The O. J. Simpson Trials: Rhetoric, Media, and the Law

The O. J. Simpson Trials: Rhetoric, Media, and the Law

The O. J. Simpson Trials: Rhetoric, Media, and the Law

The O. J. Simpson Trials: Rhetoric, Media, and the Law


THE O. J. SIMPSON CASE CAPTURED THE attention of the public like no other event in media history, and the Simpson criminal trial is arguably the most notable example of the media's ability to transform litigation. This collection of original essays provides a critical analysis of the Simpson criminal and civil trials. Edited by communications professor Janice Schuetz and professional trial consultant Lin S. Lilley, the book focuses on telelitigation, the media's transformation of sensational trials, with celebrity defendants and victims, into telemediated forms.

The contributors -- Ann Burnett, Patricia M. Ganer, Ann M. Gill, Diane Furno-Lamude, Lin S. Lilley, and Janice Schuetz -- describe media spectacles, analyze the opening statements of trial attorneys in both cases, investigate the testimony of Mark Fuhrman in the criminal trial and O. J. Simpson in the civil trial, analyze the summations of trial attorneys in both cases, look at the processes of jury decision making, and identify the unique legal and social outcomes of the trials.

The discussions focus on five "hot button" legal issues sparked by the Simpson trials: the perceived unfairness of the jury system; unprecedented calls for jury reform in both civil and criminal arenas; the fairness issues of jury nullification, wherein a jury disregards the law in a criminal case in favor of leniency; wealth and the question of "buying" justice; and ethical questions about the ways the Simpson trials were conducted, in particular the ways in which Simpson attorney Johnnie Cochran and the "Dream Team" repeatedly nudged and occasionally crossed the ethical line.


The 1990s brought what Jonathan Alter (1997, February 17) called "The Great Age of Trials." Alter noted that "bad news about crime tends to drive out good or important news about anything else. Today's jealous mistress of law is seducing the news, threatening to dominate yet another part of public life" (p. 127). For many observers, the new communication technologies, the massive coverage of crimes, and the trials that follow have created a public obsession for watching and reading about trials. The nearly three years of O. J. Simpson trials typify this new age of "telelitigation."

This book provides an interpretive and critical analysis of key segments of the O. J. Simpson criminal and civil trials. The focus of the book is on telelitigation, the way that the media has transformed sensational trials with celebrity defendants and victims into telemediated forms. Quite clearly, the Simpson criminal trial is the strongest example of litigation being transformed because of media coverage. From the arrest and live coverage of the chase in the Bronco on June 17, 1994, until the verdict on October 2, 1995, the criminal trial received the most extensive coverage of any event in history. In fact, some scholars claim that the Simpson trials received more media coverage than did the Vietnam War during the actual years the war was being fought. The trial cost Los Angeles County an estimated $9 million and Simpson $10 million. The jury initially composed of twelve regular and twelve alternates was sequestered for 266 days. The prosecution provided testimony for ninety-nine days and the defense for thirty-four ("Simpson Trial Statistics," 1997). Judge Lance Ito's permission for live coverage of the trial in part fostered the intensive media attention.

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