks preceding Sheppard's murder trial, the Cleveland area was saturated with press accounts of the police investigation, and editorials and headlines implied Sheppard's guilt. Sheppard was convicted in 1954, but the U.S. Supreme Court in 1966 overturned the conviction on the ground of prejudicial publicity.

The specter of prejudicial publicity surfaced again in the Billie Sol Estes case, in which the famous Texas financier was convicted in 1962 on charges of theft, swindling, and embezzlement. Over the defendant's objections, the trial judge permitted television coverage of the pretrial hearing and portions of the trial. …

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