O.J. Simpson Facts and Fictions: News Rituals in the Construction of Reality

O.J. Simpson Facts and Fictions: News Rituals in the Construction of Reality

O.J. Simpson Facts and Fictions: News Rituals in the Construction of Reality

O.J. Simpson Facts and Fictions: News Rituals in the Construction of Reality


Darnell M. Hunt explores the relationship between social identity (race, class, gender, etc.), our perceptions of everyday reality and the O. J. Simpson double murder trial to ask: why was America so obsessed by this case? Why were so many people invested in particular outcomes? And what are we to make of the apparent racial divide in attitudes about the case captured by the opinion polls? O. J. Facts and Fictions tackles these questions and considers the implications for race relations in the United States at the dawn of the new millennium.


News reading, and writing, is a ritual act and moreover a dramatic one. What is arrayed before the reader is not pure information but a portrayal of contending forces in the world.

(Carey 1975, p. 8)

During the early morning hours of June 13, 1994, two slashed and mangled bodies–a white woman and man–were discovered lying in pools of their own blood in Los Angeles' fashionable Brentwood district. Shortly thereafter, electronic networks around the world were buzzing with news of the murders of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ronald Goldman, of evidence pointing toward the guilt of black football legend Orenthal James Simpson. But Simpson's attorneys steadfastly proclaimed his innocence.

Then, on June 17, a Los Angeles Police Department commander made a shocking announcement to the media: the prime suspect had failed to turn himself in to police as promised. An audible gasp filled the press room. Hours later, Simpson was spotted south of Los Angeles, on the Interstate 5, in the back of a white Ford Bronco. News of the development quickly circulated throughout society. Ninety-five million viewers across the nation–one of the largest television audiences in US history–watched helicopter video images of Simpson and friend A. C. Cowlings slowly leading a growing contingent of law enforcement vehicles back up the freeway. NBC postponed its coverage of the New York Knicks championship basketball game. In Los Angeles, spectators lined the freeway, hoping to get a glimpse of Simpson's vehicle, hoping to witness history in the making. Many cheered the fugitive on. When the caravan finally made its way to Simpson's Rockingham Avenue home, the celebrity suspect was swiftly arrested. Simpson later pled “notguilty” in Los Angeles Superior Court and became the most famous murder defendant in US history. So began the “Trial of the Century.”

On October 3, 1995, nearly sixteen months after the murders, Los Angeles and much of the nation came to a halt as time approached for the reading of two verdicts. KTLA-TV had been the only local station . . .

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